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Fiesta Bowl Betting Preview: Even Without Milton, UCF Can Stand Toe-to-Toe With LSU

Fiesta Bowl: LSU Tigers vs. UCF Golden Knights (+7.5)

Tue., January 1, 1:00 p.m. ET

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Four things to know before betting on LSU-UCF:

1. The McKenzie Milton era at Central Florida came to a horrific end in the Knights’ regular season finale against South Florida when one of the nation’s best quarterbacks went down with a leg injury. But UCF has managed to stay on track in the nearly two full games it’s won without Milton. The Knights finished off USF 38-10, easily covering a 15.5-point spread despite the injury to their superstar. UCF then closed as a one-point favorite against a strong Memphis team in the AAC Championship Game and faced a 38-21 halftime deficit before roaring back in the second half to win 56-41. During their 25-game win streak, the Knights are 17-7-1 against the spread. Only Fresno State and Buffalo have been better ATS since the beginning of last season.

2. UCF opened as an eight-point underdog for its Fiesta Bowl game against LSU, and it’s safe to say that line would at least be under seven if Milton were playing. But don’t sell Milton’s backup Darriel Mack Jr. short. Mack dominated Memphis, passing for 348 yards and two touchdowns, while adding 59 yards and four more scores on the ground. Given that he dropped 56 points on Memphis for a two-touchdown cover, it doesn’t seem like a spread should be adjusted all that much for him in the lineup—especially when he has a full month to prepare.

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3. LSU’s defense will be the toughest that UCF has faced this season, and the Tigers have been especially tough against the pass.  But last year’s Knights played arguably the best passing defense in the nation when they took on Auburn in the Peach Bowl, and they still won 34-27 as 10.5-point underdogs. UCF has continued to show it can compete against elite competition. The Knights made short work of an excellent Cincinnati defense in November, winning 38-13 as 6.5-point favorites.

The Knights have the benefit of facing a shorthanded LSU defense in the Fiesta Bowl. Starting left cornerback Kristian Fulton was lost for the season in early November, and starting right corner Greedy Williams will forgo the bowl game as he prepares for the NFL. Quarterbacks often threw away from Williams this season, and the defense as a whole benefited. The Tigers are 11th in the country in interceptions (16) and sixth in turnover margin. A drop off in talent for LSU’s replacements will help UCF keep things close.

4. As a moderate underdog, UCF is in line for some compelling ATS trends thanks to its explosive offense.

  • Over the last five seasons, underdogs of 3.5 to 10 points that both scored and allowed 30 points in their previous game are 98-53 against the spread.
  • Over the last five seasons, underdogs of 3.5 to 10 points that gained at least 525 total yards in each of their previous two games are 78-38 ATS.

The Knights are a lot more competitive than people give them credit for, and it’s clear that the touchdown-plus line in the Fiesta Bowl is an overreaction to Milton’s injury that bettors can take advantage of.

Pick: UCF +7.5

Confidence Level: Very High (on a scale of Low/Moderate/High/Very High/Extremely High)

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