Three keys for Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl

It should be a duel in the desert.

Two of the nation’s top quarterbacks could trigger a shootout in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (8:30 pm ET, ESPN). Central Florida’s Blake Bortles and Baylor’s Bryce Petty won their conference player of the year honors while exposing defenses with their dynamic skills this season. Baylor has an eye on its first-ever 12-1 season with the hope of setting themselves up to enter 2014 with plenty of preseason buzz as a BCS title contender. Here are three keys for Baylor when it takes on UCF in Glendale, Ariz., tonight:

Step on the field with the right mindset. The Bears are expected to win and rumors are swirling about Art Briles’ future so it’s important for Baylor to take the field with a laser-focus on the task at hand. UCF earned its place in the Fiesta Bowl and will take advantage of any lack of focus from BU. Fortunately the Bears have a senior-laden squad that has worked for four seasons to put themselves in this position, so they’ll want to put a stamp on their record-setting season in their final game in a Bears uniform.

A sight unseen. The Bears haven’t faced a quarterback like Bortles. A possible first round NFL draft pick when he decides to go pro, the junior was 239-of-351 for 3,280 yards, 22 touchdowns and 7 interceptions while earning American Athletic Conference offensive player of the year honors. With the Big 12 void of elite quarterbacks outside of Petty, Baylor’s pass defense is likely to be tested in ways they haven’t experienced all season.

The return of Reese. Baylor’s offense lost explosiveness when Tevin Reese broke his wrist against Oklahoma in early November. Petty’s completion percentage dropped from 66.8 to 55.2 and his yards per attempt dropped from 13.15 to 7.71 in the four games without Reese. Before Reese was injured, Kansas State was the lone team to hold Petty under a 60 percent completion rate. He was under 60 percent in every game without the blazing fast senior, who stretches defenses with his speed and quickness. No wonder Petty said getting Reese back was like “Christmas all over again.” Don’t be surprised if Petty tries to wear out his new “gift” against UCF.