Fiesta Bowl 2014: UCF QB Blake Bortles' Rags-to-Riches Road to BCS Glory

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Fiesta Bowl 2014: UCF QB Blake Bortles' Rags-to-Riches Road to BCS Glory
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Some players are under-recruited. Then, there's Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles.

It wasn't just that Bortles flew under the radar coming out of Oviedo High School in 2010, getting overlooked as a quarterback prospect by the three big Florida programs (Florida, Florida State, Miami); he didn't even initially have the attention of his own head coach, George O'Leary

Midway through Wednesday night's Fiesta Bowl between Baylor and UCF, Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports tweeted a fascinating recruiting nugget about the redshirt junior: He wasn't UCF's first choice to sign at quarterback. Or the second. Or the third. Or the fourth. 

A couple of hours after Feldman published that tweet, the 12-1 Knights sealed a 52-42 victory over the Bears. Bortles finished with 301 yards passing, another 93 yards rushing and four total touchdowns. He also outplayed his counterpart, Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty, and was named the bowl's Offensive Player of the Game

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Bortles with O'Leary

Bortles' Fiesta Bowl performance validated the rising hype surrounding him. Depending on whether he leaves for the NFL now or in a year, Bortles could be a first-round draft pick. 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.

Sports Illustrated NFL insider Peter King also went on the record last month during NBC's Sunday Night Football and said at least one NFL organization thinks Bortles is the best quarterback in the upcoming draft class—should he decide to declare.  

"I've spoken to a team that's likely to have a top-10 pick, and they like him better than any quarterback in this draft," King said, courtesy of NFL.com's Mike Huguenin 

The dilemma for Bortles, as Senior Bowl Executive Director Phil Savage tweets, is figuring out which voices he should listen to. 

Either way, Bortles has come a long way from an unheralded 3-star recruit, according to 247Sports. 

In fact, there was a time when Bortles sat behind Jeff Godfrey, the former starting quarterback who is now a wide receiver for the Knights. Bortles didn't really begin seeing meaningful playing time until the middle of the 2011 season. But by 2012, Bortles had surpassed Godfrey on the depth chart, as Godfrey made the transition from quarterback to wide receiver. 

Against Baylor, Bortles connected with Godfrey five times for 60 yards. 

And what of the other quarterbacks who reportedly piqued O'Leary's interest first? Tommy Rees wrapped up his final game with Notre Dame in a 29-16 Pinstripe Bowl victory over Rutgers. He finishes his career—which has had its share of ups and downs—third in school history in passing yards (7,670) and second in touchdown passes (61). 

Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
Tommy Rees

Michael Strauss redshirted at Virginia in 2010 before transferring to Richmond, where he was named third-team All-CAA in 2013. Trevor Siemian is a redshirt junior who threw for 2,149 yards for Northwestern this season. Tyler Brosius previously played at North Carolina State before leaving the program in 2012 to pursue a baseball career. 

None of them have come close to generating the buzz that Bortles has. 

It's a classic underdog story, one that UCF was familiar with as a 17-point underdog and one that college football embraces.

There are still three BCS bowl games remaining—the Sugar, Orange and BCS National Championship—so there's plenty of time for more postseason drama. But Bortles and UCF hold the title of the underrated team that defied the odds. 

No matter what Bortles' future holds, the Knights will always have that. 

 

Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. You can follow him on Twitter @BenKercheval

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