Up until 2010, the Baylor Bears hadn't been to a bowl game in 15 years. Three seasons later, the Bears are partying in the BCS. The Knights of Central Florida joined Division I FBS football in 1996, and they are preparing to play the biggest game in program history.
A pair of newcomers to the BCS bash clash when Baylor and UCF meet in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Day in Glendale. The Bears are favored by more than two touchdowns for this date in the desert, but that might not faze them, as they have been beating big spreads all year.
Point spread: Bears opened as 16.5-point favorites; the total was 71. (Line updates and matchup report)
Odds Shark computer prediction: 49.1-32.0 Bears
Why the Bears can cover the spread
Baylor started 9-0 this season, reaching No. 4 in the BCS standings, putting up some ridiculous numbers in the process. But the Bears thought their BCS hopes, and those for a Big 12 title, had been dashed when they got beat, soundly, at Oklahoma State on November 23. They then got a second chance when the Cowboys lost their season finale to Oklahoma.
Baylor then took care of business against Texas, beating the 'Horns 30-10 to win their first conference championship since 1980. Coach Briles' operation leads the nation in both total offense, averaging 626 yards per game, and in scoring at 53 PPG. The Bears tallied at least 59 points seven times this season. But perhaps more importantly BU also ranks 17th in total defense and 25th vs. the run.
Why the Knights can cover the spread
The American Athletic Conference champions come into this bowl riding an eight-game winning streak. UCF owns victories over Penn State and Louisville and gave South Carolina a good scare. Offensively, the Knights do most of their damage through the air, averaging 280 YPG passing, with junior QB Blake Bortles compiling a 25/7 TD/INT ratio.
But they can run it a little, too, with 1,000-yard rusher Storm Johnson. Defensively, Central Florida ranks 19th in the country overall and 12th vs. the run, although some of that must be attributed to UCF's schedule.
The Knights haven't played on a stage this big before, but they have won and covered their last two bowl games, one of which was an upset of Georgia in the Liberty Bowl a couple of years ago. They are also 5-1 ATS in their past six games when facing a double-digit spread, according to Odds Shark.
Baylor has won bowl games the last two seasons by exploding on Washington and UCLA for 67 and 49 points. This year, the Bears have covered the spread nine times as favorites of 17 points and more. Baylor might even be harder to handle with the probable return of WR Tevin Reese, who's missed the last few games with a wrist injury.
Central Florida struggled a bit down the stretch, coming nowhere close to covering the spread against teams like Temple, South Florida and SMU. The Knights beat a couple of good teams earlier this season, and hung tough with South Carolina, but they haven't run into anybody like Baylor.
Give the points and back the Bears.
- Central Florida has won and covered three straight bowl games (all UNDERs)
- Baylor is 15-3 ATS past 18 games overall and 15-4 ATS past 19 as double-digit favorites
- UCF is 5-1 ATS past six games as double-digit dogs