UCF’s Bortles true to form in legacy-defining win
GLENDALE, Ariz. — After throwing an interception for a second straight possession in the second quarter of the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on Wednesday night, UCF quarterback Blake Bortles doubled over in frustration.
It felt as if he’d just handed all the momentum to No. 6 Baylor, which scored after the interception to pull within a point at 14-13, and the fumble UCF lost on the next possession made for an even bleaker outlook.
But true to form, Bortles shook off the mistakes and went onto lead No. 15 UCF to a 52-42 upset of Baylor in what may have been the exclamation point to the junior’s college career.
"There were not many people outside of us that believed we could do this," Bortles said. "I think we showed the country what UCF football is about."
Bortles, the game’s offensive MVP, finished 20 of 31 passing for 301 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for a career-high 93 yards and a touchdown.
While UCF running back Storm Johnson finished with three touchdowns of his own, it was Bortles’ poise and leadership that fueled the Knights and kept them composed.
"I thought he lost his composure on those three plays, right?" UCF coach George O’Leary joked, turning to look at Bortles. "He’s been like that all year, I’m only kidding with him. He’s never really high, never really low. He’s always right in the middle.
"I think he came back and made some big plays with his legs and also turned some plays that could have been very bad for us into really good plays getting the ball down the field."
It should come as no surprise that Bortles bounced back from the ugly second-quarter stretch. A little adversity was nothing new to the Oviedo, Fla., native. He’s been beating the odds for quite some time now.
Unheralded out of high school, Bortles only received five Division I scholarship offers, and only three of those were to play quarterback. Even at UCF, Bortles was more of a Plan B until a previously committed quarterback prospect chose to go elsewhere.
From there, Bortles quietly began building an impressive career at UCF, passing for more than 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns in back-to-back seasons, all in the shadow of more prominent quarterbacks such as Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater.
Bortles is now regarded by some as a potential top-10 pick in the NFL Draft should he leave UCF early. Leading the Knights to their first BCS game and the biggest postseason victory in school history would be quite a way to go out should he decide to make the jump to the NFL.
"I’m just so proud to be a part of this team and this program," Bortles said. "It’s been a great journey, and I’m just so proud to be a part of it."
The journey might just be over. Bortles has requested feedback from the NFL Draft Advisory Committee to help make his decision, and lately, he has been rated widely among the top quarterbacks eligible to enter the draft.
Bortles said leading up to the Fiesta Bowl he would not make a decision on returning to UCF for his senior season until after the game. Despite chants of ‘One more year!’ from UCF fans after the game, Bortles remained guarded about his looming decision.
"I can’t even begin to think about that right now," Bortles said. "I just want to get this trophy back to Orlando and celebrate with my teammates."
But with as much as Bortles’ draft stock has soared over the past month, Wednesday’s performance had to make him an even more attractive option to teams in need of a quarterback.
Will the victory and his performance in it affect Bortles’ decision?
"I said before it didn’t matter," Bortles said. "I had no clue. I wasn’t worried about any part of (the decision). I just wanted to win this game, help this team be victorious. That’s all I’m worried about."
Bortles was more interested in enjoying UCF’s improbable victory, which came in the final Fiesta Bowl of the BCS era. It may be difficult for UCF to reach this stage again under the new College Football Playoff system beginning next season, though Bortles returning would certainly make it more likely in the short term.
If Bortles has donned a UCF uniform for the final time, he’ll leave behind a legacy unmatched by any other Knight. Not that it matters much to him.
"Leaving a legacy is really nothing you have control over yourself," Bortles said. "It’s a ‘we’ thing, not a ‘me’ thing. Building chemistry on and off the field is what we strive for. Hopefully that will be my legacy at the end."