Baylor Bears (7-5) vs. UCLA Bruins (9-4)
Dec. 27, 9:45 p.m. ET, San Diego (ESPN)
Baylor take by Big 12 blogger David Ubben: Baylor and UCLA will enter the Holiday Bowl in San Diego feeling very different about themselves. The Bears are riding high, hotter than any team in the Big 12. They’ve won three consecutive games, including one against then-BCS No. 1 Kansas State and another against a ranked Oklahoma State team. Along the way, they discovered a rising star in Oregon transfer Lache Seastrunk, who rushed for 693 yards and five touchdowns in his final five games of the season.
UCLA, meanwhile, has to be happy to have a team to prepare for that’s not Rose Bowl-bound Stanford. The Cardinal beat UCLA in consecutive weeks, the second time to clinch the Pac-12 title.
Baylor leads the nation in total offense, so expect a shootout with UCLA, which is No. 20 in total offense and taking on a Bears defense that, despite a late charge, still ranks 123rd out of 124 teams in total defense.
The Bears’ offense is even more amazing considering it lost Heisman winner Robert Griffin III and the Big 12’s leading rusher and receiver from last season’s team, but found a way to move up in the national offense rankings. Art Briles has turned quarterback Nick Florence into a star this season. Florence is the nation’s leader in total offense, ahead of even Texas A&M's Heisman candidate Johnny Manziel. Florence will be a load for the Bruins, who had a great season of their own in Year 1 under Jim Mora, but can the Bears keep their momentum into a second consecutive bowl win? This is Baylor’s third consecutive trip to a bowl game for the first time in school history, and serves as evidence that the Bears’ program was a lot more than just one transcendent player.
UCLA take by Pac-12 blogger Kevin Gemmell: When Jim Mora was hired as UCLA's head coach, there were a lot of "hmmms." But with his tough-as-nails attitude, a coaching staff heavy on NFL experience, and one of the most promising young quarterbacks in the country, the Bruins were within a missed field goal of sending the Pac-12 championship game to overtime.
Brett Hundley has matured with some haste in Noel Mazzone's system -- emerging as one of the most dynamic and efficient quarterbacks in the Pac-12. But the redshirt freshman has also benefited from an outstanding season by senior running back Johnathan Franklin, a Doak Walker award finalist for the nation's best running back.
Franklin finished second in the conference in total yards (1,700) while notching 13 touchdowns. Perhaps his finest performance of the year came against Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game -- when he torched one of the nation's premier rush defenses for 194 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 19 carries.
Defensively, the switch from the 4-3 to Lou Spanos' 3-4 has made a huge difference. The Bruins, on average, are allowing a touchdown less per game in the new scheme. Converted running back/fullback Anthony Barr has emerged as one of the country's best pass-rushers as an outside linebacker, and defensive end Datone Jones capped a sensational year after moving to the outside. A 10th win would take what has already been a highly successful first season for Mora and Co. and turn it into a resounding achievement.