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LSU vs UCF: Fiesta Bowl Odds and Moneyline Winner

UCF Knights(13-0) @ LSU Tigers(9-3)

  • Where: State Farm Stadium . Glendale, AZ
  • When: January 1, 2019 6:00 pm EST
  • Spread: UCF (+7.5) vs LSU (-7.5)
  • Moneyline: UCF (+240) vs LSU (-290)
  • Over / Under: 55

Prior to Championship Weekend I was arguing that Central Florida wouldn’t really benefit from a College Football Playoff bid this season. McKenzie Milton, the Knights’ super-talented starting QB and emotional leader, suffered a scary leg injury against South Florida in a November rivalry game, and freshman backup Darriel Mack Jr. went only 5-of-14 in relief.

UCF went on to win 38-10 thanks to a terrific defense and USF’s trademark ability to play below its potential at the worst times. But without Milton, the Knights would be lucky just to win the AAC. Playing in the 4-team playoff without their starting QB would humiliate a proud program.

The title game with Memphis wasn’t the greatest college scrum of all time – after all it was only Memphis, a mid-tier FBS contender that was in Orlando thanks to NFL-caliber running back Darrell Henderson, standing in the Knights’ way. The only way for Josh Heupel’s squad to improve its national ranking would be with a blow-out win. But it appeared they would be blown out themselves, still in shock from losing Milton in the regular season.

Mack Jr. began the 1st half making horrid mistakes, fumbling and stumbling. The Tigers ran out to a 17-point lead. It appeared that UCF had lost not only its QB but its long winning streak…and it would happen against a Group-of-5 team. But out of nowhere the Knights put on a clinic. out-scoring Memphis 35-3 in the 2nd half. The frosh green-horn passed for 358 yards and scored 6 combined passing and rushing TDs. Henderson was held to (gulp) 3 yards on 6 carries after halftime. Final score: 56-41 in favor of UCF. And it wasn’t nearly that close.

Okay, so I was wrong. UCF looks and feels like a playoff team – one that won’t get the opportunity thanks to a corrupt system. Handicappers and high-rollers are still skeptical enough that the Knights are a solid moneyline underdog for the Fiesta Bowl.

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You See, It’s All Pretty F’ed Up

When a Group-of-5 team beats another one, the loser is ranked down more than the winner is ranked up. Cincinnati was a ranked 1-loss team and considered to have a top-10 defense when the Bearcats met UCF in November.

The AAC champs slaughtered them 38-13, holding QB Desmond Ritter to less than 5 yards per pass attempt. Athletic senior lineman Titus Davis posted 4 tackles-for-loss.

UCF also held Pittsburgh’s vaunted ground game without a 50-yard rusher in a 45-14 beatdown.

Central Florida has reached the level of a contending team from the SEC or the ACC. It doesn’t mean that the Knights will beat LSU. But the burden-of-proof should be on handicappers to prove that Louisiana State has what it takes to beat a powerhouse like UCF, not the other way around.

The betting lines appear to be set by a gambling community that still thinks of UCF is the scrappy upstart, as opposed to viewing their 3-loss opponent as the team with something to prove.

Are the Tigers in Trouble?

There’s a lot to like about the 2018-19 LSU Tigers. Orgeron is a fantastic gridiron coach who will have the squad well-prepared for the Big Toaster.

The Tigers whipped Miami and Mississippi State, and were considered a national-title hopeful in mid-season.

Quarterback Joe Burrow finished 12 games with only 4 picks. Nick Brosette ran for almost 1000 yards and 14 touchdowns behind a powerful run-blocking OL. Devin White is an NFL linebacker, and safety Grant Delpit snagged 5 interceptions.

But almost every time LSU faced an elite FBS squad, major problems jumped up. Burrow decided to try to beat Alabama by standing in the pocket holding the ball for 10 seconds at a time. That (ahem) clever tactic earned the Tigers a 29-0 home loss to the Crimson Tide.

A few weeks prior, Burrow was picked-off twice by the Florida Gators as the team lost 27-19 despite a poor passing day from Florida QB Feleipe Franks.

Of concern is the fact that LSU has given up more sacks than the edge-rush has produced, and that only a single receiver (Justin Jefferson) has more than 20 catches on the season. LSU struggled to beat lowly Arkansas, and gave up 330 yards passing to someone named J’Mar Smith from Louisiana Tech.

2019 Fiesta Bowl: Moneyline Pick

Fans headed to Glendale are probably in for a treat. Despite his inexperience, Mack Jr. is a faster and more dynamic QB than Burrow, who too-often “burrows” into the ground when faced with a quality pass rush from an opposing defense. Titus Davis will move all around the LOS and work to collapse the LSU pocket, and defensive back Richie Grant could cause havoc for LSU in coverage and as a streaky-fast blitzer. If the Tigers respond with a big pass rush of their own, the Knights will fight back by sending 1000-yard rusher Greg McCrae up the middle.

Finally, remember that while the favorites will be motivated to play hard, UCF has additional motivation under the circumstances. This isn’t just an opportunity for Central Florida to win another New Year’s Six bowl game and extend its winning streak to 26. From the underdog’s POV the 2019 Fiesta Bowl is a virtual qualification-game for 2019-20 College Football Playoff.

Win this one, and UCF will have 2 bowl victories in a row over powerful SEC teams. Go unbeaten and win the AAC again next year, and there won’t be enough strings in the world for Power-5 power-brokers to pull to keep the Knights out of the 4-team CFP bracket a year from now.

I like UCF on the moneyline. But the Under is also a savvy pick at (55). LSU’s offense doesn’t go anywhere fast – it doesn’t even want to. And I doubt Heupel will choose to use tempo for the entire 4 quarters, given that he’s working with a teenage QB and a play-making defense that can only hold up for so many snaps against the SEC.

 

Kurt BoyerThis article was written by Kurt Boyer

A freelance sportswriter from Missouri, Kurt has covered court, gridiron, rink and ring for 10+ years. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.


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