Two high-powered offenses face off in this year's Holiday Bowl in what could be a very high-scoring affair.
Who, What, When, Where and Why?
UCLA (9-4) vs. Baylor (7-5)
San Diego, California
December 27, 6:45 p.m. PT
3rd place Pac-12 vs. 5th place Big 12
The chance for a repeat of the offensive explosion of the 2011 Alamo when Baylor outscored Washington 67-56 is high. The Bear's offense hasn't missed a beat despite losing Robert Griffin III and the Bruins backfield of Brett Hundley and Johnathan Franklin is as talented as any in the country. It might be a perfect matchup as both offenses are among the best in the country, but Baylor's is a little better and both defenses are in the bottom half of the nation, but Baylor's is lower, particularly their pass defense.
To add even more fuel to the fire, UCLA has been showing more and more of an up-tempo pace on offense that mimics that of Baylor's, so there is a good chance that both defenses will be gassed quickly and the game will go back and forth.
Who are the Stars?
Johnathan Franklin Sr. RB UCLA
UCLA's all-time leading rusher, Franklin is as consistent as a back gets and should be effective in keeping the ball out of the hands of the Baylor offense with his steady running. Franklin nearly led the conference in rushing yards and is also one of the best receiving backs out West. Expect Franklin to want to make his final game as a Bruin a memorable one and expect Jim Mora to put the game in his hands.
Terrance Williams Sr. WR Baylor
Williams is one of the highest rated receivers going into the 2013 NFL Draft and for good reason. The 6'2 205 target had more than 1,700 yards receiving in 2012 and caught 12 touchdowns on his way to All-Big 12 and All America honors. The Bears like to put the ball in the air a lot, and Williams is the top target most of the time.
Brett Hundley Fr. QB UCLA
The big and athletic Hundley might have had the best pure numbers of any quarterback in the Pac-12 in 2012 and is a match-up nightmare for opposing defenses with his big arm and quick feet. Hundley loves to go deep with his cannon of an arm and regularly connects as he threw for more than 3,400 yards this season while also making opposing defenses pay for leaving the middle of the field open by running for 9 touchdowns.
Other players to watch
Nick Florence Sr. QB Baylor
Anthony Barr Jr. LB UCLA
Cyril Richardson Jr. T Baylor
UCLA's defensive line vs. Baylor's offensive line
Stamina could play a huge factor if the Bruins aren't able to regularly get the Bears off of the field. Much like Oregon's high speed offense does, Baylor's offense really pays dividends late in the game when they have worn out their opponent's defensive front with the sheer amount of plays that they have run. It will be crucial for the Bruins defensive front to stop Baylor's rushing attack early and quickly snuff out drives so they can limit their time on the field and keep the Bears from being able to run them over in the fourth quarter.
Baylor's defense vs. Brett Hundley
It's no secret that the Bear's defense is among the worst in the country and they are particularly bad at slowing down opposing quarterbacks. Washington's Keith Price was able to rack up 7 touchdowns against the Bears in last year's Alamo Bowl and West Virginia's Geno Smith scored 8 along with 650 plus yards in a game at the beginning of the season. The Bear's will hope to do what they did to Kansas State's Collin Klein and pressure Hundley into forcing plays that their deceptively opportunistic defense can pick off.
You're a Pac-12 fan... why do you want UCLA to win?
The Holiday Bowl match-up should be almost offensive to Pac-12 fans, suggesting that the third-best team in the Pac-12 should only be even with the fifth-best team in the Big 12 and until just recently, the game pitted the second-best Pac-12 team against the third-best Big 12 team. As much as that shouldn't make sense, I can't really argue with it, because the Big 12 team has won 9 times out of the 15 that these match-ups have been in place.
The general consensus this year is that the Big 12 and Pac-12 are neck-and-neck for the honor of being regarded as the best conference outside of the SEC. If the Pac-12 wants to truly stay in that argument, it will be imperative that the Bruins, who went to the conference championship game, can beat a team that didn't even finish with a winning record in the Big 12.
After being bludgeoned by Stanford for two-straight weeks, I think Mora and his team will be really looking forward to going up against a team that they push around a little bit and I think they will come out fired up and build a lead early. The Bruins defense is better than they are on paper, and Anthony Barr might be the hottest defensive player in the conference right now and with a month to prepare, I don't expect these guys to gas.
I think the Bruins build a lead early by pounding Franklin and then throw deep with Hundley once the Baylor defense sucks in. It will take a while, but the Baylor offense will eventually get on track, but the Bruins will be able to hold onto the cushion that they create.
UCLA 48 Baylor 35