Here's our free pick for the final ESPN Thursday night College Football game of the 2014 regular season -- didn't that just fly by!? -- when Central Florida visits East Carolina.
Repeat Bid for Knights
With a victory, Central Florida (8-3, 6-1) would tie Memphis (9-3, 7-1) for the American Athletic Conference title as there is no AAC Championship Game until next year. Memphis and UCF didn't play this season. The Knights are the defending AAC champions. This also could be the regular-season finale for UCF coach George O'Leary as there were rumors earlier this season that he was going to step down after the year. O'Leary has done a great job after UCF lost a lot of talent off the 2013 club, including star quarterback Blake Bortles.
The Knights come off a 16-0 win at South Florida last Friday, handing the Bulls their first-ever home shutout loss. It was Central Florida's first shutout in a conference road game. UCF entered with the No. 4 total defense in the nation, and it was dominant against USF in holding the Bulls to 200 total yards, including only 5 rushing on 22 attempts. It was the fewest rushing yards allowed by Central Florida since 2009. Knights QB Justin Holman was 20 of 29 for 150 yards with a TD and pick, and Rannell Hall led UCF with 65 yards rushing and a 21-yard touchdown. Receiver Breshad Perriman had a 7-yard TD catch, his sixth straight game with a TD grab. He is the first Knight to accomplish that since Tyson Hinshaw in 2000. The final score would have been more lopsided, but Central Florida turned it over three times. The win was UCF's 14th straight on a day other than Saturday.
Central Florida played last week without former leading receiver J.J. Worton, and after the game O'Leary announced the Worton, a senior, was done for the season with a torn ACL suffered the week prior against SMU. He actually played through the injury against the Mustangs and caught a TD pass. Worton caught 36 passes for 514 yards and five touchdowns on the year. He ends his career with 168 catches for 2,360 yards and 21 touchdowns.
Home Finale for Record-Setting Carden
Keep in mind before placing your College Football picks that this is the last home game for one of the greatest players in East Carolina history, quarterback Shane Carden -- he owns just about every school record possible. In last Friday's 49-32 win at Tulsa, Carden threw for 338 yards and four touchdowns while running for another. Carden has accounted for 106 touchdowns in his career, and that was his 21st career game with multiple touchdown passes and eighth with at least four. He is the first QB in school history to pass for over 10,000 yards in a career (11,167) and one of 89 players at the FBS level to do so.
Receiver Justin Hardy had nine catches for 88 yards and a touchdown vs. Tulsa. He has caught at least two passes in 47 straight games and has at least one touchdown in 29 of his 47 career games played. Hardy has caught 98 passes for 1,194 yards and eight touchdowns in 2014. He holds the FBS record for all-time receptions with 364. The previous mark was 349 by Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles. Hardy is 12th on the all-time FBS career receiving yardage list with 4,241 yards. Not bad for a former walk-on. Hardy and Carden both will play in the Senior Bowl.
East Carolina (8-3, 5-2) has never won 10 games in back-to-back seasons but will with a victory here and in a bowl game. Expect Coach Ruffin McNeill to get a look from some Power 5 conference teams that have a job opening. The Pirates were ranked earlier this season after upsets of ACC schools Virginia Tech and North Carolina. They hung 70 points on the Tar Heels. ECU ranks 14th nationally in scoring offense (37.8 ppg) and third in passing (364.6 ypg). That unit will be tested by UCF's No. 5 scoring defense (16.8 ppg). It also ranks in the Top 10 in pass efficiency, total, red zone and first-down defense.
ECU's magic number is clearly 20 points as the Pirates have lost 13 straight when scoring less than that. Their last win with less than 20 was 19-14 vs. Central Florida in 2009. East Carolina has been held under 20 once this year, a 20-10 loss at Temple on Nov. 1.
These schools haven't played since a 40-20 UCF home win in 2012. East Carolina leads all-time 9-3 and has won three straight against Central Florida at home.
The Pirates are unbeaten at home this season and have covered seven of their past nine there. UCF is just 2-2 ATS on the road in 2014. The home team has covered five of the past six in this series.
Free College Football Pick: East Carolina at BetOnline.