Outdueling Bryce Petty in 2014 Fiesta Bowl Could Put Blake Bortles on the Map

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Outdueling Bryce Petty in 2014 Fiesta Bowl Could Put Blake Bortles on the Map
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles first made a name for himself by having the punniest last name in college football (see: #BORTLESBALL).

Now, the redshirt junior can be so much more. 

Wednesday's Fiesta Bowl against Baylor—UCF's first BCS appearance—is a program-defining game for the Knights, who went 11-1 their first year in the American Athletic Conference.

Their only loss? A 28-25 squeaker at home to South Carolina. 

Bortles led the way on offense, earning American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year honors and being selected First Team All-Conference—both coming over Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater. 

Bortles could get even more recognition if he outplays Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty on a national stage. If nothing else, he'd probably be the first player to win a Fiesta Bowl by preparing with the help of Taylor Swift. 

But T-Swift aside, the two quarterbacks share some similarities. Petty, also a redshirt junior, was named Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year. They are both roughly the same size and can beat opposing defenses with their arms and legs.

Both were passed over at some point in their recruiting process by big-name programs. Bortles wasn't stirring interest in schools like Florida or Miami, and Petty got the cold shoulder from Tennessee when Lane Kiffin took over. 

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty

Bortles doesn't have Petty's arm, but he does have accuracy, completing 68.1 percent of his passes for 3,280 yards and 22 touchdowns.

Baylor's defense has statistically been stout this season, but showed signs of vulnerability against the run and the pass in the final stretch. With Bears linebacker Bryce Hager still questionable with a groin injury, Bortles has an opportunity to exploit those weaknesses. 

Petty has only been outplayed once: the Nov. 23 game at Oklahoma State, which Baylor lost 49-17. Cowboys quarterback Clint Chelf had 370 yards passing and four touchdowns that night and was the flavor of the week in the Big 12 until the Pokes' season-ending loss to Oklahoma. 

If Bortles outduels Petty, his offseason buzz is going to grow exponentially. Remember, the Knights are a 16.5-point underdog to the Bears, according to VegasInsider.com. If Bortles decides to come back for one more season, he'll be a preseason Heisman dark horse, a la Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato

If Bortles decides to go pro, he'll be an interesting prospect. He's already starting to get some publicity from sites like NFL.com and Sports Illustrated

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller graded Bortles as the 10th-best prospect on his Dec. 11 Big Board. Miller compares Bortles to Jake Locker of the Tennessee Titans, though with more accuracy. Here's more from his scouting report: 

Bortles makes plays, even without a ton of talent around him, and that shows he can elevate the talent of those around him. That's a key trait I look for in a quarterback.

... 

The biggest knock on film is his footwork. Like many athletic passers, Bortles throws the ball from all kinds of awkward stances. Learning to step into throws and control his lower body will be big for his early success.

Bridgewater is still the consensus top quarterback, but Bortles could become an interesting option depending on who else in the 2014 class declares. Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley are weighing their options, though Mariota has said he's returning for another season.

The thought of playing in the NFL has certainly weighed on Bortles' mind.  

"You can’t not think about it when your lifelong dream is right there,” Bortles said to the Arizona Republic. “It’s definitely in the back of your mind.”

It could be in the front sooner rather than later. 

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