Fiesta Bowl Preview: No.15 UCF vs. No.6 Baylor
When the BCS Bowl Game line-up was first presented, analysts and fans were excited about the plethora of fantastic games slated for January, especially the national championship game pitting Auburn against Florida State. However, one game produced groans of a blow-out, much to the dismay of Florida residents and Knights fans.
This year’s Tostitos Fiesta Bowl pairs the University of Central Florida Knights against the Baylor University Bears. The Knights come into the game ranked No. 15 in the nation (with one loss to South Carolina), while the Baylor Bears are ranked No. 6 in the nation (with one loss to Oklahoma State).
Despite their equal records, the groans of despair stemmed from the fact that many believe UCF to be an unproven program which played in a weak conference, the newly minted American Athletic Conference.
While this is UCF’s first ever BCS bowl game, the same is also true for Baylor. The Bears have the upper-hand in the media, however, due to playing in the historic Big XII conference and playing in the national spotlight for most of the year.
Instead of relying on preconceived notions and Vegas (who has Baylor as a 16.5 point favorite) to form one’s opinion on who will win tonight’s match-up, let’s look to the numbers instead.
This game promises to be a contest between offensive juggernauts, pitting two of the nation’s leading offensive squads against one another.
Baylor comes into tonight’s contest having accrued more yards in one season than all but 1 other football team in FBS history, putting up a staggeringly impressive 624.5 yards per game (second only to the 1989 Houston team which average 624.9 yards per game). The Bears’ offense is led by quarterback Bryce Petty, perhaps one of the most offensively prolific quarterbacks in recent FBS history. This season. Petty led the nation in yards per pass, averaging 17.4 yards per pass. Petty also ranked second nationally in passing efficiency at 179.2 and finished 8th in passing yards per game at 320.3.
What UCF’s defense really has to prepare for with Petty, however, is the big play. This year, Petty led the nation in passing plays of 25 yards or more with 46, along with completing 13 touchdowns longer than 25 yards.
While Petty brings a big arm and much confidence in tonight’s game, UCF’s quarterback, Blake Bortles, is a star in his own right. In his last 7 games, Bortles has completed 70% of his passes, with 13 of those passes going for touchdowns while allowing only 4 interceptions. For the season, Bortles ranked 9th nationally in passing efficiency at 163.3. While Bortles’s arm may not be as explosive as Petty’s, his intelligence and game-making ability ensure that he will keep the Knights in the game.
The quarterback match-up is honestly the duel to watch this game, seeing as both UCF’s and Baylor’s star running backs have accumulated a touch over 1,000 yards for the season with 11 touchdowns each, evening the match-up in the backfield.
With such explosive offenses on the field, the key to the game may be which defense can hold the opposing offense in check. While neither Baylor nor UCF will impress audiences with their defensive might, neither team is awful on the defensive-end of the ball. UCF comes into tonight’s game allowing only 346.3 yards per game and allowing just 19.6 points per game, ranking 12th nationally in scoring defense.
Baylor, on the other hand, ranked 20th nationally in points allowed per game at 21.2 ppg, slightly more than UCF. Despite being known almost exclusively for its offense, Baylor did rank 6th in the nation in yards allowed per play at 4.53 and 7th in tackles for loss per game at 7.9. If the Baylor Bears want to win tonight, they will have to find a way to get to QB Blake Bortles, who has faced sack issues in the latter half of the season, getting sacked 14 times in his last 5 games.
Due to the fact that this is both Baylor’s and UCF’s first BCS bowl game, one cannot give UCF the underdog edge. Both teams have something to prove on the national stage and will use this opportunity to its fullest. However, one has to believe that UCF’s strength of schedule from playing in the AAC (76th nationally, as opposed to Baylor’s 6th ranked SOS) will do them no favors when playing against a Baylor team which has seemed unstoppable on the offensive side of the ball this year. Edge goes to the Bears.
Image via FiestaBowl.org