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Holiday Bowl preview: UCLA vs. Baylor

Frank Schwab
Dr. Saturday

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(USA Today Sports Images)

Holiday Bowl
UCLA (9-4) vs. Baylor (7-5)
Dec. 27, 9:45 p.m. ET (ESPN)

About the Bruins: Jim Mora's first season as Bruins coach has been a success. UCLA won nine games, beat USC convincingly, won its division and almost won the Pac-12 Championship Game at Stanford. The arrow is pointing up for this program. Losing the final two games of the year to a strong Stanford team shouldn't put a damper on the season. UCLA proved to be a tough-minded team that can score points in bunches thanks to a passing game led by redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley and running back Johnathan Franklin, who was arguably the best runner in college football this season. A 10th win would be a nice finish to the Bruins' season.

About the Bears: Nobody in FBS - not Oregon, not Louisiana Tech, not Texas A&M -

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Baylor RB Lache Seastrunk (USA Today Sports Images)

gained more yards per game than Baylor this season. And nobody, except Louisiana Tech, allowed more yards per game than Baylor this season. That makes Baylor a unique team to watch. The offense went to another level late in the season when running back Lache Seastrunk was given more carries. His first game with double-digit carries came on Nov. 3. Starting with that game, Seastrunk averaged 159.2 yards from scrimmage in Baylor's last five contests. Quarterback Nick Florence also did a masterful job replacing Baylor legend Robert Griffin III, putting up 4,121 passing yards and 31 touchdowns, while adding 531 rushing yards and nine scores on the ground. Baylor's upset of Kansas State late in the season showed what this team is capable of. UCLA will have a tough time slowing down this offense.

Key number: 32.9
Only one time all season in a Baylor game did both teams fail to reach at least 21 points. Baylor's 41-14 win over Kansas on Nov. 3 was the lone exception. In every other Baylor game, the losing team had at least three touchdowns. The losing team in Baylor's 12 games this season averaged 32.9 points.

The breakdown: Let's state the obvious: There will be a lot of points scored in the Holiday Bowl. Baylor scores a ton, and UCLA has the 91st ranked passing defense in FBS. UCLA has an explosive, balanced offense, and Baylor gives up 513.9 yards per game. The over/under set by the oddsmakers in this game is 82 points, and that doesn't seem too high. UCLA had a good season, Baylor won three in a row at the end of the year including wins against Kansas State and Oklahoma State, so this should be perhaps the most exciting game of all 35 bowl games. Or, at least, the highest scoring.

Predictions
Frank Schwab: UCLA 42, Baylor 38

Since "whoever has the ball last" won't stand as a real prediction, I'll go with UCLA. The Bruins were more consistent throughout the season, and at least play a little bit of defense once in a while. Also, San Diego isn't far from Los Angeles and UCLA fans should be excited about this season, so it should be a pretty good crowd for the Bruins. It'll likely come down to which defense can get one key stop, and we'd rather depend on UCLA to get that done.

Graham Watson: Baylor 45, UCLA 32
These two teams were headed in two different directions at the end of the season. Baylor won its last three to earn bowl eligibility while UCLA dropped its last two after beating rival USC. Baylor won’t play much defense, but it’s offense is tough to keep up with and that will pose problems for the Bruins. No matter what happens, this game is going to be entertaining.

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