Wednesday, December 12, 2012
A closer look: Holiday Bowl
By David Ubben
As the bowl season approaches, we're going to be looking a little closer at each game. We'll go down the Big 12 bowl schedule in chronological order. Let's start with the Baylor Bears' date with UCLA.
BRIDGEPOINT EDUCATION HOLIDAY BOWL
Baylor (7-5) vs. No. 17 UCLA (9-4)
Where: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, Calif.
When: Thursday, Dec. 27, 9:45 p.m. ET
About Baylor: Nobody knew for sure what was in store for Baylor after not only losing Heisman winner Robert Griffin III, but also the Big 12's leading receiver and fellow first-round draft pick Kendall Wright, and the Big 12's leading rusher, Terrance Ganaway. What we learned was Art Briles truly is a master of offense and quarterback development. The Bears enter this game as the hottest team in the Big 12, fresh off a dominant win over then-No. 1 Kansas State and wins over Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. Baylor looked very unlikely to crack the postseason sitting at 4-5 with three solid teams ahead. Then the Bears proved us all wrong and finished the season with the nation's No. 1 offense.
About UCLA: The first season under Jim Mora Jr. has gone better than almost anyone could have figured. The Bruins drew chuckles when they hired a coach with just one season of college experience among his two-plus decades in coaching, and even that was only GA experience at his alma mater, Washington. The longtime NFL coach proved himself in his first season, helping UCLA reach the Pac-12 title game. A loss to Stanford denied the Bruins a Rose Bowl bid, but there's no question that Mora's first season has been a success.
Bears to watch: The headliner is quarterback Nick Florence, the nation's leader in total offense. He's shown a propensity to toss a pick or two (his 13 are more than all Big 12 QBs except Texas Tech's Seth Doege), but he's a lot more than the only Bear to keep an eye on. Running back Lache Seastrunk broke out late in the season, rushing for 693 yards and five scores in the final five games of the season, grabbing a starting role and looking like the hottest player in the league to end the season. Receiver Terrance Williams is an All-American, the nation's leader in receiving yardage and a Biletnikoff Award finalist. Defensively, linebacker Eddie Lackey grabbed a pair of Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week honors after returning picks for scores in each of Baylor's final two games.
Bruins to watch: UCLA loves the zone read and quarterback Brett Hundley was a breakout star in the Pac-12 this season. So was running back Johnathan Franklin, who racked up 1,700 yards to finish ninth nationally in rushing. That would have led the Big 12. Hundley threw for 26 touchdowns and ran for nine more. If Baylor's going to win this game, it starts with slowing down those two.
Did you know? Baylor's offense doesn't mess around. The Bears have nine touchdown drives this season that lasted exactly one play. That's ridiculous. Baylor also has 16 touchdown drives that lasted three plays or less. The biggest reason for that? Williams and fellow receiver Tevin Reese. Williams' 22 catches longer than 30 yards are eight more than any player in the country, and Reese is eighth nationally with eight grabs of 40 yards or longer. Another reason for BU's success? The Bears were a rousing minus-11 in turnover margin during their 0-4 start in Big 12 play. Since then, the Bears are plus-10 and went 4-1 in Big 12 play down the stretch.