Kickoff: Thursday, Dec. 27, 9:45 p.m. ET (ESPN) at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego
Forecast: Scattered clouds, light wind. Game-time temperature -- high-50s.
Spread: UCLA by 1
Watchability: There may be more important bowl games later in the postseason, but few seem likely to have the entertainment value of the Holiday Bowl. Both teams come in playing well (Baylor won four of its last five, and UCLA won its last five against teams other than Stanford) and both have offenses that can put up yards and points in bunches. The Holiday Bowl is known for its shootouts, and this one figures to be no different.
Shining stars: Baylor -- WR Terrance Williams. A Biletnikoff Award finalist, Williams finished the regular season as the nation's leader in receiving yards per game, averaging 147 per contest. He has been held to fewer than 100 yards in three of his last four games, but his worst effort all season (in the regular-season finale against Oklahoma State) still saw him post 71 yards on six catches. He is a threat on every play. UCLA -- RB Johnathan Franklin. The Bears aren't the only team with a major award finalist at the skill positions. Franklin was a deserving finalist for the Doak Walker Award after a season that saw him rush for 1,700 yards and 13 touchdowns. He comes into the Holiday Bowl as hot as ever, having rushed for 194 yards and two scores in a narrow Pac-12 title game loss to Stanford.
Who could steal the show: Baylor -- RB Lache Seastrunk. As Williams' numbers waned a bit toward the end of the season, Seastrunk came on strong. The former Oregon transfer averaged 138.6 rushing yards per game in Baylor's last five regular-season games. His emergence has given the Bears an offensive balance they lacked earlier this season, taking some of the pressure off QB Nick Florence and Williams. UCLA -- QB Brett Hundley. The redshirt freshman has played like a cagey veteran for much of the season, completing almost 70 percent of his passes for 3,411 yards and 26 touchdowns. That touchdown total is good enough for second-most in a single season for any quarterback in Bruins' history. But Hundley can make plays with his legs as well, rushing for 365 yards and another nine TDs.
Magic number for Baylor: 2. Since Phil Bennett took over as the defensive coordinator at BU, the Bears are 15-2 in games in which they force two or more turnovers. Conversely, when Baylor lost its first three Big 12 games, it forced no turnovers in any of those outings.
Magic number for UCLA: 10. A win for the Bruins would give them their first 10-win season since 2005 in this, the first season for coach Jim Mora (who took over for Rick Neuheisel after a 6-8 finish in 2011).
3 keys to a Baylor win:
- Establish the run. The Bears are 6-2 when outrushing their opponents. Balance has been key to BU's improved play of late, as Baylor has averaged 297.4 rushing yards and 293.6 passing yards per game over its last five games. Not coincidentally, it has scored an average of 44 points in those games.
- Force turnovers. Yes, the Bears have consistently won games when they have forced turnovers. But they have also consistently struggled when they have failed to do so. Baylor was 2-4 in games in which it forced fewer than three turnovers. Conversely, it was 5-0 in games in which it generated three or more takeaways.
- Win on the money downs. Baylor has been extremely strong on fourth down on both sides of the ball. It has converted 20 of 28 fourth downs to rank No. 7 in the country among teams with more than 10 attempts. Its defense has allowed a 31.8 percent success rate on fourth downs to rank No. 14 nationally.
3 keys to a UCLA win:
- Pressure Baylor QB Florence. One problem BU's senior had occasionally this season was turnovers. The best way to induce those is with a stout pass rush. The nation's leader in sacks, UCLA LB Anthony Barr (who had 13.5 in the regular season) should help the Bruins in that regard.
- Limit Williams' big plays. No one has shut down Williams all season, and UCLA doesn't figure to do so either. But making the Bears' best receiver earn his stats in small increments instead of the huge chunks he has often gobbled up this season could be the difference. Baylor's offense has been at its best when scoring quickly. If UCLA can make BU sustain long drives, the Bruins have a much better chance.
- Give it to Franklin early and often. The star RB has carried 19 or more times in each of UCLA's last seven games. There is no reason that number shouldn't be 25 or more in this game because Baylor's run defense was hardly stout -- even in the Big 12, a league more known for its passing. The Bears were 89th nationally against the run, giving up 190.83 yards per game and 4.74 yards per carry.
Prediction: Baylor 41, UCLA 38