WHO: 11-1 Baylor (Big-12) vs. 11-1 UCF (AAC)
WHAT: Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (42nd year)
WHERE: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.
WHEN: Jan. 1 at 8:30 p.m. ET
WHY: Head coach George O’Leary went 0-11 in his first season at UCF. Ten years later, the No. 15 Knights are 11-1 and have already secured their best season ever. This is a program that got its start back in 1979, which just so happens to be one year before the last time its opponent in the 2013 Fiesta Bowl — No. 6 Baylor — won a conference title.
Make no mistake: Neither team is used to playing in this rarefied air. The Bears are fresh off their first Big 12 title and, if not for a late-season loss to Oklahoma State, they would be playing in the BCS title game against Florida State, not Auburn.
UCF will have its hands full trying to stop one of the great offenses in college football history. Baylor averages 53.5 points and 624 yards per game. Quarterback Bryce Petty has thrown for 3,844 yards with 30 touchdowns and just two interceptions. The Bears are dangerous on the ground, too, with 1,000-yard rusher Lache Seastrunk and 862-yard rusher Shock Linwood.
Baylor is vastly improved on defense. The Bears finished 17th in total defense and 20th in total defense after finishing 113th and 123rd, respectively, in those categories last season.
So the odds are stacked a little bit against the Knights, but UCF is a very good team in its own right. Quarterback Blake Bortles is a first-round NFL prospect after throwing for 3,280 yards and 22 touchdowns and rushing for 179 yards and five scores. He’s a tough leader who has complete command of the UCF offense. Storm Johnson rushed for 1,015 yards and 11 scores to lead the ground game.
The Knights defense is also underrated, finishing in the national top 20 in both total and scoring defense. They’ll need to get some early stops if UCF is to have a shot in this one.
Baylor is the big favorite here and for good reason. The Bears offense is special and hasn’t really been stopped all season (though it has been slowed down). UCF will put up a battle, but Baylor will pull away by the third quarter and grab its first BCS bowl win.
PREDICTION: Baylor 48, UCF 31