Central Florida pulled the biggest upset of the bowl season, beating Baylor 52-42 as a 17-point underdog in the highest scoring game in the history of the major bowls. Here’s the Notebook Nine, our takeaways from last night’s Fiesta Bowl…
*Even though this game was tied 28-28 deep into the third quarter, the die was cast on the first two possession. Central Florida not only grabbed a 14-0 lead, but smacked Baylor in the mouth in the process, behind the tough physical running of Storm Johnson, who ended up with 124 yards.
*Baylor missed its own chances in the first half. A drive stalled on downs inside the UCF 40. Quarterback Bryce Petty threw a very bad interception in the end zone that could only be caught by a defender. The Bears concluded the half by missing a field goal.
*Prior to the missed field goal, the Baylor defense joined in the breakdown. A simple swing pass from Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles to Rannell Hall on the right flank ended up as a 34-yard touchdown play where Hall couldn’t have had to make more than one notable move under duress.
*Petty got his numbers, 30/47 for 356 yards, but he didn’t make plays at too many key points in the game. When Baylor lost to Oklahoma State earlier in the year, there was a legitimate excuse that the Bears didn’t provide him any ground support. That was not the case last night, as Lache Seastrunk ran for 117 yards, but Petty still never really looked in rhythm.
*I know NFL scouts had been loving Bortles coming into this game, and they know more than I do as a talent evaluators. But strictly on the basis of college performance, the fact Bortles beat out Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater for American Athletic conference MVP looked like a bigger joke last night than it did at the time.
*In the preview of this game, TheSportsNotebook noted Baylor’s tendency to be penalized, but that other teams with similar problems (Oregon, Washington, Texas Tech) had won bowl games. Baylor went the other direction and took its penalties to a new level, being flagged 17 times for 135 yards.
*As a fan of the Washington Redskins, I was watching with interest, and not just because of the repeated camera shots of RG3 on the sidelines. Art Briles has been rumored for the vacant head coaching position in Washington. I’m a Briles fan and if you know his personal story, how he overcame the death of his parents, you’ll like him even more. But a football team that against top competition commits to many penalties and misses too many tackles in the open field is not exactly the antidote for the ‘Skins, or anyone else. Briles needs to stay in Waco, and I’m going to keep rooting for him.
*I don’t mean to rub salt in the wound of Baylor fans, because I support them and their program, but it can’t be overemphasized just how big a missed opportunity this was. The Bears had not won a major bowl game since 1956, nor played in one since 1980, and this was there for the taking. In a conference with Oklahoma and Texas setting the tone, and programs like Oklahoma State on the rise, how many opportunities like this come along for the good people of Waco?
*I’m one who’s been a critic of the American Athletic—and its forerunner, the Big East—getting automatic access to these BCS games. At the very least, their champions have always put forth a good effort. ESPN announcer Sean McDonough noted that the conference was 8-7 with the UCF win. The Knights join Louisville last year and West Virginia in 2007 in winning by double digits as a sizeable underdog. The league’s lack of depth and the departure of more members mean it should not get automatic access (nor will it, starting next year), but the record of its best teams should be kept in mind when decisions are made for the four-team playoff next year, and for at-large consideration to the biggest bowls.