Blake Bortles' 4 TD Bowl Game Puts UCF's Bright Future on Display

Mike Hoag@MikeHoagJrCorrespondent IIDecember 22, 2012

ST PETERSBURG, FL - DECEMBER 21:  Quarterback Blake Bortles #5 of the Central Florida Knights throws a pass against the Ball State Cardinals during the Beef 'O' Brady's St Petersburg Bowl Game at Tropicana Field on December 21, 2012 in St Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
J. Meric/Getty Images

Blake Bortles led the UCF Knights to a blowout win over the Ball State Cardinals in the Beef 'O' Brady’s Bowl in St. Petersburg, FL on Dec. 21.

The redshirt sophomore threw three touchdowns and ran another one himself for a score in a game that was never really close. UCF went up early and held a 28-7 lead at the half thanks to the impressive performance from Bortles and his receivers.

While the win will feel great for their offseason, the Knights have a lot of work to do before the start of next season, when they will begin their transition to Big East Conference play.

That means that the recent success of the program will now be put to the test against a higher level of competition.

A shift in conference has come at the best possible time for the Knights, though. This season’s 10 wins are the most ever in a season in UCF football history, and the 34 wins by its senior class are also a record for the program.

This is also a great chance for the rise of the Knights program on the national stage. In 2012, a tough loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes put their name out there as a team that was on the rise.

The bowl bashing of the Ball State Cardinals did nothing but affirm that idea.

A rise to national relevance could be on the not-so-distant horizon, with Bortles at the helm of their offense and uncertainty and inconsistency in the air in the Big East.

UCF plays tough defense, much like the upper echelon teams of the Big East. Bortles has proven to be able to compete at a high level against tough defenses, too.

So where will the promising Knights find themselves when all is said and done in 2013?

Their schedule has several tough matchups that will include South Carolina, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville and Rutgers. Also, SMU and Houston will follow UCF to the Big East and play them next season.

That’s a drastic shift after playing a strictly Conference USA schedule in 2012.

Another successful season isn’t out of the realm of possibility for the Knights, though. With Bortles behind center and head coach George O’Leary’s passion steering the team, the Knights could end up with a similar result or better.

And this time, more people will witness it unfold.