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Fiesta Bowl: Central Florida vs. Baylor—Everything You Need to Know

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All eyes will be on the nation’s top-ranked offense as both teams make their first-ever BCS appearances.

TOSTITOS FIESTA BOWL: No. 15 Central Florida (11-1) vs. No. 6 Baylor (11-1)

[Wednesday, Jan. 1 at 8:30 PM ET on ESPN]

How They Got Here

Baylor’s national championship hopes were dashed with a late November loss to Oklahoma State. But when the Cowboys faltered in the Bedlam rivalry, the door was opened for Baylor and the Bears seized the opportunity, taking down Texas to win their first Big 12 title and first conference crown of any type since 1980. Central Florida, meanwhile, pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the season when they knocked off Teddy Bridgewater and then-No. 8 Louisville. The Knights had a couple of scares down the stretch but managed to run the table to secure their first American Athletic Conference title.

When Central Florida Has the Ball

While most focus will be on Baylor’s record-setting offense, UCF boasts some potent offensive weapons of its own. Junior quarterback Blake Bortles is one of the top quarterback prospects in next year’s NFL draft after throwing for 3,280 yards and 22 touchdowns. However, Bortles was sacked 14 times in his last five games and will now face an underrated Baylor defense that ranks in the top 20 nationally in total defense, scoring defense, turnover margin, tackles for loss and interceptions. Knights running back Storm Johnson (1,015 rushing yards this year) will need to have some success to help take some pressure off of Bortles and keep the clock running.

When Baylor Has the Ball

The Bears’ offense has been virtually unstoppable, racking up over 624 yards and 53 points per game, both tops in the nation. Quarterback Bryce Petty, the Big 12 player of the year, has thrown just two interceptions this season while racking up 3,844 passing yards and 30 touchdowns. But the offensive fireworks don’t stop there as Baylor also ranks 12th nationally in rushing behind the running back tandem of Lache Seastrunk and Shock Linwood (1,922 yards and 19 touchdowns combined). However, Central Florida is one of the best defenses that Baylor has faced to date. The Knights rank in the top 20 nationally in total defense, rushing defense and scoring defense.

What to Know

Baylor’s senior receiver Tevin Reese, who averages a nation’s-best 25 yards per catch, is expected to play after missing the last four games with a dislocated wrist. In games with Reese, the Bears average almost 185 yards and 23 points more per game than in those without him. Central Florida is riding a school-record eight-game winning streak. Both teams are seeking a third-straight bowl win, which would be a school record for each. UCF is 0-5 all-time against teams from the Big 12.

What to Watch For

Both teams have already secured the best seasons in school history. Now they hope to cap that season with their program’s biggest win ever. For Central Florida, a heavy underdog, to have any chance, the formula is simple: keep Baylor’s offense on the sidelines. Bortles is an excellent quarterback but probably not good enough to go toe-to-toe with Baylor’s offense by himself so look for the Knights to try to establish a ground game early. If Baylor jumps out to an early lead or UCF starts turning the ball over, the game could get ugly early. But Central Florida has shown an ability to win close games and, if they can stick with the Bears for a while, this one could get interesting.

 

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