For my money, the Holiday Bowl has often been the most entertaining bowl game that’s played before New Year’s Day, and this year’s should be no exception if you like offense when Baylor and UCLA face off Dec. 27 in San Diego – the total of 78.5 is easily the highest of any bowl game this year. This is the first meeting between these schools and their first trip to the Holiday Bowl.
The Big 12’s Baylor (7-5) proved there is life after Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III as the Bears’ offense might actually be better this year under Nick Florence. Baylor started 3-0 but dropped four of its next five once the Big 12 schedule began. Certainly the most memorable loss was a 70-63 epic against West Virginia that turned Mountaineers QB Geno Smith into the Heisman favorite for a few weeks. Smith had 656 yards passing and eight scores while Florence had “only” a school-record 581 yards along with five scores. The game set a record for the most points scored involving a team ranked in The Associated Press poll. West Virginia had a school-record 807 yards, and the teams combined for 1,507 yards of offense and 67 first downs. Six receivers had at least 100 yards receiving. Baylor’s Terrance Williams set a Big 12 record with 314 yards receiving, while WVU’s Stedman Bailey had 303 and five TDs. Williams was a finalist for the Biletnikoff award, which went to USC’s Marqise Lee.
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Baylor did close the season playing as well as any Big 12 team. The Bears bombed top-ranked Kansas State 52-24, ending Collin Klein’s Heisman candidacy and the Wildcats’ national title hopes. Baylor then beat Texas Tech and ranked Oklahoma State in shootouts.
No. 17 UCLA (9-4) was a huge surprise this year under first-year head coach Jim Mora Jr. The Bruins finally ended their losing streak against USC and reached the Pac-12 title game for the second year in a row. There, however, UCLA was beaten by Stanford 27-24 (for the second time in six days; the Cardinal dominated in a 35-17 win to take the Pac-12 North in the first meeting). UCLA’s only bad loss was a 43-17 stinker at Cal.
Baylor vs. UCLA Betting Storylines
Frankly, Baylor already has had a terrific postseason. That’s because no bigger school with an opening, especially those in the SEC, was able to lure away head coach Art Briles. He got a nice new extension for leading the Bears to a third straight bowl game for the first time in school history. But it’s not likely little private school Baylor can keep the rising star forever.
The Bears lead the nation in total offense and Florence was the individual No. 1 in that category. Florence passed for 4,121 yards this season and rushed for 531. Baylor also has a stud running back in Oregon transfer Lache Seastrunk, The native Texan started the season slowly but rushed for 693 yards and five touchdowns in his final five games of the season. He had a scoring run of 80 vs. K-State and 76 vs. Oklahoma State. Williams, meanwhile, led the country with 1,764 receiving yards and added 12 TDs. Baylor averaged 44.1 points per game and had 16 touchdown drives of three plays or fewer.
Defensively, Baylor is a total mess. The Bears rank No. 119 in total defense (513.9 ypg) and allowed 38.2 ppg, which is No. 117. Six schools scored at least 40 on Baylor this year and six rushed for at least 200 yards. UCLA averaged 35.1 points per game behind dual-threat redshirt freshman QB Brett Hundley (3,411 yards passing, 26 TDs, 11 picks; 365 rushing yards, nine more TDs) and running back Johnathan Franklin (1,700 yards, 13 TDs), the school’s career rushing leader. Tight end Joseph Fauria (40 catches, 561 yards, 11 TDs) is a future pro as well. UCLA’s defense is led by linebacker Anthony Barr, who leads the nation with 13.5 sacks and had four forced fumbles. Pretty good considering this is his first year playing defense after being a running back/receiver.
Baylor vs. UCLA Betting Odds and Trends
At BookMaker, this game is a “pick’em” with the total as mentioned at 78.5. Baylor is 8-4 ATS this season and 8-3 “over/under”. UCLA is 8-5 ATS and 9-4 O/U.
Baylor is 4-0 ATS in its past four after a win. The Bears are 4-0 in their past four vs. teams with a winning record. They are 6-1 ATS in their last seven games after allowing more than 200 yards rushing in their previous game. UCLA is 5-2 ATS in its past seven after a loss. Bruins are 1-4 ATS in past five after an ATS loss. The over is 5-0 in Baylor’s past five nonconference games. The over is 6-0 in UCLA’s past six games.
2012 Holiday Bowl picks: Baylor vs. UCLA Predictions
I see no way the Bears can stop Hundley and Franklin. But I do wonder how motivated the Bruins are to be in this game after coming so close to playing in the Rose Bowl. And I’m also not sure the Bruins will slow Florence & Williams. UCLA has allowed nine receivers to have 100-yard days this season and has given up several big plays. I could almost just flip a coin here, but considering UCLA should have essentially home-field advantage, the Bruins are the choice. Take the over as well.
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