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Gasparilla Bowl: Even with no ‘national title’ in sight, UCF still motivated for Monday

Journal: The Knights can become one of a handful of programs to total 35 wins over the past three seasons.

TAMPA ― For the first time in three years, they have no New Year’s Six bowl ― much less national title ― to motivate them, which isn’t to suggest the UCF Knights enter the Gasparilla Bowl with no incentive.

Turns out, the stakes have only mildly diminished for the Knights (9-3), who can reach rarefied air with a victory Monday against Marshall (8-4) at Raymond James Stadium.

A triumph not only would give UCF three consecutive seasons of at least 10 wins for the first time in the program’s 41-year history, it would make the Knights one of only six Division I-A teams to win at least 35 games over the past three seasons.

The others (entering bowl season): Clemson (40), Ohio State (38), Alabama (37), Oklahoma (36) and Georgia (35).

“That’s elite company that we have an opportunity to be a part of,” Knights second-year coach Josh Heupel said.

Defensive tackle Anthony Montalvo, a Sickles High alumnus, said a 10th win would signify even more.

“Just to show that we’re still here,” he said. “Obviously we wanted to go 13-0, it didn’t happen, but we have next year to try to go 13-0. That 10th win will show that we’re still here, we’re still ready to play.”

Davis, Killins not expected to play

Don’t expect UCF top receiver Gabe Davis or No. 2 rusher Adrian Killins, both of whom will enter the NFL draft, to play Monday.

Heupel, presumably engaging in some bowl-week gamesmanship, still hasn’t addressed either’s status for the game. Davis (72 catches, 1,241 yards, 12 TDs), a junior, announced his decision to bypass his senior season via Twitter on Dec. 4. Killins (87 carries, 629 yards, seven TDs), a senior, announced on Thursday he would be moving on and transitioning “to the next chapter of my life.”

Abraham’s home turf … sort of

Marshall safety Micah Abraham, recently selected to the Conference USA all-freshman team, will become the third member of his family to roam the Raymond James Stadium turf Monday.

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His dad, Donnie, was a Bucs cornerback from 1996-2001, and older brother Devin made 37 career starts at safety for USF from 2014-17. Micah, who chose Marshall over USF and Boston College, has started the past five games and enters the Gasparilla Bowl with 33 tackles and three pass breakups.

“Coming in, I knew I was gonna have to compete,” said Micah Abraham, an East Lake High alumnus who will be making his RayJay debut.

“I didn’t know I was gonna get this much playing time, but as long as I keep working hard and keep doing what I know I can do and just keep grinding on a daily basis, I should be fine.”

Aged beef in bulk

Not surprisingly, the most prolific runner in Conference USA (Marshall tailback Brendan Knox) has operated behind its most seasoned offensive line.

Related: Hometown roots definitely a bonus for Gasparilla Bowl executive

Three Thundering Herd linemen ― center Levi Brown (49), right tackle Tarik Adams (36) and left tackle Will Ulmer (34) ― have at least 34 career starts. Left guard Alex Mollette and right guard Cain Madden have 22 and 21, respectively.

All are redshirt juniors except Brown, who’s a redshirt senior. The unit has remained intact for 11 of Marshall’s 12 games this season, during which Knox (the C-USA MVP) has run for 1,284 yards.

“All of them have plus-30 starts,” Montalvo said. “They’ve all been playing with each other, so they all have that connection, so I think that helps ’em.”

Odds and ends

Marshall enters Monday’s game with seven consecutive bowl victories, the longest active streak in college football. … UCF receiver Marlon Williams, when asked if it feels strange playing a bowl game in the home stadium of his rival (USF): “Yeah, it is weird, but this is our town so it’s okay.” … Though UCF offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby has departed for the same job at Ole Miss, don’t expect a significant effect on game day; Heupel calls the plays.

Gasparilla Bowl

UCF (9-3, AAC) vs. Marshall (8-4, C-USA)

2:30 p.m. Monday, Raymond James Stadium

TV: ESPN

Find tickets here

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