St. Petersburg Bowl Free Pick: NC State vs. UCF Doc’s Sports

This season’s Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl at Tropicana Field features an ACC vs. AAC clash between the North Carolina State Wolfpack and the Central Florida Knights. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. (ET), and the game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN.

NC State finished the season with a 3-1 run both straight up and against the spread, including a solid 35-7 rout of rival North Carolina as a 6.5-point road underdog in its season finale. The total stayed well “under” the 70-point closing line in that game after going “over” in its previous two outings. Overall, the Wolfpack were 7-5 this season both SU and ATS.

The Knights earned a share of this season’s AAC title with a 4-0 run (SU and ATS) in conference play to close out the year. In their final game of the season, they knocked off East Carolina 32-30 as 6.5-point road underdogs, with the total going over the 55-point closing line. UCF was 9-3 SU on the year with a 7-1 record in the AAC. It is 8-4 ATS after covering in five of its last six games.

NC State vs. Central Florida Betting Storylines

The Wolfpack started the season strong with four straight wins as solid favorites, but against the stiffer competition they faced this season in the ACC they wilted with a record of 3-5. The one common theme in all five of those losses was a defense that had no answer for keeping the opposing team out of the end zone. NC State gave up 56 points to both Florida State and Georgia Tech, and over the course of those five losses this unit was burned for an average of 42.6 points a game.

Offensively, the Wolfpack also struggled to move the ball through the air behind quarterback Jacoby Brissett. They averaged 196 passing yards a game, which was ranked 97th in the nation. Brissett was also the team’s second-leading rusher with 498 yards on the year as part of a ground game that did manage to churn out 206 yards a game. Running the ball will probably be a big part of the game plan in this matchup as long as NC State does not fall behind early.

Central Florida missed the presence of Blake Bortles in the lineup this season, but Justin Holman did a respectable job filling the void with 2,661 yards passing and 20 touchdown throws. The passing game took a hit with a season-ending injury to JJ Worton, but Breshad Perriman remains the No. 1 target with 41 receptions for 906 yards and nine scores. William Stanback anchored the running game with 659 yards and 10 scores, but the Knights’ second-leading rusher, Dontravious Wilson, remains questionable with a shoulder injury.

The key to UCF coming away with a victory in this bowl game still lies in the play of its defense. This unit finished the regular season ranked ninth in the nation in points allowed (17.9) and third in total yards allowed. Over the course of the team’s 9-1 SU run in its last 10 games, the defense gave up more than 18 points only three times. Both linebacker Terrance Plummer and defensive back Jacoby Glenn have been standout players all season long.

NC State vs. Central Florida Betting Odds and Trends
Pointspread: Central Florida -2.5
Total Line: 49.5

The betting trends have the Wolfpack coming into this matchup with a 3-1 record ATS in their last four games as underdogs, and the total has stayed under in four of their last seven games overall. They are 5-2 SU in their last seven bowl games and 5-2 ATS.

The Knights are 3-0 ATS in their last three games as favorites, and the total has gone over in four of their last six contests. They are also 3-0 ATS in their last three trips to a bowl game.

These two have met twice since 2007, with the road team winning both matchups SU and ATS as an underdog. The total went over in the last meeting after ending as a push in the first.

St. Petersburg Bowl Picks: NC State vs. Central Florida Betting Predictions

When it comes to handicapping this matchup between two fairly capable opponents, the pendulum swings in the favor of Central Florida given its definitive edge on the defensive side of the ball. You probably cannot go wrong with a play on the under 49.5 in this game, but my top pick is UCF in a SU victory that covers the current 2.5-point spread.

Take: # 226 Central Florida (-2.5) over NC State – 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 26

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