Oregon is 17 1/2-point favorite over Liberty in Fiesta Bowl

Bo Nix Oregon Ducks
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GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — No. 18 Liberty rolled through its sixth season as a Division I program undefeated, earning a spot in Monday’s Fiesta Bowl.

Awaiting the Flames in the desert is something unlike anything they’ve faced, maybe ever: the big, bad Oregon Ducks.

“It doesn’t take a lot of time to watch the video to know how talented they are,” Liberty coach Jamey Chadwell said. “We shared with them (the team), and I think I’ve said it before, they’re six points away from playing for a national championship. That’s how good they are. Going into championship weekend, they were the favorites to win the national championship. They’re tremendous.”

Oddsmakers certainly think so.

No. 8 Oregon is a 17 1/2-point favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, one of the most lopsided betting lines during bowl season.

The Ducks (11-2) steamrolled through their schedule, outside of two games against No. 2 Washington, one of four College Football Playoff teams. Oregon lost by three in both games, including the Pac-12 title game.

The Ducks are led by quarterback Bo Nix, a Heisman Trophy finalist who has put up gaudy numbers and has a chance to break the NCAA single-season record for completion percentage.

Oregon has one of the best offensive lines in the country, a group that allowed an FBS-low five sacks this season. The Ducks’ past-blocking grade of 92.0 is the best in the country, according to Pro Football Focus.

Oregon’s defense has been just as good, finishing 12th against the run (97.5 yards per game) while giving up 10 points or less six times.

The Ducks aren’t about to take the Flames lightly, either.

“Several of the players on their team started off at Power Five schools and I don’t know if everybody realizes this, they’ve won every single game they’ve played,” Oregon coach Dan Lanning said with a touch of sarcasm. “That’s a pretty good team and our players recognize that.”

OVERCOMING TRAGEDY

Liberty (13-0) has played the best season in program history despite enduring a tragedy before it even started.

Early in camp, freshman offensive lineman Tajh Boyd died, ruled by the medical examiner as a suicide.

The Flames bonded around their fallen teammate throughout the season.

“When things like that happen, you can either fall apart or you can make it a point to be around each other and be together, and try to stay together,” Liberty offensive lineman X’Zavea Gadlin said. “We really did that.”

NIX’S DECISION

No one would have blamed Nix for skipping the Fiesta Bowl to prepare for the NFL draft.

The senior had already proved himself during the regular season, throwing for 4,145 yards and 40 touchdowns with three interceptions. His completion percentage of 77.2% is right behind the record of 77.4% set by Alabama’s Mac Jones in 2020.

Nix wasn’t interested in riding off without his teammates.

“You go the whole season, you’re playing and you’re going week by week, and things get crazy,” Nix said. “When you get to the bowl game, it’s like your last hurrah for the whole team and your last time to be together to maximize that time with your teammates and coach.”

RUNNING FLAMES

Oregon’s offensive line may have had the nation’s best grades, but Liberty’s group is also first class.

Liberty arrives in the desert with the nation’s best rushing attack at 302.9 yards per game — more than 20 ahead of Air Force, the next closest team.

The Flames also are the only team in FBS with two 1,000-yard rushers.

Quinton Cooley is 13th nationally with 1,322 yards and quarterback Kaidon Salter added 1,064. Salter also has thrown for 31 touchdowns and accounted for 43, both school records.

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