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Fiesta Bowl: Preview, Predictions, TV info

By Chip Patterson | Staff Writer

What: Tostitos Fiesta Bowl

Who: Baylor (11-1, 8-1 Big 12) vs. UCF (11-1, 8-0 American)

When: Wednesday, Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Where: University of Phoenix Stadium (73,000), Glendale, Ariz.

Opening Line: Baylor -17.5

What matters: The Fiesta Bowl features a pair of BCS newcomers, squeezing in an appearance at the eleventh hour for this postseason format. Baylor's BCS dreams were revitalized with Oklahoma State's loss on the final day of the regular season, and the Bears were able to claim their first outright conference title since 1980 with a win against Texas. UCF jumped to the front of the American Athletic Conference with midseason wins against Louisville and Houston, then narrowly avoided upsets down the stretch to claim the new league's first, and only, BCS bid.

Who matters: Health was an issue for Baylor down the stretch of the season, losing key contributors like Tevin Reese and Lache Seastrunk to injuries. With some time to heal and rest, quarterback Bryce Petty (who already announced plans to return for his senior season in 2014) will have a nearly full strength offensive unit for the first time since early November. UCF quarterback Blake Bortles has shot up NFL Draft boards with a productive season of his own (3,280 yards and 22 touchdowns on 68.1 percent passing) but has yet to make a decision regarding his future beyond the Fiesta Bowl.

Matchup question: Can UCF keep Baylor from getting into a rhythm on offense? The best way to contain Baylor's offense is to keep it off the field, which will require a productive day from running backs Storm Johnson and William Stanback and execution on 3rd downs -- an area where the Knights struggled in one-score victories against Memphis, Temple and USF.

Prediction: UCF did not dominate its competition in the last month of play, which is likely one of the reasons why the Knights are 17.5-point underdogs. Finding ways to win in close games has gotten then team to Glendale, but the margin for error is razor thin when facing a team with as much firepower as Baylor. The Bears might be sleepy early, but at some point Petty will hit his stride and break the game open. Baylor 45, UCF 20

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