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.”
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.”