ST. PETERSBURG — The Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl marked Central Florida's final act as a member of Conference USA, and the Knights made an impressive exit, with quarterback Blake Bortles putting on a show in a 38-17 romp over Ball State at Tropicana Field on Friday night.
"It's huge," said Bortles, a redshirt sophomore who earned MVP honors and set the bowl's total offense record with 352 yards, throwing for 272 and rushing for 80. "Our main goal was to get a 10-win season and send these seniors out on a good note, but it also gives us a big boost going into the offseason."
His total offense record broke the 319 yards set by USF's Matt Grothe in 2008. Bortles matched a career high and a record for a St. Petersburg bowl game with three touchdown passes, and he added a fourth score on the ground.
The Knights (10-4), who join USF in the Big East next year, scored on their first two drives, first on a Bortles pass to Latavius Murray to complete a drive that ate up 7:33, then on a Murray 2-yard run for a 13-0 lead.
"The message was 'We're going to control the football when we want to,' " coach George O'Leary said. "We did it the first two times we touched the ball. We took off (almost) eight minutes the first time we had the ball. That's a lot for a team that wants to score points on the other side."
Bortles was at his best on third downs, converting 6-of-7 in the first half, including three on the opening drive, the first a 19-yard scramble to convert on third and 10.
After Ball State cut UCF's lead to 13-7 in the second quarter, Bortles barreled through two defenders on third and goal for a 6-yard touchdown and a 21-7 lead. He came through again on third and goal with a touchdown pass with five seconds left in the half for a 28-7 lead.
"(Bortles) scared me to death coming in, with his feet and his ability to escape the pocket and keep his eyes downfield and make plays," Ball State coach Pete Lembo said. "He did that basically from the beginning of the game until the end."
UCF's presence helped the bowl draw an announced crowd of 21,759, its best attendance since 2009, when UCF lost to Rutgers before a bowl-record crowd of 29,763. The past two games drew announced crowds of just more than 20,000.
Bortles of Oviedo has quietly had a huge season for the Knights. Counting Friday, he threw for 25 touchdowns and ran for eight, and he threw only seven interceptions.
Murray finished with three touchdowns, catching two scoring passes from Bortles and running for another to go with 73 yards on 21 carries.
Ball State's two touchdowns came on passes from quarterback Keith Wenning to receiver Willie Snead, the latter coming with 5:26 left in the game and the outcome long decided.
UCF dominated a team that beat USF and Indiana this season, holding the Cardinals to 10 yards in the opening quarter. The Cardinals (9-4) struggled to put together sustained drives. They got an 82-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter but not much else.
UCF's 38 points are the third-most in the bowl's short history. Rutgers scored 45 in beating UCF in 2009, USF 41 in routing Memphis in 2008.
It was the second bowl victory in UCF history, following a win against Georgia in the 2010 Liberty Bowl. Ball State drops to 0-6 all time in bowl games, the most losses without a win for any Division I-A school, ESPN Stats and Info said.
UCF was facing a one-year postseason ban for major recruiting violations, but it is appealing those sanctions.