PASADENA, Calif. (AP) -- A Texas-sized cloud of uncertainty looms over college football's biggest game of the season.
As No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Auburn prepare in southern California to meet Monday in the last BCS championship game, the University of Texas is still looking for a new football coach. And until the Longhorns make a hire, just about every successful coach can be considered a candidate - including Florida State's Jimbo Fisher and Auburn's Gus Malzahn.
"I've been amazed about how quiet this thing has been," ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said earlier this week. "Because of that it leads me to speculate and believe that somebody still involved in coaching, whether it's the NFL or college, must be one of their primary candidates."
"I think the longer this goes on I think it's very, very clear that it's somebody who's still coaching. Who that might be, I have no idea."
A few small leaks have sprung in the last couple of days, though it's impossible to know how seriously to take them.
Published reports out of Texas stated the Longhorns are interested in Fisher, Baylor's Art Briles, Vanderbilt's James Franklin and Louisville's Charlie Strong. Michigan State's Mark Dantonio has also been mentioned as a coach Texas Athletic Director Steve Patterson is looking at. Patterson said he wants the search complete by Jan. 15.
"Texas, they're going to be calling on everybody they possibly can because they're going to try to get the best coach they possibly can," Florida State AD Stan Wilcox said. "Meanwhile, everybody's trying to keep their coaches because they all feel that the people that Texas is looking at are the best coaches out there."
Florida State hopes it has put all the speculation about Fisher's future to rest. The fourth-year head coach and Nick Saban disciple finally got around on Tuesday to signing a new contract that runs through the 2018 season and pays him about $4.1 million annually.
Auburn agreed to a new deal with Malzahn the day before the Southeastern Conference championship game last month. The six-year contract is worth $3.85 million annually to the first-year Tigers coach.
Briles got a 10-year deal in November from Baylor. Michigan State is working on a new deal for Dantonio that could double his $1.9 million salary.
And, of course, Saban, the object of so many Longhorns desires, agreed to a new multiyear deal with Alabama that will pay him $7 million a year after months of stories and speculation connecting the four-time national championship winning coach and Texas.
But what do those extensions really mean? Are Fisher, Malzahn, Briles and even Saban truly off the market?
"A contract is written to be broken," said Kansas State athletic director John Currie, who doesn't have to worry about his football coach, 74-year-old Bill Snyder, going anywhere.
The trend in college sports, especially college football, is for schools to quickly lock up successful coaches and hand out raises.
Mississippi extended Hugh Freeze's contract after a 7-5 regular season and bumped his pay to $3 million per year. Washington State's Mike Leach got the Cougars back into a bowl by winning six games in his second season at Pullman. He got a two-year extension for his work.
Texas A&M made the boldest move of all this season with coach Kevin Sumlin, who was drawing interest from NFL teams last year. The Aggies made Sumlin (20-6 in two seasons in College Station) a $5 million-per-year coach with a new six-year deal.
Arizona AD Greg Byrne said the contract numbers that make headlines can often be deceiving.
"When you get down into the details the interesting numbers are what's guaranteed, both sides. If the coach were to leave, what's the buyout? And then if you were to dismiss your coach without cause what percent of the contract is guaranteed?" Byrne said. "Sometime you'll see someone with an eight-year contract, but half the contract is guaranteed, so in some ways it's a four-year contract instead."
Currie said the NFL has played a major role in changing the salary structure for college coaches, but ultimately a school needs to decide what works best for it.
"Everybody else is doing it is not a reason to make a bad decision for your institution," he said.
But market pressures can be strong and big openings - such as the one at Texas - can drive up that market.
"I'm sure there's been a time where a school's reacted too slowly, but I think there have been times where a school has jumped ahead a little more in hindsight to where they want to be," Byrne said. "It's a challenging situation. I think the market place has gotten to such that there will be agents out there that will try to parlay one school against another. And I think that's driven up some of the numbers we're seeing today."
Florida State and Auburn have made their moves to protect their interests, and can spend this week focusing on what it takes to win a national championship. But until the Longhorns introduce a new coach, fans of the Seminoles and Tigers - and Bears and Cardinals, etc. - have reason to be at least a little distracted by what's going on in Austin.
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GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) -- A decade after a winless season, Central Florida earned its first trip to a BCS bowl.
Once the Knights got there, they were given no chance at winning. Not against Baylor, the nation's best offensive team.
They refused to listen to all the negativity and turned the Fiesta Bowl into a rousing BCS debut.
Blake Bortles accounted for 394 yards and four touchdowns, Storm Johnson ran for two early tone-setting scores and No. 15 Central Florida outlasted Baylor 52-42 on Wednesday night in the highest-scoring game in Fiesta Bowl history.
"We did prove a lot of people wrong," Johnson said.
Central Florida (12-1) wasn't given much of a chance, entering the game as a 17-point underdog.
The Knights didn't care about the spread and certainly didn't back down from the big, bad Bears, racing past Baylor with an array of big plays.
They took an early 14-point lead and kept rolling, piling up 556 total yards in the second-highest scoring BCS bowl ever.
Bortles, the junior who could be weighing a jump to the NFL, was the catalyst, throwing for three touchdowns on 20-of-31 passing and running for 93 yards and another score.
Rannell Hall accounted for some of the biggest plays, catching four passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns. Johnson kept Baylor from ganging up on UCF's passing game, grinding out 124 yards on 20 carries.
So much about having no shot.
"There's not many outside of us who believe we had a chance, but we did and I think we showed what UCF football is all about," Bortles said.
Known for its offense prowess, Baylor (11-2) had a hard time keeping up with the Knights.
The Big 12 champions finished with 550 total yards, but were uncharacteristically undisciplined, getting 17 penalties for 135 yards.
Bryce Petty tried to keep the Bears in it, running for three touchdowns while throwing for 356 yards and two more scores. Lache Seastrunk had some big runs in the first half and finished with 117 yards.
None of it was enough the way UCF ran through Baylor's defense.
"We caught a football team that was hot," Baylor coach Art Briles said. "They played extremely well early, got into us. We tried to play catch-up the whole game, never could turn it around when it needed turning."
The Fiesta Bowl was the BCS coming-out party for Baylor and Central Florida before college football's switch to a playoff system next season.
The Bears had been building toward this since Briles became coach in 2009, winding up his high-octane offense to lead the nation in scoring and churn out the second-most yards in FBS history.
Central Florida had a slower rise under George O'Leary.
The coach who was fired by Notre Dame five days after being hired for lying on his resume has built his reputation back up in Orlando, taking a program that went winless in 2004 to the inaugural American Athletic Conference title and automatic BCS berth this year.
The matchup was projected to be like the 2011 Fiesta Bowl, when mighty Oklahoma rolled over Connecticut 48-20.
The Knights weren't listening.
They opened with a 76-yard scoring drive capped by Johnson's tackle-breaking 11-yard touchdown run. Johnson scored again on UCF's next possession, this one on a 2-yard run.
The early 14-0 lead was expected. The team leading wasn't.
Baylor finally revved up its offense late in the first quarter, scoring on a 1-yard TD sneak by Petty and Central Florida looked as if it was ready to fall apart with turnovers on three consecutive plays.
Baylor only turned one of those into points: a 30-yard pass from Petty to Levi Norwood. Petty followed Johnson's fumble with an interception in the end zone, just his third of the season.
"Unfortunately, that was the turning point in the game," Petty said. "We needed that to save momentum up for us, especially after a turnover. Turnovers in the red zone kill an offense."
Then came the spectacular plays, seemingly one after another.
Hall darted and dashed through Baylor's defense for a 50-yard touchdown on a screen pass, with help from Josh Reese's downfield block.
Petty hurtled himself into the end zone, flipping over UCF's Brandon Alexander to cap a 13-yard run. That gave Baylor 659 points, breaking the NCAA record for a 13-game season set by Texas (652) in 2005.
The momentum was gone shortly after, when Hall turned a swing pass into a 34-yard touchdown - assisted again by Reese - to put the Knights up 28-20 at halftime.
Petty scored his third touchdown on 1-yard run in the third quarter and dashed in for the 2-point conversion to tie the game, but Central Florida still wouldn't back down.
Bortles hit Breshad Perriman on a 10-yard touchdown pass and opened the fourth quarter by scoring on a 15-yard run to put the Knights up 42-28.
Even after Baylor moved quickly for a 9-yard touchdown run by Glasco Martin, UCF had an answer, going up 49-35 on Johnson's 40-yard run through the heart of the Bears' defense.
The Knights held on from there, heading home with a giant trophy and a lot more national respect.