The 43rd annual Tostitos Fiesta Bowl will be held tomorrow night, January 1, 2014, at 8:30 PM at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, home of the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.
This year’s game features Big 12 champion Baylor (11-1) vs. American Athletic Conference champion Central Florida (11-1).
Baylor, the traditional doormat of the Big 12 Conference, has really turned things around in recent years, as this will mark their 4th consecutive bowl appearance after being shut out from postseason play the previous 15 years. Baylor participated in the 1994 Alamo Bowl but didn’t appear in another bowl game until the 2010 Texas Bowl. This will be Baylor’s 20th bowl appearance in school history. It will be their first appearance in the Fiesta Bowl as well as their first appearance in a BCS bowl. Baylor produced recent Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, who won the award in 2011.
Central Florida joined the American Athletic Conference (formerly the Big East) this season after spending 8 years in Conference USA. This will be UCF’s 6th bowl appearance, all of which have come since 2005. As was the case with Baylor, this will be UCF’s first appearance in the Fiesta Bowl as well as their first appearance in a BCS bowl. Central Florida produced former NFL star Daunte Culpepper, who graduated in 1998.
Baylor is coached by Art Briles, who is in his 6th season at the school after spending the previous 5 seasons at Houston. Briles has an overall record of 78-59 (44-31 at Baylor). This will be his 8th bowl game (4th at Baylor).
Central Florida is coached by George O’Leary, who is in his 10th season at the school after spending 8 seasons at Georgia Tech and 2 seasons as an assistant with the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings. O’Leary is perhaps best known for being hired as the head coach at Notre Dame on December 9, 2001, and then resigning 5 days later as it was revealed that his resume contained inaccurate information. O’Leary has produced an overall college record of 123-89 (71-56 at UCF). This will be his 10th bowl game (6th at Baylor).
Both schools are participating in a BCS bowl game for the first time. Baylor won its first Big 12 championship this season. Central Florida won the American Athletic Conference in its first official year of existence after formerly being called the Big East.
Baylor was the highest-scoring team in all of college football this season, finishing the year averaging 53.3 points per game. Their only loss came when they were blown out at Oklahoma State in November. Their best wins were decisive victories over Oklahoma and Texas.
Central Florida went undefeated in conference play this year, including a victory over Louisville, which was Louisville’s only loss all season. UCF’s only loss came in September when they were narrowly defeated at home against South Carolina. Their best wins this year were the Louisville win and a nonconference win over Penn State. They didn’t exactly blow everybody out, though, as 7 of their 11 wins were by 7 points or fewer.
Both teams’ marquee players are their quarterbacks – Bryce Petty of Baylor and Blake Bortles of Central Florida. Both quarterbacks are juniors. Petty has already declared that he is returning for his senior season, while Bortles has yet to announce his plans. The draft stock of Bortles has been skyrocketing lately, and he is expected to be one of the first quarterbacks taken in the draft if he declares. Both quarterbacks have impressive size, with Petty at 6’3″, 230 pounds, and Bortles at 6’4″, 230 pounds. Petty has completed 61.8 percent of his passes this season for 3,844 yards while throwing for 30 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Bortles has completed 68.1 percent of his passes this season for 3,280 yards while throwing for 22 touchdowns and 7 interceptions.
Both teams statistically have good defenses, with Baylor allowing 21.2 points per game and UCF allowing 19.6 points per game. However, Baylor scores over 20 points per game more than UCF (53.3-33.2).
Baylor is favored to win this game by 17 points, due to their juggernaut offense, better strength of schedule, and significantly higher margin of victory. I think UCF can keep it somewhat respectable but I think Baylor will win by a comfortable margin.
Prediction: Baylor 49, Central Florida 31