Several factors led to the best seasons in school history for
both Baylor and Central Florida.
Without question, outstanding quarterback play is at the top of
In what most feel is the best quarterback matchup of this bowl
season, Bryce Petty leads No. 6 Baylor and the nation’s most potent
offense into the Fiesta Bowl against Blake Bortles and 15th-ranked
Central Florida on New Year’s Day.
This is the first BCS bowl game for both Baylor (11-1) and UCF
(11-1) after each earned conference titles.
The Bears’ hopes for a national championship were dashed with a
lopsided loss to Oklahoma State on Nov. 23, but they rebounded to
win their next two games. A 30-10 victory over Texas in the
regular-season finale gave Baylor 11 wins for the first time and
the Big 12 crown, the school’s first outright conference title
since winning the SWC in 1980.
“Now that we’ve established ourselves as Big 12 champions, like
I told the freshmen earlier today, it’s not like we’ve reached the
mountaintop,” coach Art Briles said. “We’ve still got a lot to
reach for. We’re at a good point in our program and now the duty is
to maintain that.”
This is also uncharted territory for UCF, which wrapped up a BCS
bid with Louisville’s win over Cincinnati on Dec. 5 and added the
inaugural American Athletic Conference title by holding off SMU
17-13 in an ice storm two days later.
The Knights also won 11 games in 2010, but that led to the
Liberty Bowl as opposed to a BCS berth. They have won a
school-record eight straight, only two by more than seven points,
since a 28-25 loss to then-No. 12 South Carolina on Sept. 28.
“It’s something everyone at UCF is excited about, the
administration, the fan base,” coach George O’Leary said. “Anytime
you have a first in anything, people get very excited, but
especially when you’re invited to a bowl like the Fiesta.”
O’Leary becomes the latest coach tasked with finding a way to
slow Baylor’s nearly point-per-minute offense. That unit scored a
nation-best 53.3 points per game and averaged 624.4 yards – both
just shy of setting NCAA records for points (56.0) and yards
Keeping Petty in check would be a good way to start, but that’s
been a rare occurrence this season.
The junior, who has said he’s returning next season, threw for
3,844 yards with 30 touchdowns and only two interceptions. He ranks
second in the country in passing efficiency (179.18) and first with
17.47 yards per completion.
Petty was named the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year after
leading the conference in passing TDs (12) and 300-yard games
He’s thrown one pick with 20 touchdowns in his last 264
“I think there’s a lot of things that go into that, receivers
being one,” he said. “We have really good guys who catch the ball
and they do a very good job of not putting me in positions to get
in trouble like that.”
Bortles may have flown under the radar some at UCF, but his name
has been rocketing up most draft boards lately – with some tabbing
him a potential top-10 selection. The 6-foot-4 junior is ninth
nationally in passing efficiency (163.3), racking up 3,280 yards
and 22 touchdowns with seven interceptions.
The AAC Offensive Player of the Year had the best performance of
his career with a 404-yard, four-touchdown game in a 39-36 win over
Temple on Nov. 16.
But Bortles will have little chance to keep up with Petty if his
line doesn’t do a better job keeping him upright. After he was
sacked seven times in his first seven games, Bortles was taken down
14 times in the final five.
The Bears’ explosive offense features much more than Petty’s
passing, however. They rank 11th in the country with 265.2 rushing
yards per game, and Lache Seastrunk became the first player in
school history with two 1,000-yard seasons. He totaled 1,060 and 11
touchdowns despite missing two games due to injury.
Petty has a wide array of targets to choose from, none more
formidable than Antwan Goodley, who led the Bears with 67
receptions while ranking ninth in the country with 1,319 yards and
tied for seventh with 13 TDs. He averages 19.7 yards per catch.
Senior receiver Tevin Reese is expected to play after missing
the last four games with a dislocated wrist. Reese was among the
national leaders with 33 catches for 824 yards and eight touchdowns
before the injury, while his per-catch average of 25.0 yards tops
the nation and would be a school record.
Baylor averaged 686 yards and 61.0 points in the first eight
games with Reese compared to 501.5 and 37.8 in the four contests he
“We’re planning on having him back, and that’s a big boost for
him and us as a football team,” Briles said. “It will definitely
give us a boost offensively, because he’s a guy that can scare a
Bortles does an excellent job spreading the ball around, with
four receivers totaling at least 36 receptions. Rannell Hall had 53
for a team-best 773 yards, while J.J. Worton added 42 for 665 and
Storm Johnson got a bulk of the carries for UCF, rushing for
1,015 yards and averaging 5.3 per carry. He is also adept as a
receiver with 29 catches for 261 yards and three TDs.
Baylor has a chance to win three straight bowl games for the
first time after combining for 116 points in wins over Washington
in the Alamo Bowl and UCLA in the Holiday Bowl the past two
UCF has also won its last two bowl appearances after losing its
first three, but is 0-5 against current teams from the Big 12.
This is the first meeting between the schools.