Although the 2014 Fiesta Bowl might be overlooked by some, the fact remains that this features one of the best quarterback battles in the entire country.
What Baylor and UCF lack in program history—this will be the first BCS bowl for both sides—they certainly make up for in pure talent at the sport's most important position. Bryce Petty and Blake Bortles have been outstanding quarterbacks all season and are among the most underrated players in all of college football.
Additionally, both players have loads of potential to have successful careers in the NFL. ESPN's Mel Kiper ranked each player among the best underclassmen quarterbacks eligible for the 2014 draft (subscription required).
Therefore, there will likely be plenty of scouts on hand in Tempe, Ariz. to see the two men in action.
Of course, they must first do everything they can to help their team win this big game. Here is a look at what to expect from each passer.
Bryce Petty, Baylor
Based on the success of the past two quarterbacks, it was easy to just say that Petty was next in line of a well-run system. Robert Griffin III obviously had loads of talent and ran the offense to perfection, but Nick Florence also posted big numbers in 2012.
However, the latest signal-caller has plenty of skill on his own. Petty has good accuracy to spread the ball around, and he has the size at 6'3" to see all of his option.
Most importantly, he makes quick decisions that almost always end up being right. This is what helped him throw an incredible 30 touchdowns to only two interceptions this season. He finished the regular season ranked second in the nation behind Jameis Winston with a 179.2 efficiency rating.
Of course, he did more than just take care of the ball like a game manager. He finished in the top 10 of the FBS in passing yards and touchdowns despite only ranking 39th in total pass attempts.
Baylor does a great job of setting up big plays, and Petty always found a way to get the ball to a receiver perfectly in stride. This led to tons of yards after the catch, and eventually, a lot of points as the Bears led the nation with an average of 53.3 points per game.
As far as how his skill will translate at the next level, his coach thinks he will do well. According to Dan Greenspan of NFL.com, Art Briles recently said, "Now we have a good feel how Bryce functions, what he can do, and next year I think he'll be phenomenal. I think he'll be a top-five pick in 2015, no question."
Still, the question remains of how he will fare against Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl.
There is little doubt Petty will be able to move the ball down the field throughout the game as UCF possess somewhat of a bend-but-don't-break defense. The Knights rank 61st in the country in passing yards allowed, but they have only given up 11 passing touchdowns.
The key will be how the quarterback performs in the red zone. UCF ranks ninth in the nation at preventing scores from inside the 20, but Baylor does a great job of combining routes to get players open.
This should allow Petty to have a similar game against this defense as Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, who posted 341 passing yards and two touchdowns in a losing effort.
Blake Bortles, UCF
Although Petty has solid size for a quarterback, few at the position have the overall strength of Bortles. At 6'4", 230 pounds, he can stand up tall in the pocket and complete passes while getting hit.
Defenders even struggle to wrap him up and bring him down while he is just standing there.
ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay had this to say about the quarterback earlier in the season:
Dane Brugler of CBS Sports also provided this interesting comparison:
The best connection between Bortles and Ben Roethlisberger is the ability to keep plays alive while scrambling. Although the junior only finished with 179 rushing yards this season, he has good enough agility to escape sack attempts and eventually complete passes down the field.
This skill helped him throw for 3,280 yards this season with 22 touchdowns. Although he did throw seven interceptions, he still displayed great accuracy while completing 68.1 percent of his passes.
With less talent around him than some of the bigger programs, Bortles carried the team at times and helped the Knights win the American Athletic Conference.
However, Baylor poses a different challenge that could cause the quarterback to struggle. The Bears display an aggressive defense that has forced 17 interceptions this year, which is more than all but 12 teams in FBS.
Although they have a tendency to give up some big plays, few players have had strong overall days through the air against this squad. Even if Baylor cannot sack the quarterback, the pressure from the defensive line is certain to cause Bortles to make some mistakes.
The talented player can certainly get some yards, but it is tough to imagine him getting out of the game without throwing an interception or two.
Prediction: Baylor 30, UCF 17
Petty: 312 passing yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions
Bortles: 257 passing yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions
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