Gasparilla Bowl gears up for Thursday night game

The circumstances surrounding Thursday night’s Gasparilla Bowl are a far cry from last year. That is a good thing.

Last year’s Gasparilla Bowl, between South Carolina and UAB, which would have been the first with title sponsor Union Home Mortgage, was canceled due to virus issues with the Gamecocks. This year, the game between the University of Florida and the University of Central Florida at Raymond James Stadium, sold out in three days.

“It did not surprise me to see tickets move as fast as they did, once we knew who the teams were going to be,” says Scott Glaser, in his third year as the bowl’s executive director. “Did I think it would sell out as quickly as it did? No. I thought we would have sold out the lower bowl and then moved into the upper levels.”

The matchup between the Knights (8-4/5-3 American) and Gators (6-6/2-6 SEC) will easily top the previous Gasparilla Bowl attendance record, which was set in 2019, when an announced crowd of 33,539 saw UCF defeat Marshall. That was the second Gasparilla Bowl played at Raymond James Stadium. It moved to Tampa in 2018 (USF and Marshall) after the previous 10 games, under various sponsors, were played at Tropicana Field.

The bowl will be the third meeting between Florida and UCF. The Gators won the first two meetings, 42-0 in 1999 and 58-27 in 2006.

“From (the time we announced the matchup) to the moment we award the treasured Gasparilla Bowl trophy, we aim to make this an unforgettable experience for fans who have the opportunity to remain close-to-home when cheering on their team at Raymond James Stadium,” says Glaser.

A great benefit of having both teams playing in Tampa is that nobody has to get on a plane. Florida and UCF are within a couple of hours’ drive of Tampa, which is home to plenty of alumni from both schools. Because the teams do not have to bother with air travel, everybody can be home for Christmas.

“It is two days before Christmas, and just enough time to allow people to get here, enjoy the game and get back to their families for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day,” says Glaser.

The bowl is also very affordable for anybody who wants to attend. The price range for tickets was $15 to $70.

“Part of our mission is to be affordable,” says Glaser. “We are trying to build an experience in which people want to come back every year. We don’t know if we get Florida and UCF every year. So, we need to try to make sure people who went to the game for $15 or $30 had a great time and the next year, when we get two different teams, local fans who enjoyed themselves will want to attend again.”

The Gators will be making their second appearance in Tampa this season. They defeated USF, 42-20, on September 11, and rose to No. 11 in the AP poll. Much has happened since and little of it has been good.

Coach Dan Mullen was fired November 21, and UF needed to defeat Florida State in their regular season finale under interim coach Greg Knox to secure bowl eligibility. Knox will coach the Gators in the bowl game, while new coach Billy Napier continues to assemble a staff and hit the recruiting trail.

Gus Malzahn’s first season as coach at UCF has been marked by injuries to key players. Quarterback Dillon Gabriel broke his clavicle during an early-season game at Louisville and was lost for the season. (Gabriel has since transferred.) The Knights, however, rode a strong defense and the growth of freshman quarterback Mikey Keene to be in position to potentially close the season with nine wins.

 

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