The Oregon Ducks played the Washington Huskies in the Pac-12 Championship Game for a chance to make the College Football Playoff. They had a golden opportunity to not only win a conference title, but gain revenge on Washington for a loss suffered in Seattle on October 14. Everything was set up for the Ducks, but they fell short. They were outplayed in the first quarter. They rallied in the second half but didn’t make the biggest plays of the game in the fourth quarter. Oregon fell short, but because the Ducks went 11-1 in their first 12 games before losing a second time to Washington, they still had a record which was good enough to make a New Year’s Six bowl game at the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona.
Oregon will face the Liberty Flames, the champions of Conference USA. Liberty got in over SMU – the champion of the AAC – despite playing a very soft schedule without a single Power Five conference opponent. Usually, the Group of Five champion – which gets an invitation to a New Year’s Six bowl game – has to play (and beat) at least one Power Five conference team. Liberty is an exception to that reality, and SMU fans are very upset about that part of the bowl process. Liberty will try to take advantage of its surprise invitation against Oregon but they’re a big underdog in the 2023 VRBO Fiesta Bowl odds.
Liberty Flames vs. Oregon Ducks
Date: Monday, January 1st, 2024 – 1:00 PM ET
Location: State Farm Stadium, Glendale, AZ
2023 VRBO Fiesta Bowl Odds: Oregon -17.5
*Odds courtesy of MyBookie. Check the MyBookie review for more details.
Liberty linebacker Aakil Washington and defensive back Preston Hodge entered the transfer portal and will not play in this game.
Liberty went 13-0, and so the Flames really did the best they could. They could not have been better. However, people will look at this schedule and wonder why Liberty was selected over SMU as the Group of Five champion. Liberty’s list of victims this season is a cupcake schedule, with the exception of a good New Mexico State team which won at Auburn. Liberty beat New Mexico State twice. The rest of the teams the Flames defeated are as follows: Bowling Green, Buffalo, Florida International, Sam Houston, Jacksonville State, Middle Tennessee, Western Kentucky, Louisiana Tech, Old Dominion, Massachusetts, and UTEP.
You would find a lot of college football teams which could go 13-0 against that schedule. SMU did lose twice, but the Mustangs beat a very good Tulane team and a solid Memphis team on the road. Those are two quality wins, much better than anything Liberty pulled off. SMU lost at Oklahoma – a 10-win team – and to TCU, another Power Five team. Liberty, going up against Oregon, will get its first really big test of the whole season.
Oregon running back Dante Dowdell entered the transfer portal and will not play in this game. However, Oregon quarterback Bo Nix – instead of opting out and preparing for the NFL draft – will play in this game. He wants to have one more big winning moment at Oregon before he heads off to the pros. He has enjoyed being at Oregon, and he should. The Ducks dramatically improved his football career after a few very uneven seasons at Auburn. Nix was third in the final Heisman Trophy voting behind winner Jayden Daniels of LSU and runner-up Michael Penix of Washington, whose Huskies beat Nix and Oregon twice and basically cost Nix the Heisman.
Oregon beat everyone on its schedule this season except for Washington. The Ducks dominated USC, Utah, Oregon State, and the rest of the Pac-12 with a balanced offense, good offensive line play, and a reliable defense which limited big plays and was fundamentally sound. The best betting strategy is to lay the points with them as they should roll here.
Liberty vs. Oregon Prediction:
Oregon 52, Liberty 20