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Bortles leaving UCF for NFL draft

Blake Bortles walks off after UCF upsets Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl. He and running back Storm Johnson will not return for their senior seasons.

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Blake Bortles walks off after UCF upsets Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl. He and running back Storm Johnson will not return for their senior seasons.

ORLANDO — Blake Bortles arrived at UCF as a virtual unknown quarterback with modest expectations. Running back Storm Johnson was a transfer looking for a new start.

Both are heading to the NFL after leading the Knights to their most successful season, announcing Monday they will skip their senior seasons and enter the draft.

"After a lot of deliberations and talking with my parents, I've decided to try and pursue my goal to play in the NFL and capture my lifelong dream," Bortles said. "I just couldn't be more proud to say I played football at UCF, and it was the best four years of my life."

Bortles wore a black UCF polo shirt; Johnson wore a white one. When they asked coach George O'Leary what they should wear to the news conference, he shot back: "I don't care. You don't have to impress me anymore."

In his second year as the starter, Bortles was a constant throughout UCF's run to its first BCS bowl — the Fiesta — helping the Knights survive in seven games decided by seven or few points. He had 3,581 passing yards and 25 touchdowns this season.

Several analysts project Bortles as one of the top three quarterbacks available in the draft. Daunte Culpepper is UCF's highest-ever pick, 11th in 1999.

Johnson transferred from Miami after his freshman season in 2010. After sitting out in 2011, he backed up Latavius Murray for a season, then became the starter. He had 1,139 yards and 14 touchdowns this season.

more draft updates: Clemson's Sammy Watkins confirmed reports he will skip his senior season. He is considered the top receiver in the draft. Watkins set 23 school records in three seasons. … Arkansas defensive end Trey Flowers will return for his senior season after getting a third-round grade from the NFL's draft advisory committee. … UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley will return for his junior season. … Notre Dame defensive end Stephon Tuittwill will skip his senior season. … Big 12 rushing champ Lache Seastrunk will skip his senior season at Baylor. …UAB running back Darrin Reaves will skip his senior season. … Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion will return for his final season of eligibility. … Oregon defensive back Ifo Ekpre-Olomu will return for his senior season.

strong talks tough: Charlie Strong was introduced as the Texas coach, talking about being tough and winning championships.

"It's time to put the program back on the national stage," Strong said. "The mentality is always going to be mental and physical toughness … We will be a hardnosed football team."

That's the reputation Strong, 53, brings from Louisville to Texas, which has floundered since playing for the 2009 national championship.

With his wife and two daughters sitting in the front row, he breezed through his 45-minute news conference with smiles and jokes before ending with the trademark "Hook'em Horns" hand signal for the cameras.

"Let's go win football games," Strong said. "Let's go win championships."

Strong somewhat reluctantly acknowledged the significance of his becoming the first black coach in any men's sport at the university.

"Yes this is a historical day," Strong said. "It was a historical day when the president became president of the United States. There's always going to be a first, but I don't want to look at it as I'm the first. I want to look at it as being a coach, and that's the way I want to be treated."

golden happy: Miami coach Al Golden said he has been pursued by other programs, but reaffirmed his commitment to the Hurricanes and refused to discuss his reported candidacy at Penn State. Golden said he's ready to experience working without the NCAA investigatory cloud hanging over the school. "It's humbling and flattering, a testament to our staff and student-athletes, that other people express interest in us," Golden said. "This will be our first year being able to going out and recruit without any NCAA cloud hanging over us. There's a big part of me that wants that."

bcs ratings up: The BCS bowls' television viewership was up 15 percent from last year. The Rose, Fiesta, Sugar and Orange bowls averaged more than 14.3 million viewers on ESPN, up from under 12.5 million last season. Oklahoma's 45-31 win over Alabama in the Sugar averaged 16.3 million viewers, the most for the bowl since 2001 in years it didn't serve as the national title game. That's up 61 percent from last season's matchup between Louisville and Florida.

iowa state: Former Kansas coach Mark Mangino was hired as Cyclones offensive coordinator at Iowa State. Mangino was fired after the 2009 season, accused of treating his players poorly. Mangino spent three seasons out of football then was assistant head coach at Youngstown State last year.

Late Sunday: Allen Muse caught a 13-yard touchdown pass from Fredi Knighten with 32 seconds remaining to lift Arkansas State past Ball State 23-20 at the GoDaddy Bowl in Mobile, Ala. Ball State had a chance to tie, but Scott Secor's 38-yard field-goal attempt was blocked by Ryan Carrethers as time expired.

Bortles leaving UCF for NFL draft 01/06/14 [Last modified: Monday, January 6, 2014 9:45pm]
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