Good Knight, America
UCF More Worthy of Big 12 Than Vanquished Foe
Central Florida wide receiver Josh Reese runs with his school's flag after the Fiesta Bowl NCAA college football game against Baylor, Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014, in Glendale, Ariz. Central Florida won 52-42. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Central Florida head coach George O'Leary waves to the cheering crowd after a Fiesta Bowl NCAA college football game win against Baylor Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014, in Glendale, Ariz. Central Florida defeated Baylor 52-42. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Glendale, Ariz. — Hopefully, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby was taking notes on the University of Central Florida’s football team Wednesday night.
Really good notes.
Bowlsby not only was in the house to see the unbelievable, inconceivable UCF Knights pull off one of the most monumental bowl upsets in history with their 52-42 victory over Big 12 champion Baylor, he should have been quickly drafting an invitation to invite UCF into the Big 12.
Incredible. Implausible. Incogitable. Can you believe it? UCF outdueled the highest-scoring offense in the history of college football to take this earthshaking, program-making victory over the No. 6-ranked Baylor Bears.
Baylor coach Art Briles? Maybe the Washington Redskins and Texas Longhorns should be trying to hire UCF coach George O’Leary.
The Knights did it all. Quarterback Blake Bortles threw, ran and willed his team to victory. Running back Storm Johnson ran for more than 100 yards and three TDs. Wide receiver Rannell Hall ran by and through Baylor for two TD catches. And an opportunistic UCF defense held Baylor’s record-breaking offense well below its 53-point average.
The entire nation just saw the youngest program ever to win a BCS bowl come of age Wednesday night.
“It’s priceless,” UCF president John Hitt said. “You can’t buy the exposure of getting on prime-time TV on New Year’s night.”
You also can’t buy the benefit of being placed indubitably on the radar of power-conference commissioners such as Bowlsby. Even though the Big 12 commish says his league has no plans for expansion in the next few years, he certainly is much more aware of UCF’s enormous potential than he was a month ago.
“UCF is a fast-growing university with a prominent football program,” Bowlsby told me in the days leading up to the Fiesta Bowl. “And there’s no question the city of Orlando is an attractive market.”
With all due respect to Baylor, it’s UCF that should be in the Big 12. If you look at it logically, rationally, demographically and geographically, UCF brings much more to the table than do Baylor and many other schools currently in BCS leagues (see Mississippi State in the SEC, Wake Forest in the ACC, Purdue in the Big Ten, etc.).
O’Leary’s Knights finished 11-1 during the regular season and beat teams such as Louisville, which has an athletic budget nearly double the $40 million UCF spends on sports. Can you imagine how dominant UCF could be if it had all that TV money flowing in as Baylor does? The Bears, whose athletic budget is about $73 million, will earn $22 million this year from the Big 12’s TV contract alone. UCF doesn’t even make one-tenth of that from the American’s TV deal.
Yet UCF is the second-largest university in the country, with an enrollment of 60,000 students, and is in the 18th-largest TV market in the nation. In contrast, Baylor is a small private school (12,000 enrollment) in Waco, Texas — the 89th-largest TV market in the country.
Not only that, but UCF would give the Big 12 a massive TV and recruiting footprint in the talent-rich, football-fanatical Sunshine State. Everybody knows conference expansion and realignment are all about the number of potential cable-TV subscribers you bring to the table.
Bowlsby says the Big 12 is happy to be at 10 members, but is he really? Why wouldn’t the Big 12 expand to 12 teams, add UCF and South Florida, have conference-championship game and become a major player in the state of Florida? Combined, Tampa and Orlando are the nation’s fourth-largest TV market, which means the Big 12 could dominate the I-4 corridor that runs right through the middle of the fourth-most-populous state in the union.
“We’re going to be in a good conference no matter what,” Hitt says. “It will either be the American or some other conference. … There’s no question being in a BCS bowl has put UCF on the lips of a lot of people.”
People such as Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby. Let’s just hope he was taking good notes Wednesday night.