THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Central Florida’s loss in the Conference USA championship game has the Knights staying close to home for the holidays against Ball State in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl.
UCF (9-4) will make the 100-mile trek west from Orlando to St. Petersburg to face the Cardinals, who will take a six-game winning streak in the Dec. 21 matchup at Tropicana Field.
Ball State (9-3) received its first postseason berth since appearing in the 2008 GMAC Bowl, filling a slot for the Big East, which didn’t have enough bowl-eligible teams to fill the league’s commitments.
UCF lost the Conference USA championship game 33-27 in overtime on Saturday. Ball State went 6-2 in the Mid-American Conference.
The teams are former MAC rivals, with the Cardinals winning two of three meetings while the Knights were in the league from 2002 to 2004. They last met on Nov. 13, 2004, when Ball State rallied for a 21-17 victory at home.
“Ball State is a hot team right now winning six straight, including a road win over conference foe Toledo, which was ranked in the Top 25 at the time,” bowl executive director Brett Dulaney said.
The Cardinals, who have never won a bowl game, scored at least 30 points in 10 of 12 games.
UCF is headed to Tropicana Field — home of major league baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays — for the second time under coach George O’Leary. The Knights lost to Rutgers in the 2009 St. Petersburg Bowl.
A victory over Ball State would enable the Knights to finish with at least 10 wins for the fourth time in program history.