It’s time to give UCF a seat at the table.
The Knights defeated Baylor 52-42 in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl to win their first-ever BCS bowl game and defeat their first Big 12 opponent in six tries.
But more importantly, UCF showed that it belongs in the among the automatic qualifying teams.
The Knights made the transition from Conference USA to the AAC this season and won its conference to earn the automatic BCS bowl berth. Heck, even as the BCS standings were rolled out every week, ESPN had to explain that UCF was a member of an automatic qualifying conference and not a team that had to work its way into the top 12 to earn a BCS bowl berth.
The Knights were just four points against South Carolina away from going undefeated.
And while no one expected UCF to put up a fight against a Baylor team that was nearly playing for a national title – perhaps not even Baylor – the Knights jumped out to a 14-0 lead and never relented. Many thought the game might be high scoring, but few would have expected that UCF would have been the team putting up 52 points against the No. 6 team in the country.
Quarterback Blake Bortles, a junior who has been rising up NFL draft boards, threw for 301 yards, rushed for 93 yards and accounted for four total touchdowns. He gave those who had never heard of him an opportunity to see exactly what he brings to the table. And if he decides to come back for his senior season, UCF could be a surprise pick to make a run at the upcoming College Football Playoff.
Meanwhile, Baylor, which was also playing in its first-ever BCS bowl, has to be disappointed with the way its season ended. The Bears were on the cusp of being one of the nation’s top two teams when Oklahoma State knocked them from their perch. The Bears rebounded to win their final two games, the Big 12 Conference and earn the BCS bowl berth, but looked flat from the opening kick. The defense that was so impressive against Oklahoma back in early November was nowhere to be found. Bortles abused the secondary and then used that success to help UCF account for 255 rushing yards. Storm Johnson led the team with 124 rushing yards and three scores, but Bortles notched a career-high on the ground.
UCF was a 17-point underdog in the game, which made this win the largest underdog victory in BCS history.
UCF was dismissed because it was in Conference USA a year ago and played in a weak AAC this year. But after Wednesday night's performance, it's clear the Knights need to be taken seriously.
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