Georgia Tech and Central Florida aim to end season with winning record in Gasparilla Bowl


TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Central Florida coach Gus Malzahn believes a victory over Georgia Tech in Friday night’s Gasparilla Bowl will do more than enable the Knights to finish with a winning record in their first season in a Power 5 conference.

It also could be a springboard toward Big 12 championship aspirations in a revamped conference as Texas and Oklahoma move to the SEC next season. And, there's the expansion of the college football playoffs from four to 12 teams.

“It will be really good for us,” Malzahn said, “We’re going to do everything in our power to be in that 12-team playoff next year. This bowl game is really important to keep that momentum going,”

UCF beat Big 12 runner-up Oklahoma State 45-3, and played then-No. 6 Oklahoma close before losing 31-29. The Knights (6-6) ended the regular season winning three of four.

“This season, there’s been some roller coasters,” UCF red-shirt senior quarterback John Rhys Plumlee said. “Everything you could think of that happens in a football season. So, we definitely want to end this thing the right way, Go out on a high note and get some momentum going into the next year for the next guys up.”

Georgia Tech (6-6) is also looking to end the season with a winning record after getting its first bowl berth since 2018.

“I want to see our team not be satisfied right now just getting to a bowl game,” Georgia Tech coach Brent Key said. “Keep that hunger,”

Georgia Tech quarterback Haynes King is one of only two players with at least 2,700 passing yards, 600 rushing yards, 25 touchdown passes and five TD runs this season. The other is LSU Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jayden Daniels.

“Electric-type player.” Malzahn said. “A guy that I recruited out of Texas coming out of high school. He’s having a great year of throwing, running it and all that.”

Key spent 11 years (2005-15) as an assistant coach at UCF.

“The greatest connection I have from Orlando is meeting my wife down there,” Key said. “Starting our family there.”

Plumlee, limited to nine games by a leg injury, completed 145 passes in 227 attempts (63.9% for 2073 yards and 13 touchdowns in nine games.

“Super excited,” Plumlee said of his final college game. “Every opportunity is a blessing, right?"

Malzhan saw the bright side after one of the UCF team buses blew a tire Tuesday while making the trip from Orlando to Tampa.

“It was a lot better than flying a long way,” Malzahn said.

Impacted players and staff were moved to other buses.