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April 17, 2021

BYU football adds matchup with UCF in Boca Raton Bowl finale

PROVO — BYU football’s 2020 regular season is over. It’s bowl season for the 10-win Cougars.

The Cougars (10-1) have accepted an invitation to play UCF in the RoofClaim.com Boca Raton Bowl, the team announced Monday.

The bowl game, which is owned and operated by ESPN Events, is scheduled to kick off Tuesday, Dec. 22 at 5 p.m. MST at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Florida. In the seventh year of its existence, the game has shifted through a variety of title sponsors, as well as conference affiliations, including the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA and the Mid-American Conference, most recently.

At No. 14 in the Associated Press Top 25 and No. 18 in the College Football Playoff rankings, the Cougars are the highest-ranked team to appear in the short-lived bowl game.

“Our team is excited for the challenge and opportunity to face UCF in the RoofClaim.com Boca Raton Bowl,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “UCF is a well-coached team and top-tier football program that’s had a lot of success. In a season where we’ve learned that we can’t take playing this game for granted, we’re really thankful for the chance to go to Florida and play one more time with our group. We are looking forward to the bowl matchup with UCF and also really like the timing of this game, which will allow our players to spend the holidays with their families, after a great season together.”

Most recently, Florida Atlantic won its second Boca Raton Bowl at its home stadium a year ago with a 52-28 win over SMU. This year’s game is the first to feature two top-20 offenses and a pair of top-five quarterbacks in college football.

It will also be BYU’s 38th bowl game all-time, dating back to the 1974 Fiesta Bowl.

“We are absolutely thrilled to have BYU play in the RoofClaim.com Boca Raton Bowl,” bowl executive director Doug Mosley said. “This matchup against UCF will be one of the premier games played in the early bowl season. We can’t wait to welcome both teams to Boca Raton and Palm Beach County and kickoff the bowl next Tuesday.”

BYU was initially tabbed by many pundits to be in the conversation for a New Year’s Six bowl berth, which pays upwards of $2 million to $4 million annually as some of the highest-profile stages in college football’s postseason showcase. But, a loss to Coastal Carolina in what ESPN billed as “bracketbuster” — a nod to the last-minute showcase the network used to facilitate to help boost NCAA Tournament resumes in men’s basketball — likely cost the Cougars such a payout.

Instead, they’ll get a Knights team coming off a six-win season in a $900,000 bowl game in sunny south Florida, and the chance to face a third member of the American Athletic Conference this season.

UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel looks to pass during the first half of the team’s NCAA college football game against Cincinnati, Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, in Cincinnati. (Photo: John Minchillo, Associated Press)

“BYU plays complementary football, in terms of offense, defense and special teams, as well as any team in the country,” said UCF head coach Josh Heupel, the former Oklahoma quarterback who briefly faced BYU as offensive coordinator at Utah State. “This will be a tremendous challenge for our football team — and certainly one our players are excited about.”

UCF had previously accepted an invitation to the game. The Knights (6-3) wrapped up the regular season Nov. 27 with a 58-46 win over War on I-4 rival South Florida and are led by gunslinging quarterback Dillon Gabriel. The 6-foot, 180-pound Hawaii-born sophomore is a 61.7% passer who has thrown for 3,353 yards and 30 touchdowns with just four interceptions.

Gabriel is one of just five quarterbacks nationally to have thrown for more than 3,100 yards. The others include Heisman Trophy contenders Kyle Trask of Florida, Sam Howell of North Carolina, Trevor Lawrence of Clemson — and Zach Wilson of BYU, who has 3,274 passing yards and 30 touchdowns with three picks.

UCF’s three losses came to two ranked teams — No. 7 Cincinnati and No. 24 Tulsa, as well as Memphis — each by eight points or less.

The Cougars completed an 11-game schedule with a 28-14 win over former Mountain West rival San Diego State on Saturday night, capping a 10th-straight home victory with the first 10-win season since 2011.

BYU also has a home-and-home series scheduled with UCF beginning Nov. 11, 2023 in Orlando, with the return game a year later on Aug. 31 in Provo.

A limited capacity of 6,000 tickets have been approved to be sold at FAU Stadium, which seats 29,571.

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Sean Walker

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