In some ways, Baylor and Central Florida might as well be looking in a mirror at each other.
The Fiesta Bowl combatants each feature one of the nation's most efficient and prolific passers. They both have 1,000-yard rushers, who have each scored 11 touchdowns. They both rank high in rushing defense. They each have suffered a single blemish on their season record. They both won their conferences. They're both playing in a BCS bowl for the first time.
And they both believe their best days are ahead of them.
"I thought we were a year early," Central Florida coach George O'Leary said in his Fiesta Bowl teleconference. "We only have seven seniors on the whole team.
"I think I was looking at next year as far as being a dominant team. I think we're a year ahead as far as being a team that can go out and win on offense as well as defense."
Baylor coach Art Briles emphasized in his bowl game press conference that the Bears are a long way from being satisfied with their achievements.
"We always believed and we still believe," Briles said. "It's not like we're through, we're done, it's over. We don't feel like we're at the mountaintop. We're just still climbing to be a respectable program year in and year out. That'll never change. Our sights are always going to be set extremely high."
However, as similar as Baylor and Central Florida seem in some categories, they're starkly different in others.
For starters, Central Florida is the second largest university by enrollment in the nation, with more than 60,000 students, while Baylor is a private school with an enrollment of about 15,000.
The most drastic difference on the football field is in history of the programs. Baylor has been playing football since 1899, while UCF has only been a school for 50 years and a member of the FBS since 1996.
Baylor will be playing in its 20th bowl, Central Florida in its sixth.
Though UCF hasn't been canonized by most fans as one of college football's power programs, Briles understands that the Knights have arrived.
"I mean, to me everybody is a glamour school," Briles said. "There's so much parity in college football, if you look around and think somebody is not as good as somebody else, you're going to get your tail beat. We understand that."
O'Leary is more familiar with Briles' body of work at Houston than at Baylor.
"I've seen them a couple of times as far as watching games," O'Leary said. "I think it's similar when Art was at Houston; they're very explosive on offense."
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
--Baylor S Ahmad Dixon is a lightning rod for controversy and a catalyst for the Bears. He was suspended for the first half of the Texas game after being ejected in the second half against TCU for targeting. Once he returned to the Texas game, the Bears went on a 17-0 surge that helped put away the Longhorns. But Dixon drew a celebration penalty that negated K.J. Morton's touchdown on an interception return.
--Baylor QB Bryce Petty is ranked No. 2 nationally in passing efficiency and has 30 touchdown passes with only two interceptions this season. In Baylor's victory over Texas, Petty passed for 287 yards and two touchdowns.
--Baylor WR Antwan Goodley has had to carry the playmaking load for the receivers since Bears WR Tevin Reese went down because of an injury in Baylor's win over Oklahoma. Since then, Goodley has 23 receptions for 345 yards and three touchdowns.
--UCF QB Blake Bortles has passed for 3,280 yards and 22 touchdowns, with seven interceptions this season. His top performance was a 404-yard, four- touchdown game against Temple. Despite its relatively high ranking in pass defense, Baylor has struggled to stop the top passer's it has faced.
--UCF RB Storm Johnson has rushed for 1,015 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. He can also make plays catching the ball out of the backfield, and he has 29 receptions for 261 yards and three touchdowns.
--UCF LB Terrance Plummer is the Knights' playmaker on defense with 54 solo tackles and a team-leading 96 total tackles. He also has two sacks, eight tackles for losses, two interceptions and six pass breakups.
BOWL HISTORY: Baylor has a 10-9 record in Bowl games. UCF is 2-3 in bowl games, all of them coming since 2005. After losing its first three bowl games, UCF has won its last two.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We always believed and we still believe," Baylor coach Art Briles said. "It's not like we're through, we're done, it's over. We don't feel like we're at the mountaintop. We're just still climbing to be a respectable program year in and year out. That'll never change. Our sights are always going to be set extremely high."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Scouting the running game: The Baylor and Central Florida rushing attacks are remarkably similar at the top. UCF RB Storm Johnson has rushed for 1,015 yards and 11 touchdowns, while Baylor leader Lache Seastrunk has 1,060 yards with 11 touchdowns. The difference is that Baylor has rushed for 3,182 and 43 touchdowns to UCF's 1,824 and 24 touchdowns. Baylor's Glasco Martin and Shock Linwood have shown the ability to take over games this season. Central Florida doesn't have a second back with that ability.
Scouting the passing game: How good is the quarterback matchup in the Fiesta Bowl? Easily the best in this season's bowl games. Bryce Petty of Baylor ranks No. 2 in the FBC in passing efficiency while Blake Bortles of Central Florida is No. 9. No other bowl game can boast of two quarterbacks in the top 10 in that category. Petty has passed for 3,844 yards with 30 touchdowns and two interceptions. Bortles has thrown for 3,280 yards with 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Petty probably will be missing one of his top targets, as Tevin Reese isn't expected to be back for the bowl. Bortles will have his full arsenal available.
Scouting the run defense: Central Florida ranks 13th nationally in rushing defense at 116.5 rushing yards allowed per game. Baylor isn't much worse, ranking 25th at 136.3 per game. This could be the area where conference credibility is at stake. Baylor's last three games were against Texas, TCU and Oklahoma State while UCF's were against Rutgers, South Florida and SMU. Baylor gets the edge in opponents' reputation for running the ball, but UCF can score some street cred for the American Athletic Conference by winning the line of scrimmage.
Scouting the pass defense: Baylor has the edge in passing yards allowed per game with 207.8 to Central Florida's 229.8. Baylor has also intercepted 17 passes, four more than the Knights. And the Bears have returned five interceptions for touchdowns, something the Knights haven't done all season.
Scouting the special teams: Baylor has three return touchdowns, including Corey Coleman's 97-yard kickoff return touchdown and Levi Norwood's two punt return touchdowns. The Knights haven't returned a kickoff or punt for a touchdown this season. Central Florida K Shawn Moffitt is 3-for-3 from 40-to-49 yards, while Baylor K Aaron Jones is 3-for-6 from the same range. Both are 1-for-2 from beyond 50 yards.
Intangibles: Both teams are playing in their first BCS game. Baylor won its first nine games this season before losing at Oklahoma State. Since losing at home against South Carolina, Central Florida has won eight straight. On the surface, it appears that gives the Knights the momentum edge, but Baylor is coming off a 30-10 victory over rival Texas in the final game at Baylor's Floyd Casey Stadium.
--Baylor WR Tevin Reese's regular season apparently ended because of a hand injury against Oklahoma. At the time, the prognosis was that Reese could be back for a bowl game, although recently word from Baylor coaches has been that it's doubtful Reese will play.0
--Baylor OL Spencer Drango had surgery to repair a ruptured disk in his back following the Texas Tech game and has been out since. He's questionable for the Fiesta Bowl.
--WR Breshad Perriman of Central Florida was carted off the field after a big hit in the Knights' early-November game against Houston. Perriman missed the following game against Temple, but has since caught nine passes for 196 yards against Rutgers, South Florida and SMU. Perriman had three 100-yard receiving games before the injury.
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