UCLA vs. Baylor: Holiday Bowl Breakdown
No. 17 UCLA (9-4) vs. Baylor (7-5)
Dec. 27, 9:45 p.m. ET (ESPN)
• Reason to watch: It's a matchup between programs trying to continue their ascent in two of college football's power conferences. Robert Griffin III and Kendall Wright may have brought Baylor football into relevance, but Nick Florence and Terrance Williams have followed up with impressive seasons of their own. The Bears still can't figure out how to play defense, though: They allow an average of 513.9 yards per game, 119th in the nation. Meanwhile, though critics panned UCLA's hiring of Jim Mora, he managed to beat USC and guide the Bruins to a Pac-12 title game berth in his debut season. If nothing else, the Holiday Bowl is an opportunity for both schools to showcase their high-octane offenses and rapidly improving programs.
• Keep an eye on: Two of the sport's brightest young offensive stars, UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley and Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk. Hundley was somewhat overlooked behind fellow freshman standouts Johnny Manziel, Marcus Mariota, Everett Golson and Kevin Hogan, but he has a dynamic skill set and a similarly sky-high ceiling. After a disastrous four-interception performance against Cal, Hundley bounced back with 18 total touchdowns (13 passing, five rushing) and four interceptions over his last seven games. He also finished five of those seven games with fewer than 10 incompletions. Seastrunk was once the top-ranked recruit in the nation, and he ran for a 76-yard touchdown against Oklahoma State despite injuring his leg in the process. He also doesn't shy away from bold proclamations. "I'm going to win the Heisman," Seastrunk told the Sporting News. "I'm going to win it in 2013. If I don't, I'm going to get very close. I'm shooting for that goal. I will gladly say it."
• Did you know: Senior running back Johnathan Franklin smashed nearly every major UCLA rushing record during his spectacular senior season. Franklin broke Maurice Jones-Drew's career mark for all-purpose yards, Karim Abdul-Jabbar 13-year-old single-season rushing record and Gaston Green's 25-year-old career rushing total. Franklin has 4,369 career rushing yards entering the Holiday Bowl (he rushed for 1,700 yards and 13 scores in 2012), and he could rack up plenty more against Baylor's porous defense.
• Final analysis: All signs point to a shootout, and for good reason. Baylor has the top-ranked total offense in the nation (578.8 yards per game) and the 115th-ranked scoring defense (38.2 points per game). The Bears offense could find even more success given the absence of UCLA star safety Tevin McDonald, who failed his most recent drug test and is suspended for the game. Still, Hundley and Franklin are a vicious one-two punch, and tight end Joseph Fauria should have plenty of room to roam downfield. That'll help the Bruins outlast Florence, Seastrunk, Williams and Co. in a close one.
• The pick: UCLA 45, Baylor 42