Fiesta showcase is next step in progression for Baylor, UCF

Central Florida head coach George O'Leary, left, and Baylor head coach Art Briles exchange pleasantries before addressing the media on Tuesday.  

Rick Scuteri/AP

 GLENDALE, Ariz. — The NCAA FBS subdivision will stage a truer form of a national championship playoff beginning next season, and it could not come at a better time for Tostitos Fiesta Bowl participants No. 5 Baylor and Central Florida. 

 Each is appearing in its first BCS bowl game this season, and each program appears to be in its ascendency. The prospect of a championship tournament should be appealing to both.

 Baylor coach Art Briles has devised an offensive scheme that at times seems unstoppable, regardless of who is calling signals or who is on the other side of the ball. The Bears (11-1) have tied a school record for victories this season and have 36 wins the last four years. 

 Ursa major.

 At the same time, Central Florida (11-1) has won 37 games in the same time frame, this year featuring a young but mentally tough group that can make a play when a play must be made. The Knights have won seven games by a touchdown or less, four times scoring or keeping an opponent from scoring on first-and-goal situations in the final 90 seconds.

 "It’s hard to get here," Central Florida coach George O’Leary said. "The key is to stay here. That’s the key as far as football is concerned at this level."

 How long Briles will stay at Baylor is a developing storyline here. His named has been mentioned in connection with coaching vacancies with the NFL’s Washington Redskins and the just-down-the-road University of Texas. He had some fun when asked about it Tuesday morning, checking with his SID to see he had missed a call from Washington owner Dan Snyder. Briles later admitted that there was some intrigue, perhaps the same tug that innovative Oregon coach Chip Kelly felt when he took the Philadelphia Eagles’ job last January.

 "I love the job. I love where I’m at," Briles said. "I love the people that I’m involved with. I feel very fortunate, humbled and privileged to be at Baylor University.

 "As far as interest in the NFL, if we’re just being honest, which I like to be, the thing that would interest me would be our style of play at that level. I like how we play from a philosophical, schematic standpoint. I know the rules are different. The limitations on the number of people available in a game. To me that works to an advantage. If they have 46 guys available, there’s going to be a few of them getting tired on one side of the ball. That would be the only thing that would spark my interest a little bit on that end. But it’s not something I would pursue."

 Kelly, who won with an up-tempo, spread-the-field offense at Oregon, went from the Fiesta Bowl to Philadelphia last offseason, and the Eagles won the NFC East this season, in the process making Kelly a coach-of-the-year candidate.

 "Whether it’s evidence or not that it could work, I don’t know," Briles said. "But by them winning a division championship his first year in there, I think there’s some indications there’s a new kid in town. His name might be Chip Kelly. I don’t know. But they’ve done pretty well first rattle out of the box."

 Briles, who was a successful high school coach before turning Houston around, uses a revolutionary scheme. His wide receivers line up about as wide as possible on either side of the field, and his offensive line sets up tight, creating space and attack angles. Robert Griffin III captured national attention with his Heisman Trophy run in 2011, and Nick Florence and Kyle Petty have kept it up. Petty, who was a college graduate before his first college start this season, has been the model of consistency. He has completed 61.8 percent of his passes for 3,844 yards and 30 touchdowns against only two interceptions. His passer efficiency rating of 179.2 was second in the to Florida State Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston entering the bowl season.

 The Bears lead the nation with averages of 624.5 yards and 53.3 points per game, and they have gained at least 400 yards in 11 games. Baylor scored 69, 70, 70 and 73 points in Petty’s first four starts. Running back Lache Seastrunk and wide receiver Antwan Goodley are big-play threats, and their most explosive receiver, Tevin Reese, has returned from a leg injury in time for the game.

More Fiesta Bowl

 â€œI hope they did forget about (No.) 16 so I can come back and let them remember why they missed me," said Reese, who had 33 receptions for 824 yards and eight touchdowns in nine games.

 Petty has said he will return to Baylor for his final year in 2014, Briles said, but there is speculation that Central Florida junior quarterback Bortles will declare for the NFL draft after completing 68 percent of his passes for 3,280 yards and 22 touchdowns with only seven interceptions.. He was ninth the FBS in passing efficiency entering the bowl season. Halfback Storm Johnson has 1,015 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns, and five receivers have at least 29 catches.

 "He doesn’t get scared under pressure," Johnson said of Bortles. 

 The game promises a contrast in styles. Briles wants to run a play every 17 seconds. O’Leary will milk the play clock to the last few seconds. Both consider this game a milestone, perhaps especially for Central Florida, which began playing football in 1979 and did not join the FBS until 1996.

 "Any time you are in a bowl game that has a B, C and S in it, it’s a big-time deal," Briles said. "When we got here, we felt like this was something that needed to be done if we were every going to have a feeling of accomplishment for the university and for the football program. It’s not like we’ve reached the mountaintop. There are a lot of things out in front of us that we are shooting for. We’ve gotten to a good point with our program."

 Next step, the playoff.

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