New Year’s Day is traditionally a big day for college football and New Year’s 2019 will be no different. Four of the biggest bowl games in the sport will be played that day, starting in Florida with the Outback Bowl. At 1:00 Eastern, a pair of big games kick off as the VRBO Citrus Bowl and the Playstation Fiesta Bowl get underway. This year’s Fiesta Bowl features the two-time undefeated American Athletic Conference champion UCF Knights battling a strong LSU defense led by playmaker Devin White.
Spread: LSU -7.5
The Knights and their fans are once again annoyed at having been left out of the College Football Playoff, so I’d expect them to be fired up for this game. Going for their second consecutive undefeated season, UCF will be without starter McKenzie Milton whose season was ended when he suffered a leg injury against South Florida. Freshman Darriel Mack Jr. has stepped in quite capably throwing for 522 yards and running for 360 more this season and he looked dominant in the second half of the AAC title game against Memphis. Mack will need help from his supporting cast in what will be just his third career start. Running backs Adrian Killins and Greg McCrae are certainly good safety nets to have while the wide receiver trio of Gabriel Davis, Tre Nixon and Dredrick Snelson provide strong targets on the outside.
The defense regressed this season from last year, but it was still a solid group. Their biggest struggle points came against the run as opponents averaged nearly 230 yards per game on 47 attempts this season. The Knights did do a good job of stopping opponents scoring opportunities however, giving up just 3.55 points per scoring chance.
They’ll have a fascinating matchup against an LSU offense that was largely the same as always this season. Quarterback Joe Burrow seemed to make big plays at the right times, but he completed just 57 percent of his passes this season. The running game wasn’t as strong as it had been in previous years with Leonard Fournette or Derrius Guice. But, the combination of Nick Brossette and Clyde Edwards-Helaire made for a good duo with over 1,500 yards and 21 touchdowns on the season. The offense was not an explosive one, (1.11 IsoPPP; 111th FBS) so if you could slow the running game enough to get the Tigers into third and long, you stood a good chance of winning.
Still, in order to beat Ed Orgeron’s group, you had to score and that was easier said than done with the Tigers giving up just about 21 points per game this season. Junior linebacker Devin White was the leader of the unit (84.5 tackles 12 TFL) with hard-hitting safety Grant Delpit roaming the secondary and generally wreaking havoc (9.5 TFL, 5 sacks, 5 INT). The Tigers ranked fifth in the country against the pass and held opposing passers to just a 50.5 percent completion percentage. That’s not great news for a freshman quarterback making his third start.
UCF was favored in every game this season, so the underdog role is a new one for them as they enter this game. The Tigers were familiar with the favorite role having been favored in seven games but they were just 2-5 in those contests. It may seem like a tall order for UCF to win this game because they are starting a true freshman at quarterback, but the team is talented enough to help him overcome. UCF +7.5; Over 56
Local Expert Take: Jim Berry, WFOR Sports Anchor
“This could be a very entertaining matchup. LSU a team from the mighty SEC, they know that UCF is coming in with a huge chip on their shoulder because UCF, ranked 8th, thinks that they ought to be in the College Football Playoff. You could say that they have a point because this team has won 25 straight college football games. They have lost their starting quarterback McKenzie Milton to a gruesome leg injury but they still managed to win over Memphis in their conference championship. I like UCF to once again run the table and beat LSU in the Fiesta Bowl.”