Holiday Bowl preview: Baylor vs. UCLA
The 2012-13 college football postseason continues Thursday night as Baylor and UCLA collide in the Holiday Bowl.
Let's take a look at some of the most important aspects of this matchup between the Bears and the Bruins.
Baylor (7-5) vs. UCLA (9-4) at 9:45 p.m. ET on ESPN
San Diego, California
US PRESSWIRELache Seastrunk will look to begin his early 2013 Heisman campaign with a big effort against UCLA.
• Offensive fireworks: Expect a lot of points to be scored Thursday night in San Diego, and I wrote earlier this month that this game could be one of the more exciting matchups this postseason. Baylor quarterback Nick Florence has done a great job of picking up where Robert Griffin III left off, and receiver Terrance Williams has been the main target of Florence, much as Kendall Wright was for RG3. The Bears, who are making their third consecutive postseason appearance for the first time in school history after finishing the year with three consecutive wins, have the most productive offense in the country. They are ranked No. 1 in total yards per game (578.75) and are No. 3 in passing (353.25), with Florence tossing 31 touchdown passes and Williams catching 95 passes for 1,693 yards and 12 scores. To make matters worse for the UCLA defense, Bears tailback Lache Seastrunk came on at the end of the year to show why he was once one of the top-ranked recruits in the nation. His 76-yard touchdown against Oklahoma State while injuring his leg on the play is still being replayed on YouTube, and he recently declared to the Sporting News that he is going to win the Heisman Trophy next season. The Bruins will also be missing safety Tevin McDonald, who failed a drug test and is suspended for the game. Meanwhile, UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley shined in his first season as the starter in Westwood. The dual-threat has taken better care of the football after his four-interception effort against Cal earlier in the year, as he has thrown 13 touchdowns against just four interceptions over his last seven games since that game against the Golden Bears. He also has added five scores on the ground during that stretch. His main partner in the backfield, senior Johnathan Franklin, broke Maurice Jones-Drew's mark for most all-purpose yards in Bruins history and rushed for 1,700 yards and 13 scores this fall, including a nearly 200-yard effort on the ground against a Stanford defense that was No. 1 against the run.
• The defenseless Bears: Baylor allows an average of nearly 514.0 yards per game, which ranks 119th in the nation, and it has the 115th-ranked scoring defense in the country at over 38 points per game. While the Bears will give up their share of yards on the ground, they were able to hold Collin Klein and Kansas State to just 76 rushing yards. However, Texas Tech ran for 208 yards and Oklahoma State for 218 in the last two contests. So the best bet for the Bruins may be through the air, as the Bears rank 118th nationally in passing defense, giving up over 320 yards per game. Tight end Joseph Fauria might be a big factor because he is a tough matchup for even the best of defenses. Hundley should look his way early and often.
• Opposite directions: Baylor enters this game on a three-game winning streak, which helped it become bowl-eligible when the future once looked bleak following a four-game skid. Getting a berth to the Holiday Bowl is quite the treat, considering the Bears will be facing a team that could have gone to the Rose Bowl. The Bears ended the year with wins over then-No. 1 Kansas State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. While momentum is not a huge factor heading into the postseason, Art Briles and Co. certainly have to feel like they can beat a lot of teams with the way they closed out the season. Meanwhile, UCLA enters the postseason with two consecutive losses, both of which occured to Stanford. While Jim L. Mora's squad will not be playing in the Rose Bowl in his first season because of the loss in the Pac-12 title game, the Bruins can still reward their fans with a closing victory in the program's first appearance in the Holiday Bowl. And they should have a large amount of supporters in the stands.