Fiesta Bowl 2014: Top Storylines That Will Decide UCF vs. Baylor

Chris RolingFeatured ColumnistDecember 31, 2013

WACO, TX - DECEMBER 07:  Bryce Petty #14 of the Baylor Bears celebrates a touchdown against the Texas Longhorns at Floyd Casey Stadium on December 7, 2013 in Waco, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The No. 15 UCF Knights and No. 6 Baylor Bears will collide in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl after both finished the best seasons in their respective histories.

Not only that, the showdown in Glendale, Ariz., is the first BCS berth for both schools. While this seems like a recipe for a boring game, it will be anything but as two of the nation's top offenses and quarterbacks square off in a contest sure to be one of the bowl season's highest-scoring affairs. 

Like any prolific matchup, there are a few storylines in the Fiesta Bowl fans must be intricately familiar with to fully grasp how things may unfold.


Can the UCF Offensive Line Keep Blake Bortles Upright?

Dec 7, 2013; Dallas, TX, USA; UCF Knights quarterback Blake Bortles (5) runs for a touchdown against the Southern Methodist Mustangs during the second half of an NCAA football game at Gerald J. Ford Stadium. UCF Knights won 17-13. Mandatory Credit: Jim Co
Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

UCF junior quarterback Blake Bortles is one of college football's best signal-callers (more on that later), but he cannot be effective from his back.

The Knights offensive line has had a rough go of it as of late. Bortles was sacked a total of seven times in the team's first seven games but wound up on his back 14 times in the team's last five—11 came in a horrible three-game stretch.

That is a downward trend that must improve immediately if Bortles is to keep up with the nation's top-ranked offense that scores an average of 53.3 points per game. Senior Justin McCray says the issue certainly is not chemistry, as captured by Paul Tenorio of the Orlando Sentinel:

I think we've grown a lot together. Just with techniques and just as a unit, getting in watching film together, we came together great as a unit. When [my time at] UCF ends, that's not going to be the end of this line, I'm going to be good with these guys for the rest of my life.

Whatever the issue, keep a close eye on the beef up front when UCF has the ball.


What Impact Will Tevin Reese Have?

WACO, TX - NOVEMBER 3: Tevin Reese #16 of the Baylor University Bears celebrates a touchdown against the University of Kansas Jayhawks on November 3, 2012 at Floyd Casey Stadium in Waco, Texas.  (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Senior Tevin Reese is only the second-leading receiver for Baylor with his 33 receptions for 824 yards and eight scores.

But Reese missed the last four games of the season due to injury. His jaw-dropping 25 yards-per-reception average helped propel the Baylor offense, while his absence was apparent in the final four games.

Reese is back on track and ready to recapture the minds of Baylor fans, as he told the media per Nick Canizales of KCEN:

The return of Reese adds another dimension to the nation's best offense—his elite speed can stretch the UCF defense deep and create opportunities for others. 

The Bears will need him to be effective from the opening gun considering the Knights rank in the top 12 with an average of 19.6 points allowed per game.


Which Elite Quarterback Can Score the Most?

FORT WORTH, TX - NOVEMBER 30:  Bryce Petty #14 of the Baylor Bears celebrates a touchdown against the TCU Horned Frogs at Amon G. Carter Stadium on November 30, 2013 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

At the end of the day, the focus will be on the quarterbacks, as many consider the Sugar Bowl to be the best quarterback matchup of the bowl season.

The aforementioned Bortles is coming on strong as an NFL prospect after an impressive year in which he threw for 3,280 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Baylor's Bryce Petty, formerly a Heisman contender, has already declared his intention to return to school next season. He threw for 3,844 yards, 30 touchdowns and just two interceptions in 2013.

Petty understands that this is a major opportunity for both quarterbacks, as he told Orlando Sentinel:

Definitely, that’s just a chance for me to prove who I am. As far as being in Waco we might not get all the national attention, neither does UCF. I think it’s a great match for both of us to kind of put our skills up there and let everybody see who Bryce Petty is and who Blake Bortles is.

Fans will not want to miss this. Petty and Bortles both have plenty to prove, and a marquee win over one another, not to mention in one of the season's biggest bowls, is the ultimate goal. Both will surely be on top of their game, which is nothing but a good thing for fans.


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