For another look at today’s bowl game, please check out our short video:
When and where: January 1, 2019, State Farm Stadium, Glendale, AZ, 1:00 PM ET
The UCF Knights will get another chance to prove why the Selection Committee got it wrong on January 1 when they challenge the LSU Tigers in the Playstation Fiesta Bowl. Some might be quick to downplay UCF’s strength of schedule, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that they’ve remained perfect (12-0) this year even after losing their starting quarterback, McKenzie Milton, to a gruesome leg injury. They are coming off a two-touchdown win over the Memphis Tigers.
LSU (9-3) will bear the responsibility of putting the hopeful AAC team in its place. They are coming off a disappointing loss in an offensive shootout with Texas A&M.
LSU stumbles in iron man contest
It took seven overtimes for LSU to fall flat on their face in the season finale to Texas A&M. The loss ensured the Tigers wouldn’t get the nod from the Selection Committee for a shot in the playoffs and put them on the path for a pivotal showdown with Central Florida. It also encapsulated an entire season with more ups, downs, twists and turns than a rollercoaster.
It’s easy to forget how badly the Tigers stomped Georgia at home back in October. They obviously dropped an embarrassing shutout loss to Alabama, but the losses to Florida and Texas A&M were winnable games they simply failed to pull out in the end. If they won those games, there’s a good chance we’d be talking about two SEC teams in the playoffs for a second consecutive year.
The loss to the Aggies is especially tough considering how much effort was pumped into those multiple overtimes. Players could barely stand once the game was over. They played with their hearts on their sleeves and still failed to come away with the victory—an agonizing ending that left them 9-3 on the season.
Quarterback Joe Burrow threw for 270 yards and three touchdowns, along with rushing for 100 yards and an additional three touchdowns. The Tigers hope that performance carries over into the Fiesta Bowl against the Knights.
— LSU Football (@LSUfootball) December 11, 2018
Another SEC loss to UCF in a bowl game would mean another year of hearing the Knights brag about being the real national champions. In a sense, the Tigers are the last line of defense for SEC pride.
When speaking with the media, LSU head coach Ed Orgeron claimed having the extra time to prepare for an up-tempo offense like UCF’s was a big help.
“Yes, it does [help], especially with the amount of plays that Central Florida is going to run against us and the speed in which they run,” said Orgeron, via 247 Sports. “We have to rotate our defensive line. We have some young guys that have not burned their redshirt year up. They’re able to still play and get redshirted. We’re going to have to rotate our defensive line and have several guys playing who probably haven’t played made much. They’ll have to do it.”
Is it time to give UCF championship-level respect?
It’s hard to go undefeated in back-to-back seasons for any team at the collegiate level. UCF are on the verge of doing it, and they still haven’t garnered any consideration as a playoff team. They even defeated Auburn in last season’s Peach Bowl.
Teams with multiple losses on the year were at least mentioned in the conversation with Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and Oklahoma.
Yet, UCF continued to be treated like the little brother no one ever pays attention to. Their light strength of schedule is obviously the culprit for them not being taken seriously by the Selection Committee. However, if they knock off LSU on the bowl stage, they’d be undefeated in consecutive seasons with wins over two powerhouse schools.
How could the committee possibly deny them a third time?
"To finish it off right is the way we all want to go out." -Savage Pat
Knights at the Mic from Dec. 13 👇 pic.twitter.com/nLBrBE3EQb
— UCF Football (@UCF_Football) December 13, 2018
This season has been especially impressive for UCF considering they were forced to finish without their starting quarterback McKenzie Milton, who went down with a gruesome knee injury late in the year. Freshman backup Darriel Mack’s ability to come in and adjust on the fly is a testament to the successful offensive system the program has in place.
Mack threw for 348 yards and two touchdowns in his first start of the season against Memphis, leading the Knights to a 56-41 win and extending their record to 12-0.
UCF head coach Josh Heupel is hoping to go out with a win and prove the NCAA Selection Committee got it wrong again.
“It’s a way to send our seniors out in the right way,” said Heupel, per AZ Central. “It’s an opportunity to again put our brand, our logo in front of the entire country and do it in a great way. Our mantra the entire season has been about going 1-0, focusing on the things that really matter, which is on preparation. Our kids have done that before we got out here and took a break for the Christmas break. We’re excited about playing a great opponent and, obviously, it’s a huge test for us but one that our entire staff and our players are really looking forward to.”
- Under is 7-2 in Knights last 9 games after a straight up win
- Under is 22-8 in Knights last 30 games after accumulating more than 280 passing yards in the previous game
- Under is 8-0-1 in Knights last 9 games against teams in the SEC
- Under is 7-0 in Knights last 7 games after allowing more than 200 rushing yards in the previous game
- Tigers are 3-1-1 ATS in their last 5 games after allowing more than 40 points in the previous game
- Under is 5-1 in Tigers last 6 games after allowing more than 280 passing yards in the previous game
- Under is 4-1 in Tigers last 5 neutral site games
- Under is 7-3 in Tigers last 10 games after an ATS win
Updated on Jan 1 at 12:20am EST
Update prepared by our editoral staff
Public Money / Line Movements
LSU has gone from -8 down to -7.5 despite getting 55% of the bets. The sharps are liking the knight in this one.
Injury / Weather Report
Now Weather Issues Expected
LSU’s Impact Injury Report
Questionable— WR Justin Jefferson (788 Yards, 4 TDs), DB John Battle (37 Tackles, 3 INTs).
Central Florida’s Impact Injury Report
Out— Starting QB McKenzie Milton
Questionable— Adrian Killins Jr. (698 Yards, 8 TDs)
The Bottom Line What to bet on this game.
Full-Game Side Bet
LSU won’t make the mistake of underestimating UCF after watching Auburn fall in last season’s Peach Bowl. UCF’s season finale against Memphis was further proof of many of the defensive issues for the Knights, particularly when it comes to stopping the run. Memphis tailback Darrell Henderson is an exceptional player at his position, but the ease at which he ran over UCF’s defense was eye-opening.
There was also the game earlier in the season against Temple, when Ryquell Armstead burned them for 142 rushing yards.
The Knights are currently ranked 91st in the country in total yards allowed on defense and 116th against the run. Teams are averaging a ridiculous 227.5 yards on the ground per game against them. A dual offensive weapon like Burrow must be licking his chops at an opportunity to expose those weaknesses with his arm and legs.
This LSU run-first offense is tailor-made for UCF’s defense.
Don’t sleep on the importance of Tigers running back Nick Brossette in this game, either. He has run for 922 yards and 14 touchdowns this season, and I believe he’ll have an impact similar to the one Henderson had. He isn’t rushing for 200-plus yards, but I could easily envision a 150-yard performance to go along with another 100-yard rushing day from Burrow. LSU will pound the football and play keep-away to hand UCF its first loss in two years.
Prediction: LSU Tigers (-7.5)
Full-Game Total Pick
The under is 7-2 in the Knights’ last nine games overall and 10-4 in the Tigers’ last 14 games after a straight up loss. I’m expecting a ball-dominant game from the Tigers as they’ll be able to eat up huge chunks of yards on the ground and keep the chains moving. A good offense and long, sustained drives is the best defense against an explosive team like UCF. Take the under in this game.
Prediction: Under (55.5)