Amid coaching transition, Florida faces UCF in Gasparilla Bowl

The Florida Gators are in a bowl game this year — barely.

Florida (6-6) will play in-state rival UCF (8-4) in the Gasparilla Bowl on Thursday in Tampa.

“This game is good for the state,” UCF coach Gus Malzahn said. “With the game being sold out quickly, that speaks for itself.”

As for the Gators, they were so disappointing this year that coach Dan Mullen was fired on Nov. 21. Things unraveled quickly for Mullen, who went 10-3 in his first year with the Gators in 2018 and 11-2 in 2019.

Last year, the Gators were 8-1 and ranked sixth in the nation in early December. After that, Mullen went 5-9 before getting dismissed.

Billy Napier, hired from Louisiana, is the Gators’ new head coach, although Florida will be coached on Thursday by the remnants of the previous staff.

“You’re going to figure out quickly that I’m a football junkie,” Napier said. “I’m well aware of the history here.”

That history includes a 2-0 all-time record against UCF, beating the Knights 42-0 in 2006 and 58-27 in 1999. Both games were on Gators soil in Gainesville.

The current Gators squad has some issues, though. Defensive end Zachary Carter, who led the team with eight sacks, declared for the NFL Draft and will skip the bowl game. He was a team leader and Florida’s most physical player.

Quarterback Anthony Richardson, a Gators fan favorite, will not play due to a knee injury. Quarterback Emory Jones will play, but he has announced he will enter the transfer portal after the game.

For UCF to beat Florida for the first time, the Knights likely will need big games from quarterback Mikey Keene, running back Isaiah Bowser and wide receiver Jaylon Robinson.

Keene, a true freshman, took over after former starter Dillon Gabriel broke his collarbone on Sept. 17 in a 42-35 loss to Louisville.

Since then, the Knights have gone 6-3, and Keene has completed 63.6 percent…

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