Glendale, AZ - "Firsts" abound in the 43rd Annual Tostitos Fiesta Bowl when UCF meets Baylor. It will be the first Bowl Championship Series (BCS) game for both UCF (11-1, American champs) and Baylor (11-1, Big 12 champs). It also will be the first meeting between the two schools.
The Knights arrive in the desert as the American Athletic Conference's first champion as UCF won 10 or more regular season games for the first time in school history and also went undefeated on the road for the first time.
The Bears won their first conference championship since the Big 12’s formation in 1996, enjoyed the first 11-win season in school history, and won three Big 12 road games in the same season for the first time.
Completing only its 18th year of Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) competition, UCF becomes the second-fastest program in FBS history to reach a BCS bowl. Boise State played in the Fiesta Bowl in its 11th BCS campaign. The Knight’s AAC title is the school’s third conference crown. They also won Conference USA in 2007 and ’10. UCF will be making a bowl appearance for the fourth time in the past five seasons and for the sixth time (2-3) in school history.
The resurgent Baylor program makes its fourth consecutive bowl appearance, a school record, after failing to reach a bowl game the previous 15 years. The Bears have won 36 games over the last three-plus seasons, the most wins in school history over any four-year span. Baylor has been ranked in both the Associated Press Top 25 and the USA Today polls at least once in four consecutive seasons for the first time since being ranked in five straight years from 1953-57.
UCF’s George O’Leary is completing his 10th season as the Knights’ helm and his 17th campaign as a head coach (1994-2001 at Georgia Tech). He owns a composite career record of 71-56 at UCF, including a 51-29 conference record. His overall career record stands at 123-89. He has led the Knights to all three conference titles in school history. O’Leary was named the Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year recipient in 2005 and is a five-time conference coach of the year (three times in Conference USA, twice in the Atlantic Coach Conference).
Baylor’s Art Briles is putting the finishing touches on his sixth season as the Bears’ head man and his 11th campaign as a head coach (2003-07 at Houston). At Baylor, he’s 44-31, a span that includes a 29-9 overall record and 18-9 conference slate since 2011. He was named the Conference USA Coach of the Year in 2006 at Houston. After just six seasons at Baylor, he already ranks fourth in wins in school annals. In six seasons in Waco, Briles has won 44 games, 25 conference games and 2 bowl games in contrast to the previous 12 years when the Bears won 35 games overall and only 11 in their conference.
The Knights never produce a dull moment. Eight of their 12 games were decided by seven points or less, five by three points or less. UCF ranks among national leaders in several categories, including red zone defense (8th), passing efficiency (10th), fumble recoveries (112th), completion percentage (13th), rushing defense (tied for 15th), scoring defense (17th) and passing yards per completion (17th). Running back Storm Johnson led the AAC in rushing (1,015 yards) and touchdowns (14) and ranked second in all-purpose yards (1,276). Quarterback Blake Bortles ranks ninth in the nation in passing efficiency (163.3), 18th in passing yards (273.3) and 20th in passing yards per completion (13.72).
The potent Bears’ offense leads the NCAA in total offense (624.5 ypg), scoring (55.4 ppg), passing efficiency (180.83) and passing yards per completion (17.81). Averaging 624.5 yards of total offense per game, Baylor’s offense ranks just percentage points behind Houston’s NCAA-record 624.9 yards per game set in 1989. Baylor is the nation’s only team to rank in the nation’s top 12 in both passing (4th, 365.9 ypg) and rushing (11th, 269.2 ypg). In 57 of its 76 touchdown-producing drives this season, Baylor’s possessions have taken less than two minutes, including 26 in under one minute. Quarterback Bryce Petty triggers the mayhem. He leads the nation in passing yards per completion (17.47) and ranks second in passing efficiency (179.2) and eighth in passing yards per game (320.3).
The Congrove Computer Rankings at CollegeFootballPoll.com give Baylor a 15.10-point edge for the 3rd-widest margin among this year's 35 postseason games.