A pair of former Mid-American Conference foes will square off in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl, as the Ball State Cardinals take on the UCF Knights.
For Ball State this is its first bowl game since 2008 when the squad made an appearance in the GMAC Bowl after posting a 12-1 record in the regular season under former head coach Brady Hoke. This season the Cardinals finished with a 9-3 mark which was just its second nine-win season since 1978. Ball State has made five bowl appearances but has never managed to earn a victory. Ball State closed out the regular season on the road with a 31-24 win against Miami-Ohio.
Ball State's strong season was just part of the Mid-American Conference's stellar campaign in 2012.
"We've had an exciting season, there's been some memorable wins for us," said head coach Pete Lembo. "It's been a special season in the Mid-American Conference and a privilege to be apart of such a competitive season and to see so many Mid American Conference schools going on to the postseason and being one of those teams."
On the other side UCF also ended the season with nine wins making this one of 10 bowl this season that has two teams with at least nine wins. UCF was originally supposed to be banned from postseason play but since the NCAA will not rule on the appeal until January, the Knights were able to earn the bowl bid. This will be the fifth bowl for UCF, all of which have come in the last eight seasons. In those games the Knights have garnered just a 1-3 record but they did win their most recent postseason appearance with a 10-6 victory over Georgia in the 2010 Liberty Bowl.
"We are very pleased with the opportunity to go to the Beef `O' Brady's Bowl and the chance to play Ball State who has a 9-3 record," head coach George O'Leary said. "We're looking forward to the competition as well as the festivities in St. Petersburg."
There have only been three all-time meetings between these squads. The last one came during the 2004 season when UCF was still a member of the Mid- American Conference. The Knights spent only three seasons there before moving to Conference USA. Ball State has a 2-1 record and won the last meeting 21-17.
On offense Ball State was one of the best teams in the MAC this season, ranking second in both scoring (35.0 ppg) and total yards (471.3 ypg). Down the stretch the Cardinals were especially effective running the ball. Ball State ran for 220 yards or more seven times this season including four times in the last five matchups.
The running back tandem of Jahwan Edwards and Horactio Banks has fueled the team. Edwards (1,321 yards, 14 TDs) is the primary back and finished the season ranked sixth in the conference n total rushing yards. Banks (585 yards, 4 TDs) had more meager numbers but showed his ability to rack up big yardage in the last two weeks when he rushed for 215 yards and a score.
Running the offense from under center is quarterback Keith Wenning who has had a rather strong season. Wenning threw for 2,878 yards and 22 touchdowns, while completing 65.5 percent of his passes. Wenning was intercepted 10 times as well but was rarely under pressure as he took only seven sacks all year. He also threw for more than 400 yards twice. However Wenning is listed as questionable for the bowl game with an ankle injury. Kelly Page is the backup but threw only 28 passes all season long.
Wenning had the benefit of throwing to Willie Snead this year. Snead finished the season as the top receiver in terms of yards in the MAC by totaling 1,070 yards on 82 catches. The talent in the receiving corps doesn't end there as Jamill Smith (69 receptions, 706 yards, 6 TDs) and tight end Zane Fakes (51 receptions, 404 yards, 5 TDs) were also integral pieces in the Cardinals' aerial assault.
Defensively Ball State was nothing special this year. The Cardinals ranked ninth in total defense in the MAC (459.8 ypg). Ball State was one of eight teams in the conference to surrender more than 400 yards per game and one of six teams in allow more than 30 points per game (31.5). The Cardinals were also near the middle of the conference in sacks, tackles for loss and opponents' red zone conversion rate.
Travis Freeman (119 tackles) was selected as an All-MAC Second Team member after posting the sixth most tackles in the conference. Jonathan Newsome (51 tackles, 12.0 TFL, 8.5 sacks) was one of very few pass rushers that managed to prove effective this season.
There was no lack of scoring from UCF in 2012. The Knights ranked 27th nationally in scoring (35.2 ppg), while recording point totals of more than 40 points five times, one shy of the school record. What made the Knights so prolific was how they took advantage of red zone opportunities, turning 56 attempts into 40 touchdowns which tied for the best conversion rate in the conference.
Latavius Murray earned First-Team All-C-USA honors for his performance out of the backfield for the Knights. Murray (1,035 yards, 14 TDs) was second in the conference in rushing touchdowns as well as in yards per game (94.1). What is even more impressive about those totals is that Murray missed three games early in the season with a shoulder injury. If there is any lingering issues Storm Johnson (457 yards, 4 TDs) is a capable backup. He rushed for at least 75 yards in all three of Murray's missed games.
Blake Bortles is the signal caller for UCF. Bortles also turned in a strong season from under center by throwing for 2,787 yards and 22 touchdowns, while completing 62.6 percent of his pass attempts. Bortles also did a good job of limiting his own mistakes by throwing only seven interceptions and with the addition of seven rushing touchdowns, he had the second-highest touchdown-to- interception ratio in school history (3.57) behind the 4.14 mark put up by Daunte Culpepper during the 1998 season. Bortles was voted a Second-Team All- C-USA member for his efforts.
There isn't one standout receiver for UCF with Bortles spreading the ball around rather evenly. J.J. Worton (41 receptions, 562 yards, 4 TDs) led the team in receptions, yards and tied for touchdowns. Rannell Hall (557 yards, 4 TDs) also racked up more than 500 yards, while four other players brought in at least 20 passes.
Where UCF has really excelled this season is on the defensive side of the ball. The Knights had the top scoring defense (22.5 ypg) in the conference this season and finished second in total yards (380.2 ypg). There was a lack of strong defensive squads in C-USA but the Knights were one of just three to give up fewer than 400 yards per game. UCF forced 26 turnovers, the third most in its conference.
A trio of defenders finished with more than 100 tackles for UCF. Kemel Ishmael (116 tackles), Clayton Geathers (107) and Terrance Plummer (102) topped the century mark with each recording at least four tackles for loss. Ishmael added three interceptions which tied him with A.J. Bouye for the team lead. Troy Davis (66 tackles, 9.0 TFLs, 6.5 sacks) led the team in TFL and sacks.