ORLANDO — It’s a UC-Fiesta.
Ten years to the day after Knights’ coach George O’Leary was hired, UCF reached the pinnacle of the building process, learning it would face No. 6 Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz., on Jan. 1.
The game got an early endorsement on ESPN’s BCS show.
“Even the UCF-Baylor game can be intriguing,” ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said. “With the Knights hearing they don’t have a chance for a month, they’re going to show up irritated, the way George O’Leary likes it.”
The Knights (11-1) finished ranked No. 15 in the final BCS standings.
UCF made the top 15 after closing out the regular season with a 17-13 win over SMU, securing the outright American Athletic Conference title.
The Knights have been up and down in the rankings almost all season, but their resume is fairly impressive. UCF’s lone loss came to No. 9 South Carolina — by three points — and the Knights also boast a road win over No. 18 Louisville.
Facing Baylor (11-1) and its nearly point-per-minute offense likely will be a daunting task for the Knights and possibly lead to a rare mismatch in the Fiesta Bowl.
The Fiesta has been fortunate to have some marquee match-ups through the years, including the wild overtime win by Boise State over Oklahoma in 2007 and Oklahoma State’s overtime win over Stanford two years ago.
Last year’s game featured a pair of teams that had been in the national-title hunt late in the regular season, but Oregon turned it into a rout by running past Kansas State.
This year’s Fiesta Bowl could end up more like the 2011 game, which featured Oklahoma and Connecticut. The Sooners, predictably, won in a blowout and UConn had a hard time getting its fans to travel across the country for the game.
The Fiesta Bowl really had no choice in this pairing.
It was locked into taking the Big 12 champion and was last in the pecking order for at-large selections. When the Orange and Sugar bowls passed on taking Central Florida, the Fiesta Bowl had no other choice since the AAC has an automatic berth into the BCS.
Information from the Orlando Sentinel
and The Associated Press was used
in this report.