Big 12: Blake Bortles

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Blake Bortles stood on the podium, holding his trophy as the offensive MVP of the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, a broad smile on his face as he soaked in the moment.

A throng of UCF fans -- a group that accounted for a small fraction of the crowd at kickoff but was all that remained as the final seconds ticked away in the fourth quarter of the Knights’ 52-42 win -- roared its approval, chanting “One more year, one more year,” in hopes of convincing Bortles to delay his ascension to the NFL.

“Not many people outside of us believed we could win,” Bortles said. “But we showed the country what UCF is all about.”

It was the perfect underdog story.

UCF was here only by virtue of the American Athletic Conference’s lame-duck status as an automatic-qualifier league, a 17-point underdog to high-flying Baylor.

Bortles was here only because so many bigger schools passed on him, failing to find the potential that UCF’s George O’Leary embraced.

But UCF won handily, scoring the first 14 points of the game, then fighting back once Baylor tied it in the third quarter. And Bortles, who has become one of college football’s hottest commodities among NFL scouts, made his mark on a national stage. He completed 20 of 31 passes for 301 yards and accounted for four touchdowns.

It was, perhaps, a coming-out party. But for UCF, it wasn’t a surprise.

“You don’t fluke your way to 52 points,” offensive lineman Jordan McCray said.

The Fiesta Bowl wasn’t simply about looking the part or pulling off the upset, McCray said. UCF wanted to dominate.

For weeks, the Knights heard the narrative that they weren’t good enough, that Baylor would cruise. They embraced the doubters, lugged an oversized chip on their shoulder from Orlando to Arizona, and changed the narrative on the field.

[+] EnlargeTroy Gray and Terrance Plummer
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsTroy Gray and Terrance Plummer celebrate after the Fiesta Bowl victory over Baylor.
“I thought it was probably a fun game to watch in the stands, but it wasn’t fun on the sideline,” O’Leary said of the back-and-forth affair. “But I thought it worked out really well.”

If Baylor was supposed to be the establishment and UCF the upstart, however, neither team embraced their roles.

UCF’s offensive line was dominant. It didn’t allow a sack, and the Knights ran for 255 yards, milking the clock down the stretch. The Knights enjoyed a nearly 10-minute edge in time of possession.

That ground game was led by Storm Johnson, the Miami transfer who couldn’t find playing time with the bigger-name Florida school. He scored each of UCF’s first two touchdowns, then disappeared after a costly fumble, then emerged again to deliver the final blow with a 40-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown.

Then there was Bortles, who outdueled Baylor’s Bryce Petty in a showcase for two of the nation’s top quarterbacks. After a sluggish first half, Bortles was 9-of-11 for 118 yards and had two touchdowns in the second.

“It’s awesome to be a part of this,” Bortles said. “We weren’t highly touted guys out of high school. We came to UCF on a mission.”

Baylor was on a mission, too, but those plans were derailed early. The Bears never led, and while the offense played its part in the highest scoring Fiesta Bowl in history, racking up 550 yards, the defense couldn’t get a stop and a series of mistakes doomed any comeback bid. Baylor had a whopping 17 penalties for 135 yards, and Petty’s interception in the end zone midway through the second quarter squandered a potentially game-changing scoring opportunity.

The Baylor locker room was somber afterward, with some players slamming fists but most retreating into the corners, headphones tuning out the buzz surrounding them.

“They weren’t doing nothing extra,” defensive lineman Terrance Lloyd said. “I don’t believe they were more physical than us. We just didn’t execute on defense.”

But that was just the point, McCray said. UCF didn’t need to do anything extra, didn’t need to sneak up on Baylor or get the lucky bounces to win. The Knights were simply the better team, even if the rest of the country hadn’t been ready to believe.

“We’ve played a lot of good football teams throughout the years, did well, proved our legitimacy,” O’Leary said. “But the win today is national exposure.”

What comes next is a mystery. Whether the win is a springboard toward sustained national prominence, whether Bortles remains for one more year, whether the respect UCF earned Wednesday carries through a long offseason -- that’s all to be decided another day.

On Wednesday, the Knights wanted to enjoy a moment no one else believed would come.

“All I’m worried about now,” Bortles said, “is getting this trophy back to Orlando and celebrating.”

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- With two of the country’s top quarterbacks helping two explosive offenses, the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl promised plenty of scoring, and it delivered.

UCF and Baylor -- both BCS newcomers -- traded punches throughout, posting 94 total points, a new Fiesta Bowl record and the second-most points scored in any BCS bowl game in history. But it was the Knights who had the most firepower, as quarterback Blake Bortles accounted for four touchdowns, leading UCF to a 52-42 win.

It was over when: Shawn Moffitt drilled a 36-yard field goal with 4:44 left to make it a three-score game. It wasn't UCF's most impressive drive, but it was the dagger. After Baylor tied the game at 28-28 with 10:18 remaining in the third, UCF responded by scoring on four straight drives. Bryce Petty and the Baylor offense were hardly silenced, but UCF matched blow for blow and its defense did just enough to survive.

Game ball goes to: Bortles. If the country didn’t know about the emerging star at UCF before Wednesday night, it does now. Bortles was exceptional down the stretch this season, climbing draft boards along the way. But the Fiesta Bowl was his coming-out party on the national stage. Bortles coughed up back-to-back interceptions in the first half, but he was never rattled. He finished the game 20-of-31 for 301 yards, rushed for another 93 yards and accounted for four total touchdowns. His second-half performance was exceptional, and while Baylor's big-play offense got all the credit entering the game, it was Bortles who was the clear star when it was over.

Stat of the game: 256. That’s the rushing yards for UCF on Wednesday, effectively doubling what Baylor has allowed, on average, this season and ensuring the Bears’ potent offense didn’t spend much time on the field. Storm Johnson was resilient, scoring twice early, coughing up a bad fumble, then returning with a series of big plays to eat up clock and wear down the Baylor D. Bortles added a bevy of big runs, too, eclipsing his previous season high on the ground with ease. In the end, the game highlighted by the two star quarterbacks came down to a whole lot of crucial yardage picked up on the ground.

Unsung hero: George O’Leary. The old-school coach has built the UCF program from nothing during his 10 years there, and the Fiesta Bowl was his crowning achievement. His team was a heavy underdog, but O’Leary had the Knights convinced they could win. His defensive coordinator left for another job last month, but O’Leary had helped build the defense all season. Baylor’s offense was considered an unstoppable machine, but with nearly a month to prepare, O’Leary had plenty of answers. In a season of remarkable coaching performances at traditionally overlooked schools, O’Leary’s may actually have been the best.

What UCF learned: It belongs. Few outsiders wanted to give the American Athletic Conference champs much credit entering the game -- the Knights were a 17-point underdog -- but that chip on their shoulder proved ample motivation. UCF dominated early then coughed up the ball on three straight plays. For most teams, that might’ve been a dagger. The Knights never wavered. The resiliency proved this was no fluke. UCF belonged on the big stage, and Bortles and Johnson are legitimate stars. Add in a young, hungry defense, and the conference affiliation means nothing. UCF is good.

What Baylor learned: Offense sells tickets, but defense wins games. It’s an old cliche, but it was certainly fitting for Baylor on Wednesday. The Bears simply had no answer for UCF’s offense. Its only stops came when the Knights shot themselves in the foot. So while Baylor exudes big-play potential -- and the Bears made plenty of big plays against UCF -- none of it matters when it faces a team that can trade punches and come up with a few stops of its own. Art Briles’ crew knows how to score. But before Baylor can be a legitimate national contender, it’s going to have to do a better job of keeping the other guys from scoring, too.

It should be a duel in the desert.

Two of the nation’s top quarterbacks could trigger a shootout in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (8:30 pm ET, ESPN). Central Florida’s Blake Bortles and Baylor’s Bryce Petty won their conference player of the year honors while exposing defenses with their dynamic skills this season. Baylor has an eye on its first-ever 12-1 season with the hope of setting themselves up to enter 2014 with plenty of preseason buzz as a BCS title contender. Here are three keys for Baylor when it takes on UCF in Glendale, Ariz., tonight:

Step on the field with the right mindset. The Bears are expected to win and rumors are swirling about Art Briles’ future so it’s important for Baylor to take the field with a laser-focus on the task at hand. UCF earned its place in the Fiesta Bowl and will take advantage of any lack of focus from BU. Fortunately the Bears have a senior-laden squad that has worked for four seasons to put themselves in this position, so they’ll want to put a stamp on their record-setting season in their final game in a Bears uniform.

A sight unseen. The Bears haven’t faced a quarterback like Bortles. A possible first round NFL draft pick when he decides to go pro, the junior was 239-of-351 for 3,280 yards, 22 touchdowns and 7 interceptions while earning American Athletic Conference offensive player of the year honors. With the Big 12 void of elite quarterbacks outside of Petty, Baylor’s pass defense is likely to be tested in ways they haven’t experienced all season.

The return of Reese. Baylor’s offense lost explosiveness when Tevin Reese broke his wrist against Oklahoma in early November. Petty’s completion percentage dropped from 66.8 to 55.2 and his yards per attempt dropped from 13.15 to 7.71 in the four games without Reese. Before Reese was injured, Kansas State was the lone team to hold Petty under a 60 percent completion rate. He was under 60 percent in every game without the blazing fast senior, who stretches defenses with his speed and quickness. No wonder Petty said getting Reese back was like “Christmas all over again.” Don’t be surprised if Petty tries to wear out his new “gift” against UCF.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl preview

January, 1, 2014
Jan 1
Baylor and Central Florida both opened the season outside the top 25, but that doesn’t mean much now. Both programs earned their first BCS bowl bids, and while Wednesday night's Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) matchup may not have the same box-office cachet as some of the other big bowls, it’s an intriguing matchup. Here’s why:

Who to watch: There might not be a better quarterback matchup in any bowl game this season. Baylor’s Bryce Petty is a big-play artist. He ranks second nationally in yards per attempt (10.8) and first in passing plays of 25 yards or more (46), and he leads all AQ-conference quarterbacks in both completions (25) and touchdowns (13) on throws of 25-plus yards. On the flip side, UCF’s Blake Bortles has rocketed up draft boards and could be a top-10 selection if he decides to enter the NFL draft. In his last seven games, he’s completing 70 percent of his passes, averaging 9.3 yards per attempt, and he has thrown 13 TDs to just four interceptions. But while the quarterbacks promise to steal the show, the running backs aren’t bad either. Both Baylor's Lache Seastrunk and UCF's Storm Johnson rushed for more than 1,000 yards this season.

What to watch: Two high-octane offenses mean the pressure will be on the defensive units to stem the tide. For Baylor, the task of slowing Johnson will be front and center. UCF figures to want to run the ball, chew up clock and keep Petty and the Bears’ offense off the field. Baylor led the Big 12, allowing just 3.26 yards per rush this season. Meanwhile, UCF will need to find any way to slow the Bears’ big-play, quick-strike attack. Baylor’s 76 touchdown drives this season averaged just 1:31 in possession time, with 57 of them lasting less than two minutes. UCF’s defense, led by linebacker Terrance Plummer (96 tackles), needs to make Baylor work for its points.

Why to watch: For a sizable portion of the country, this is the last chance to get acquainted with two of the best teams fans likely haven’t seen often this year. UCF opened the season in Louisville’s shadow in the AAC, but Bortles could be playing on Sundays next year. Meanwhile, Art Briles has created one of the most exciting offenses in college football at Baylor. It might be the first BCS bids for both schools, but there is no shortage of star power and explosiveness on their rosters.

Prediction: Baylor 35, UCF 27. The Knights are a more talented team than they’ve gotten credit for, but in the end, Baylor’s offense has too much firepower.

Ten reasons Baylor wins Fiesta Bowl

January, 1, 2014
Jan 1
A near-perfect 2013 season can get even better for No. 6 Baylor with a victory over No. 15 UCF in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Here are 10 reasons why the champions of the Big 12 will pick up their first-ever BCS bowl victory on Jan. 1.

[+] EnlargePetty
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesWhen Bryce Petty gets in a rhythm, Baylor can put up points faster than anyone in the nation.
1. Bryce Petty in rhythm: The Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year is as efficient a passer as you’ll find nationally. He averaged 10.8 yards per attempt and an FBS-best 17.4 yards per completion, and he’s capable of spreading it around to an awful lot of options. He’s had some struggles when pressure throws off his timing, but good luck keeping up with this offense when Petty gets rolling.

2. They’ll strike first: Baylor’s strongest quarter this season has consistently been its first. The Bears put up 201 points in the first quarter in 2013, including 21-plus in half of their ballgames. UCF, to its credit, has allowed just 30 total first-quarter points. But will the Knights be ready for an offense this loaded?

3. Lache Seastrunk is back: Few things get Petty more comfortable and in the zone than when defenses can’t keep up with Baylor’s run-pass versatility. Seastrunk surpassed 100 yards in six of his first seven games before being slowed by a groin injury. He’s healthy and should get plenty of totes to get the Bears attack started.

4. They’ll stop the run: It’s a big night for the Baylor linebackers, who are already missing one of their leaders in the injured Bryce Hager. The only team that knocked off the Knights, South Carolina, held Storm Johnson to 64 rushing yards on 16 carries. Baylor has a top-25 run defense nationally and has given up 200-plus yards on the ground just once.

5. Turnover margin: Petty won’t make many mistakes, and because of that the Bears had a plus-11 turnover margin in 2013. In his first season as the starter, Petty finished with a TD-to-INT ratio of 30-to-2. On defense, 11 different Bears defenders nabbed interceptions on the year. Blake Bortles better be careful, because those takeaways can come from anyone.

6. Defending the big play: You know defensive coordinator Phil Bennett has preached one obvious fix in the past few weeks: Baylor can not give up big plays. Oklahoma State knocked off the Bears thanks to 10 pass plays of 20-plus yards, and the talented Bortles will test this secondary plenty. Given how much time they’ve had to clean up those mistakes and communication errors, expect fewer busts and one-on-one beats.

7. Gone in 60 seconds: This one probably shouldn’t be as low as No. 7, because it can’t be ignored. Baylor has scored 26 touchdowns on drives of one minute or less and has found the end zone 57 times in under 2:00. A strong start from UCF can unravel very quickly if Petty and Co. can hit those big plays.

8. Reese going deep: And here’s where Petty is going with those bombs. Can the Knights’ defensive backs keep up with Tevin Reese? Art Briles says Reese is looking fresh, fast and ready to go after a broken wrist sidelined him for Baylor’s final five games. He has 25 receptions of 40-plus yards in his career and is ready to nab a few more in his final game.

9. Don’t sleep on this D-line: When Briles says Baylor finally has Big 12 depth, he especially means it along this defensive line. Ends Chris McAllister, Terrance Lloyd, Jamal Palmer and Shawn Oakman combined for 37 tackles for loss, and the Bears like to rotate in several defensive tackles. They’ll stay fresh and cause some trouble.

10. What this game means: Throw out all the matchup talk and how this game looks on paper and appreciate for a moment what this game means for Baylor. It’s the cherry on top of a dream season, a chance for a 12th victory for a program that had never won 11 in its history. An opportunity for a BCS bowl victory, a top-five finish and incalculable momentum to kickstart a 2014 year that could be very good to the Bears. It’s not the national title game, but this Fiesta Bowl means an awful lot to Baylor no matter the foe.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl roundtable

January, 1, 2014
Jan 1
David Hale, who is in Arizona covering the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, and Big 12 reporter Jake Trotter break down the storylines in Wednesday night's matchup featuring Baylor and Central Florida:

Who is the one Baylor offensive player Central Florida must stop first?

[+] EnlargeLache Seastrunk
Manny Flores/Icon SMIIf Lache Seastrunk gets going for Baylor, it could be curtains early for UCF in the Fiesta Bowl.
David Hale: Just one? It seems like the list could actually be pretty long. Bryce Petty obviously sets the tone, and UCF can’t let Baylor’s quick-strike, big-play passing game get going early if it wants to stay competitive. The Knights would love to take away Antwan Goodley, but of course, Petty has other weapons in the passing game, too. And then you get to the ground attack, which should feature a healthy Lache Seastrunk, looking for his first 100-yard game since October. Really, Seastrunk might be the key because a one-dimensional Baylor offense is at least manageable. If the Bears are moving the ball through the air and on the ground -- look out.

Jake Trotter: People outside Big 12 country often incorrectly peg Baylor as a finesse, passing team. Sure, Baylor can pass. But Art Briles’ offense is predicated on establishing the run first. After all, the Bears lead the Big 12 with 265 rushing yards per game. So for Central Florida to have any shot, the Knights have to corral Seastrunk early. If Baylor sets a quick tone on the ground with Seastrunk, UCF is probably toast.

Central Florida has scored more than 40 points just twice all season. Do the Knights stand any chance if this game becomes a shootout?

Hale: Well, the numbers certainly don’t seem encouraging for UCF. Baylor is averaging 53.3 points per game this year. UCF topped that total just once -- against lowly UConn. Still, Blake Bortles is no small-school phenomenon, and he’s more than capable of chucking the ball downfield for some big plays. While Petty leads all AQ-conference QBs in completions and TDs on throws of 25 yards or more (courtesy ESPN Stats & Info), Bortles actually completes a far higher percentage of his deep balls (53.3 percent on throws of 25 yards or more, third-best among AQ QBs). Plus, UCF has a flair for the dramatic, with six second-half comebacks this season. Still, keeping pace in a shootout is hardly the Knights’ preference, and I’d wager they’d prefer to keep this game from turning into a track meet.

Trotter: Baylor would love nothing more than for this game to become a track meet. UCF, while possessing a good offense with a great QB in Bortles, lacks the requisite offensive firepower to outscore the Bears. The Knights would be wise to follow a similar game plan that TCU executed against Baylor. Limit the Bears' big passing plays downfield, buck up on third down defensively and get the chains moving offensively to keep the Baylor offense out of sync and off the field. If the Knights can do that, they can give Bortles a fighting chance to win the game for them in the fourth quarter.

Who is the player to watch in this game?

Hale: The quarterbacks obviously take center stage, and for good reason. Bortles and Petty have been exceptional all season. But if this game is going to be competitive, the key player might be UCF running back Storm Johnson. He’s a serious talent -- a top recruit out of high school who began his career at Miami before transferring to UCF -- and has 100-yard games against Penn State and Louisville this season. If Johnson can run the ball effectively for the Knights, milking the clock and keeping Baylor’s offense off the field in the process, the game could be closer than most predict. If he struggles and it turns into a shootout between the two QBs, Baylor certainly appears to be in the driver’s seat.

Trotter: After wideout Tevin Reese suffered a dislocated wrist in early November, the Baylor offense definitely lost some pop. The Bears, who averaged more than 60 points per game for most of the season, scored just 17, 41 (thanks to two defensive touchdowns) and 30 in their final three games. Reese’s downfield speed is what stretched defenses vertically to open up the running game. It also left Goodley in single coverage on the opposite side of the field. Reese has been cleared for this game. And if he’s close enough to 100 percent, the Baylor attack could return to its early season form. That would not be good for UCF.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — When last year’s Holiday Bowl ended, Bryce Petty shook hands with teammates, found a seat on the team bus, and fired off a tweet.

“Last game as a backup,” he wrote. “Tomorrow it starts.”

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsBaylor's Bryce Petty sat for three seasons behind Robert Griffin III and Nick Florence before finally getting his chance to start at quarterback.
After three years waiting in the wings, it was a message to fans that Petty was eager to take the reins of the Baylor offense. But it was a message to himself, too -- a reminder things were different now, and he had to prepare accordingly.

“It’s funny how much exposure it got,” Petty said. “But at the same time, it was a mental note for myself.”

Petty was a backup to Heisman winner Robert Griffin III, then sat behind Nick Florence, the school’s single-season record holder in passing yards. But in his first season as a starter, Petty has done something either of his predecessors managed: A Big 12 title and a trip to a BCS bowl game.

Now UCF awaits in Wednesday’s Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, and Petty said the game represents a chance for him to put his stamp on a program that, in the past few years, has been defined by its quarterbacks.

“It's the making of a dynasty,” Petty said. “That's what we want, that's why we came here, is to build that legacy.”

It took a little longer than he expected for Petty to add his part to that legacy, but now that he’s taken the Bears to an unprecedented level, he sees the value in his long wait for the starting job.

Watching from the sideline was a grueling experience, but it was one he could learn from. Those lessons have been put to the test this season -- something that crystalized for Petty after Baylor thumped rival Oklahoma 41-12 on Nov. 7.

“After the OU game, I was thinking, man, it was a good thing that I waited,” Petty said. “It was a good thing I stuck with it. It was a good thing I worked as hard as I did last year to be the starter and have it not go my way.”

Petty is a perfectionist. There’s no detail too small to ignore, and three years as a backup allowed him to mine every aspect of his game and refine it to stark precision. Now the starter, that precision is showing on the field.

Petty is second in the country in yards-per-attempt (10.8) and passer rating (179.2). He has completed more passes of 25-plus yards than anyone (46). He has thrown for 30 touchdowns, run for 11 more and he has been picked off just twice.

“He’s a perfectionist,” receiver Antwan Goodley said. “He’s like that all the time -- practice, games, workouts, offseason. That’s how he is.”

And for all he has accomplished in his one season as the starter, Petty insists he’s not done. He announced last month that he’d be returning for his senior season in 2014 -- a decision he said was easy. He likes to be prepared for every challenge, and he wasn’t sure he was prepared for the NFL.

But more than that, he’d waited too long to simply leave Baylor the first chance he had.

“I wasn’t wanting to be a one-and-done deal, no matter how good this season was,” Petty said. “That’s weird to say, but there’s a lot of things I want to do here still.”

That decision, of course, means another year for Petty as the starter, and another year for his backups to wait for their shot.

It’s a road map that has worked pretty well so far, Baylor coach Art Briles said.

“[Petty] had a great mentorship,” Briles said. “And it’s just like the guys in the room with him right now, looking at him, watching him and having a chance to grow from him.”

Renewing acquaintances: Baylor tailback Lache Seastrunk hasn’t seen UCF quarterback Blake Bortles since the two teams arrived in Arizona for the Fiesta Bowl, but he has an idea what kind of greeting is in store.

“He’s going to come up and be like, ‘What’s up,” Seastrunk said. “Because Blake has the same personality as I do -- outgoing, and he doesn’t care what anybody says.”

Seastrunk and Bortles roomed together at a recruiting camp in Paisley, Fla., spending three days together practicing and joking around.

They’ve kept in touch over the years, but communications have been limited as UCF and Baylor get set to play each other Wednesday. Still, Bortles said he’s looking forward to a reunion.

“I had a lot of fun being around him, hanging out,” Bortles said. “And he’s a lot of fun to watch on the field. He’s an amazing football player and a really good running back.”

Keeping quiet: While Petty ended any NFL speculation weeks ago, Bortles is letting the guessing game continue a while -- and he continues to insist he’s made no decision about whether he’ll leave early for the NFL draft after Wednesday’s game.

“I don’t know because I really haven’t sat down to think about it,” Bortles said. “I wish I knew.”

Bortles is considered a first-round pick if he entered the draft this season, potentially going in the top five. He began to climb draft boards late in the season, and he said he decided then to put off any decision until after UCF’s season came to an end.

“When stuff started coming up, it was like -- don't worry about it,” Bortles said. “I told my parents not to talk to anybody, that we would figure it out when the season is over.”
Get your popcorn ready. Or, if you're trying to get that New Year's resolution off to an early start, get your veggie plate ready. Either way, Big 12 bowl season brings some fun matchups to watch in the next week or so.

Here's a matchup to keep an eye on during every bowl matchup involving a Big 12 team.

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (Dec. 28, 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Kansas State DE Ryan Mueller vs. Michigan OT Taylor Lewan
Mueller was one of the most productive defenders in the Big 12 this season while bringing energy and effort to the Wildcats' defense. He finished with 61 tackles, including 18.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks. Lewan has been a dominating force at left tackle for Michigan for the past four seasons. He is slated to start his 48th game in this bowl and is projected to be an NFL first-round draft pick. If Mueller is able to win some individual battles with Lewan it will make life a lot harder on Michigan's true freshman quarterback, Shane Morris.

Valero Alamo Bowl (Dec. 30, 6:45 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Texas WR Mike Davis vs. Oregon CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu
It should be fun to watch these two battle in San Antonio. Ekpre-Olomu is an elite talent, a cover cornerback who will play on Sundays someday. Davis shows flashes of big-play ability and has the talent to test Ekpre-Olomu throughout the game. This matchup gives Davis the opportunity to prove himself against top competition. If he wins some of those battles it would help the Longhorns' offense be balanced and take some pressure off UT quarterback Case McCoy.

National University Holiday Bowl (Dec. 30, 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro vs. Arizona State secondary
Amaro creates problems for every defense he faces, and ASU will be no different. The Red Raiders' top receiving threat finished with 98 catches for 1,240 yards and seven touchdowns. But the Sun Devils are well-equipped to throw several different defensive backs at Amaro, with Alden Darby, Robert Nelson and Osahon Irabor earning first- or second-team All-Pac 12 honors this season. It will be interesting to see if Amaro can continue to excel against a strong Sun Devils secondary.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Baylor S Ahmad Dixon vs. UCF QB Blake Bortles
Bortles could test Dixon and the Bears better than any quarterback they've faced this season. Dixon's forte' is his ability to help out in the run game, so the matchup against UCF provides an opportunity to prove his prowess in the passing game. Bortles, a junior, is the reigning American Athletic Conference offensive player of the year and a projected first-round NFL draft pick if he elects to leave school early.

Allstate Sugar Bowl (Jan. 2, 8:30 p.m. ESPN)

Oklahoma OL vs. Alabama LB C.J. Mosley
The Sooners' offensive line has been outstanding this season, paving the way for OU to average 235.83 rushing yards per game. Mosley has the talent to single-handedly become a nightmare for OU's offense. He could dominate the game with his ability to make plays all over the field and stop the Oklahoma running game. And if that happens, OU's chances of winning could fall off the cliff, because if the Sooners can't run the ball against the Crimson Tide, they won't win.

AT&T Cotton Bowl (Jan. 3, 7:30 p.m. ET, FOX)

Oklahoma State CB Justin Gilbert vs. Missouri WR Dorial Green-Beckham
This is the highlight matchup of the Big 12's bowl season. Gilbert is a future NFL cornerback, and DGB is a future NFL receiver. And both had strong seasons. Green-Beckham brings a size/skill/speed ratio unlike anything Gilbert has seen in the Big 12, while Gilbert brings athleticism, speed and experience that will test the Tigers sophomore receiver. Neither player will back down, and both will win their share of one-on-one battles. It's a late holiday gift for everyone who watches.

3-point stance: Larry Scott's climb

November, 5, 2013
1. It comes as no surprise that the Pac-12 presidents offered commissioner Larry Scott a new contract through the end of the 2017-18 academic year. All Scott has done is taken a perfectly respectable conference and turned it into a financial powerhouse, and the results have shown up on the football field. But I would be gobsmacked if Scott stayed for the next four-plus years. Scott strikes me as a climber always looking for another mountain. And I don’t mean that in a negative way.

2. You can measure Baylor’s rise to national significance in a lot of different ways, from being the nation’s most prolific offense (70 points, anyone) to No. 6 to being a 14-point favorite over long-time tormentor No. 10 Oklahoma. In the 17 years of the Big 12, the Bears have won once, the 45-38 victory when RG3 threw a touchdown pass with :08 to play. But the biggest measure may be that on Thursday night, the tarps that regularly cover portions of 50,000-seat Floyd Casey Stadium are being removed.

3. No. 21 UCF could all but clinch the American at home Saturday by defeating Houston. The Knights and the Cougars are the last two unbeaten teams in league play. With a victory, UCF would have head-to-head victories over the two one-loss teams (No. 20 Louisville is the other) in the league with the best record. Of UCF’s remaining four opponents, only Rutgers (5-3) has a winning record. The American hasn’t been ready for Blake Bortles, announced Monday as a Davey O’Brien Award semifinalist. We may find out if America is.