Dallas Colleges: Brett Hundley
1. Johnathan Franklin versus Lache Seastrunk: Baylor's defense is bad, but it's better against the run than the pass. When we type "better," we mean less terrible. The Bears give up 189 yards rushing per game -- 4.74 yards per rush -- which ranks 89th in the nation. Franklin, who averages 6.3 yards per carry, needs 300 yards to hit the 2,000-yard mark this season. He probably won't get that, but he could cross the two bills mark. Meanwhile, Seastrunk's emergence in the final portion of the season was a key to the Bears' late surge. If he outrushes Franklin, the Bears probably are going to win.
2. Attack on defense: One of the great secrets this season was that Baylor QB Nick Florence was darned near as good as Robert Griffin III was during his Heisman Trophy campaign in 2011. He's a good runner and scrambler and was sacked only 1.42 times per game. He also only threw two interceptions over the final five games, both coming in the upset win over Kansas State. The Bruins ranked seventh in the nation with 3.31 sacks per game, and outside linebacker Anthony Barr is one of the nation's dominant pass-rushers. The first step is pressuring Florence. The second is hoping that pressure causes him to misfire. Against a spectacular offense that scores quickly, UCLA should be willing to take some chances to potentially create big plays.
3. Turnovers: It's a good bet that whoever wins the turnover battle wins the game, because with two prolific offenses scoring a lot of points, every possession is critical. Baylor's season turned around when it started protecting the football -- it won the turnover battle 13-3 over the final five games. UCLA committed six of its 25 turnovers in one game, its horrid 43-17 loss at California.
Let's take a look at three keys for tonight's Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl.
1. Win the ground battle. Johnathan Franklin is a more established force, but Lache Seastrunk proved he can be plenty productive on the ground late in the season. Simply put, the team that runs the ball more effectively in this game will win. Somebody's likely to break open a double-digit lead at some point, and if you can't run the ball consistently, that lead is going to disappear very quickly. Both of these offenses can hang points in a hurry, so you better be able to do so while also running the clock and minimizing risk.
2. Limit (or exploit) the big plays. Nobody in college football is more effective at throwing the ball downfield than Baylor. The Bears are at their best and very, very hard to beat when Nick Florence is hitting Biletnikoff Award finalist Terrance Williams downfield or finding Tevin Reese. Williams has 26 catches this season longer than 20 yards downfield and 14 grabs longer than 40 yards, both more than any other player in FBS. Florence's 19 touchdown passes longer than 20 yards lead the FBS (Robert Griffin III had 22 last season), and Baylor also had an FBS-best 19 touchdown drives of less than a minute this season. If Baylor can keep that pace, it's going to win. If UCLA slows down those quick strikes, Baylor's penchant for turnovers may surface on lengthy drives.
3. Battle of the UCLA backfield. Penetration and lots of bodies around the line of scrimmage is a good way to cover the zone read, and when Brett Hundley gets that going, the UCLA running game looks nearly impossible to stop. He rushed for a season-high 83 yards in a near upset of Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game. Ultimately, the zone read is all about the backside defensive end, but Baylor needs to slow that package down to keep UCLA's offense in check. Truthfully, I don't like Baylor's chances of slowing down Franklin much, but it's going to be a lot easier if the Bears get some help to that DE and keep UCLA running the ball in more traditional ways.
Who to watch: Baylor has been ridiculously good on offense all season, but it got even better over the homestretch when running back Lache Seastrunk, an Oregon transfer, asserted himself, eclipsing 100 yards rushing in four of his final five games (and the fifth was a 91 yards, three TD performance at Oklahoma). He's already popped off about winning the Heisman in 2013. With a good running game, life gets even easier for the high-flying pass-catch tandem of QB Nick Florence and receiver Terrance Williams. On the other side of the ball, UCLA QB Brett Hundley and running back Johnathan Franklin will be charged with keeping up. Franklin should eclipse 200 yards in this game.
What to watch: As noted, Baylor ranks among the nation's leaders in just about every offensive category. But on the other side of the ball, Baylor is among the nation's worst. The Bears rank 119th in the nation in total defense and 115th in scoring defense. They are really, really bad on defense. Think Colorado bad. UCLA is good on offense and solid-to-mediocre on defense. The question, really, is does the Bruins good-to-solid on both sides of the ball outperform the lopsided Bears, who entirely rely on their ludicrous speed offense to outscore foes.
Why to watch: Isn't it obvious? Do you recall the Baylor-Washington Alamo Bowl from a year ago? This could be a scoring fest. Both teams are talented on offense and like to play fast and both seemed to peak over the latter half of the season. Baylor's chances improved when UCLA safety Tevin McDonald was suspended for breaking team rules. It could come down to turnovers, as wasted possessions could prove critical. It's difficult to look at this matchup and not anticipate a highly-entertaining game.
Prediction: While losing McDonald is a significant blow to the pass defense, UCLA has enough talent on defense to slow the Bears down and perhaps to make any turnovers or miscues critical. The Bruins should get at handful of stops. The question is will it be enough for Franklin and Hundley? We expect this one to go deep into the fourth quarter. UCLA 42, Baylor 40.
Ted Miller: It's not just that the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl matches top-five teams. And it's not just Oregon's and Kansas State's star power, with Wildcats QB Collin Klein, a Heisman Trophy finalist, and All American LB Arthur Brown on one side, and Ducks All-American RB Kenjon Barner and QB Marcus Mariota, a future Heisman finalist, on the other. Nor is it just the two coaches, old school Bill Snyder and new old school Chip Kelly, who many feel is headed to the NFL after this game.
Nor is it only that Pac-12 vs. Big 12 bragging rights hang heavily in the balance.
It's that you've got to love a game that has karmic significance.
Oregon and Kansas State were supposed to play this year. They had a home-and-home game contract. But then Oregon had a chance to play LSU to open the 2011 season and, well, then folks go all interpretive. Oregon fans see Kansas State as the Fraidy Cats, who took an opportunity to run away from a series instead of re-working it. Kansas State folks see logistical complications that forced their hand and, heck, it was the Ducks that first asked for an adjustment anyway.
Oregon is more than a touchdown favorite. You look at the two rosters, and it's not difficult to see a Ducks victory. And yet … who does karma favor?
Will the trash talk -- who me? -- between the fan bases come back to haunt Oregon? Will the Wildcats be vindicated? Let's just say the winner will provide more than the usual raspberries toward the other after the game.
And that is great fun.
David Ubben: I don’t know how you boys do it on the West Coast, but here in Big 12 country, we love offense. I didn’t put West Virginia 70, Baylor 63 on my best games of the year on accident. The last time Baylor got together with a Pac-12 team, I seem to remember all kinds of awesome stuff happening.
When Baylor and UCLA tangle in the Holiday Bowl, we can expect some similar fireworks, and some of them will even come courtesy of a player Pac-12 folks are surely familiar with: Lache Seastrunk. Baylor committed to him as its featured back down the stretch and he looked the part of the Big 12’s best back over the last month of the season, rushing for 693 yards and five touchdowns in his last five games. Everybody knows about Nick Florence (the nation’s leader in total offense) and Terrance Williams (the nation’s leading receiver), but this game may very well be about Seastrunk breaking out on a national scale. I’d like to see that. With apologies to offensive lineman Cyril Richardson, Seastrunk’s probably going to beat out receiver Tevin Reese as the best returning piece of this powerful offense.
Baylor doesn’t have a Heisman winner like RG3 who joined Terrance Ganaway in running away with that memorable Alamo Bowl win over Washington, but Seastrunk says he’s going to win it in 2013. I’m not going to be the one who says he can’t. UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin and Brett Hundley will be pretty fantastic foes for the Bears, but I can’t wait to see this showcase of offense.
Kevin Gemmell: Yes, David, we love our offense too. In fact, so much so that one of the most prominent offenses in football is named after the West Coast (which several Pac-12 teams run). But we can also play defense. And that is going to be the difference when Oregon State and Texas square off in the Valero Alamo Bowl.
The "Who's Going to Play Quarterback Bowl" finally has its starters -- Cody Vaz for the Beavers and David Ash for the Longhorns. But despite the fact that Oregon State has one of the most explosive wide receiver duos in the country in Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks -- I believe it's going to be the defense that carries the day for the Beavers. We know that Ash has had his troubles. And a struggling quarterback against an Oregon State secondary that ranks sixth nationally in interceptions doesn't bode well. Cornerback Jordan Poyer leads the way with seven picks this year -- that's second nationally.
Only two teams allowed more tackles for a loss this year than Texas and Oregon State is allowing opponents to convert third downs at just 29 percent. Say bonjour to Scott Crichton and Michael Doctor.
Yes, these two other games will be very offensive-centric. And that's going to make for a heck of a lot of holiday fun. This game will likely lack the offensive sizzle of the other two. There are no Heisman Trophy finalists (or players declaring they are going to win the Heisman next year). And that's OK, because there are those of us on the West Coast who still enjoy and appreciate a little bit of defense. And Oregon State's is nasty.
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.
- I mentioned this in my One Good Thing video from Monday, but the BCS' snub of Oklahoma might end up helping the Big 12 on the field, though it's certainly a hit in the checkbook. With every Big 12 team moving down a notch in the bowl pecking order, the matchups shifted heavily in favor of the Big 12 in several matchups. In many ways, conferences seal their reputations in the bowl season. For the Big 12, which was largely untested in nonconference play, this will be especially true.
- Just like last season's Fiesta Bowl, the Big 12 and Pac-12 will play the best game outside of the title game pitting two teams that had national championship aspirations. Oklahoma State and Stanford played a classic last season in overtime. I'd expect Kansas State and Oregon to do the same this year in a gorgeous venue in Glendale, Ariz. K-State is an eight-point underdog, which is no surprise. Nobody in the Big 12 has the kind of speed backs Oregon does. The pace won't cause K-State to struggle, but we'll have a good idea how the Wildcats will handle that speed in the first quarter or so. Tough to tell this far out. K-State has never played a team like this before. Nobody's got speed in the backfield like Oregon.
- Meanwhile, the Cotton Bowl is the bowl season's next-best matchup, matching the Sooners against Texas A&M. It'll be another high-exposure game for the Big 12. The hard truth: The league's reputation this year will be made in those games. How you play against top-level competition decides that, and these are big-time matchups a whole lot of people want to see. Bob Stoops is 11-2 versus the Aggies, but this is a very different A&M team, probably the best he'll have seen, and the third Heisman candidate he'll have faced. Oklahoma's defense has struggled with mobile quarterbacks for a long while, even when Mike Stoops was the defensive coordinator. The Sooners will have to score a whole lot to win this one as a four-point underdog.[+] EnlargeAP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherJohnny Manziel makes this Texas A&M team different from those against which Bob Stoops went 11-2.
- Baylor and UCLA? Nothing but fun in the Holiday Bowl. I can't wait. So much offense. Quarterback Brett Hundley is so fun to watch, and Johnathan Franklin's balance is amazing. He's got NFL back written all over him. You know about Baylor's offense. First one to 50 wins.
- The biggest of the bowl lines in the Big 12? Oklahoma State, a 17-point favorite against Purdue in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. It's legit, though I do love referring to this game as the Zombie Cotton Bowl. The Boilermakers don't have a coach and were 3-6 and 0-5 in Big Ten play before ripping off a three-game winning streak against titans Indiana, Illinois and Iowa. If OSU can get beyond this business about getting dropped in the bowl pecking order (and keep coach Mike Gundy), it should be fine.
- Florida over Louisville and the game mentioned above are the only ones with a bigger line this bowl season than Texas Tech, a two-touchdown favorite against another 6-6 team from the Big Ten, Minnesota. This one might be closer than we expect. Texas Tech is talented, but what have the Red Raiders done in the latter half of the season to make you believe they can roll over anyone? Kansas very nearly beat them, and perhaps should have. My gut says Tech rolls with a month to prepare for a bowl game after missing out last season, but don't be surprised if this one is tight.
- Woof. Iowa State and Tulsa. I will watch this game because it's my job, but don't expect me to enjoy it. I hate rematches a whole lot. I do think it's a toss-up, and some late drama might spice this one up. Sometimes, the games you never expect are the games that turn out to be the most fun. (Hey there, Baylor vs. Kansas State!)
- The weather will be interesting to watch in the Pinstripe Bowl. I love Syracuse's balance, and this game will have lots of points, too, but a bunch of Florida boys at West Virginia out in the cold at Yankee Stadium? Gotta look out for the upset, especially in a bowl game that falls well short of what WVU was dreaming about early this season.
- I'm a little surprised Oregon State's not a bigger Alamo Bowl favorite against a Texas team that looked pretty underwhelming down the stretch, but I'm really intrigued to see what Texas does at quarterback. The guess here is Case McCoy, but I'd expect a pretty heated competition in the bowl practices. I still believe David Ash is the long-term guy for the Horns, but do you risk losing McCoy if you don't give him a fair shot? He turned the ball over against K-State, sure, but he also completed a whole bunch of passes, and I don't think he did enough to lose the gig.
- TCU and Michigan State will look nothing like the football we're accustomed to seeing in the Big 12. Lots of pounding from MSU. Lots of zone read from TCU. Not a lot of passing. The Frogs are a two-point favorite and this is one of a handful of tossups. Whoever turns the ball over least wins this one. TCU racks up tons of takeaways ... and giveaways. I'm oddly excited for this game, and to see what differences there are between the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, and its predecessor, the Insight Bowl.
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