By Wendell Barnhouse | email@example.com
The Fiesta Bowl features two teams making their first appearances in a Bowl Championship Series game. Both Baylor and Central Florida (also known as UCF) have 11-1 records and won their conference championships.
However, there's a bit more at stake for the sixth-ranked Bears. A victory in a BCS bowl in the final year of the current system could position Baylor for a run at next season's four-team playoff.
"Now that we've established ourselves as Big 12 champions, it's not like we reached the mountaintop," Baylor coach Art Briles said. "There are a lot of things out in front of us we're shooting for, doing everything right in all situations across the board. There are other team goals we want to achieve. 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.
"Anytime you're in a bowl game that's got a big B, C and S on it, it's a big-time deal. There are five of them. We can probably sit here and name all the people that are involved in those five bowl games without having to look at a piece of paper."
The Knights have won 11 games for the second time in four seasons and were the first champions in the new American Athletic Conference this season. UCF has won a school-record eight consecutive games.
"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."
The game matches two junior quarterbacks who have had outstanding seasons. In his first year as a starter, Bryce Petty ran the nation's most-prolific offense. Baylor averaged 686 yards and 61.0 points in the first eight games but the attack was slowed when deep-threat receiver Tevin Reese was injured. He's expected to return for the bowl game.
UCF's Blake Bortles, who like Petty was named his conference's offensive player of the year, has completed 68 percent of his passes and thrown just seven interceptions. The Knights have four receivers who have at least 36 receptions.
While Bortles is reportedly considering applying for the NFL Draft, Petty has pledged to return to Baylor for his senior season. That, plus the opening of a new on-campus stadium, gives the Bears high hopes for 2014. Finishing this season with a victory in the Fiesta would simply add to the anticipation.
"I know you don't want to look too far ahead," Briles said. "You have your quarterback coming back. What you've built, there's a very good chance you could be a top-five team next season."
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
Baylor vs. Central Florida
Need to know: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, University of Phoenix Stadium, ESPN.
Team records: Baylor 11-1, 8-1 in Big 12; Central Florida 11-1 overall, 8-0 in American Athletic Conference.
Scouting Central Florida: The Knights' offense is led by junior quarterback Blake Bortles, who has thrown for throwing for 3,280 yards and 22 touchdowns. Running back Storm Johnson (5.3 yards per carry, 11 touchdowns, 1,015 yards rushing) was named first team All-American Athletic Conference. The UCF defense held nine of its 12 opponents below their scoring average this season. The Knights rank 13th nationally in scoring defense (19.6 ppg), and 19th in total yards allowed (346.3 ypg). They enter the Fiesta Bowl having held five of their last six foes to 20 points or less.
Scouting Baylor: The Bears' offense will have one of its top weapons on the field as senior wide receiver Tevin Reese has recovered from a dislocated wrist. He averages 25 yards per catch and missed the last four games. Quarterback Bryce Petty, the Big 12's offensive player of the year, leads the nation with 17.5 yards per completion and is second in passing efficiency. Baylor is first nationally in total offense (624.5 yards per game) and scoring (53.3 points per game) and is the only FBS school averaging 300-plus yards passing (359) and 250-plus yards rushng (265).
Short yardage: Central Florida, or UCF, is located in Orlando, Fla. The football program joined the FBS ranks in 1996. … UCF defensive coordinator Jim Fleming left to take over as head coach at Rhode Island. Knights coach George O'Leary has taken over the defense for the bowl game with help from linebackers coach Tyson Summers. … Baylor's defense might be without junior linebacker Bryce Hager, who has missed the last three games with a groin injury. … The Knights are 7-1 in games decided by seven points or less, and their lone loss came to South Carolina, a 28-25 decision on Sept. 28.