Pac-12: 2011 Hunger Bowl

Video: Draft projection for Rosario

December, 31, 2011

ESPN NFL Draft Insider Todd McShay breaks down the draft projections for UCLA receiver Nelson Rosario and Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus.

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: Keys for UCLA

December, 30, 2011
What are the three keys for UCLA against Illinois in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl on New Year's Eve? Glad you asked.

1.Care: The first step toward winning this game is really caring about winning this game. Both teams fired their coaches. Both teams had extremely disappointing seasons. Both teams looked awful late in the year. Both teams suspended players for various reasons after the season ended. Many of the players on the field are going to play hard because that is who they are: Competitors caught in a tough situation who never mail it in because competitors never do. But some won't. If you watch closely, in fact, you'll be able to say, "Did you see that? He didn't even try!"

2. Run and stop the run: Neither team passes the ball well. In fact, neither team is very good on offense period. But both teams' best weapon is running the ball, even if the Illini's leading rusher, Jason Ford, is academically ineligible. If one team is decisively better running the ball -- and doesn't turn the ball over a bunch -- it's going to win this game.

3. Block Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus: Illinois has a good defense that is led by a great player in defensive end Whitney Mercilus. He led the nation in sacks (14.5) and forced fumbles (9). He's a beast and fun to watch. And guess what? One of the guys who will try to block him much of the night -- along with senior tackle Mike Harris -- will be a former walk-on making his first career start: junior Brett Downey. The Bruins' offensive line, in fact, has issues with sophomore guard Alberto Cid academically ineligible and Chris Ward and Wade Yandall out with injuries. Have Mercilus!
The Kraft Fighting Hunger Bowl features two teams that fired their coaches, but that doesn't mean neither will show up and play hard. Not necessarily, at least.

WHO TO WATCH: UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince. This is almost certainly Prince's last game running the Bruins' run-first pistol offense. Next year under new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, the Bruins will be spreading the field and throwing all over the place. Still, considering that interim coach Mike Johnson is more of a pro-style offensive coordinator, it wouldn't be surprising to see fewer QB keepers and more passes. And Prince, a junior, can make a statement to his new coaches about who should be the starting signal-caller in 2012.

WHAT TO WATCH: The mood. Illinois lost its final six games and fired Ron Zook. UCLA lost its final regular-season game to rival USC 50-zip and fired Rick Neuheisel, then subsequently needed a waiver from the NCAA to play in a bowl game after finishing with a losing record. Both teams suspended players after the regular season ended due to academic or behavior issues. With two interim coaches, and two staffs that aren't fully invested in the program going forward, it's likely one or both teams will be sloppy and uninspired. Things could get ugly. The question is whether ugly describes both teams imploding or just one.

WHY TO WATCH: Because it's college football and college football is awesome. Because it's hard not to slow down and rubberneck a traffic accident. Because there will be a quiz on this game on the Pac-12 blog on Tuesday, and the person who gets the most answers right wins $1 zillion. Maybe.

PREDICTION: Illinois 20, UCLA 14: Both teams enter amid down circumstances. Both teams have damaging player suspensions/ineligibility. The difference is that, despite everything, Illinois does something well — play defense — and UCLA does not.