Looking for a good college football time? The Holiday Bowl might be the place for you.
UCLA came up just short (and a little wide) of reaching the Rose Bowl, falling 27-24 at Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game when Ka'imi Fairbairn's 52-yard field goal attempt in sloppy conditions was off the mark.
That sent the Bruins to the Holiday, which has a reputation for high-scoring, entertaining games. This San Diego game is often among the best of the pre-New Year's crowd.
This matchup seems to fit the mold.
UCLA will play a surging 7-5 Baylor squad, which ended the season with wins over Kansas State (handing the visiting Wildcats their only loss), at Texas Tech and against Oklahoma State. The Bears lead the nation in total offense with 578.75 yards per game.
The Bruins, meanwhile, aren't chopped liver.
Behind redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley, school career rushing leader Johnathan Franklin and a next-level tight end in Joseph Fauria, UCLA is 20th nationally in total offense at 474.54 yards per game.
So, fire up the scoreboard.
UCLA is coming into the postseason with two consecutive losses -- both to Stanford -- which is perhaps why the Alamo Bowl passed over the Bruins for Oregon State (also worthy at 9-3, with a win over UCLA). Not that the Bruins are complaining because they get to go to a bowl with great hospitality in a great city that's very convenient for their hometown fans.
UCLA should have something of a homefield edge when it plays at Qualcomm Stadium on Dec. 27. This will be the first time the Bruins have played in the Holiday Bowl.
"It'll give our fans a chance to come see us play one more time," UCLA coach Jim Mora said.
Overall, the season has far exceeded expectations. It seemed as UCLA had been merely treading water for several years, but Mora got the Bruins to live up to their talent level, helped by the insertion of redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley into the starting lineup.
The Bears will be making their third consecutive postseason appearance for the first time in school history after closing out the season with three consecutive wins.
The Bears have the most productive offense in the country. They are ranked No. 1 in total yards per game (578.75) and are No. 3 in passing (353.25) despite the loss of 2011 Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III.
BREAKING DOWN THE HOLIDAY BOWL MATCHUPS
When Baylor runs: Oregon transfer Lache Seastrunk has been running wild for Baylor with 499 yards in the past three games. UCLA, meanwhile, allows 154.5 yards per game on the ground.
When Baylor passes: The Bruins have been spotty in this area, especially with giving up big plays, so that's a concern against Baylor and WR Terrance Williams (95 catches for 1,693 yards and 12 touchdowns). QB Nick Florence is the Big 12's most productive passer (343.4 yards per game) with 31 touchdown tosses against 13 interceptions.
When UCLA runs: RB Johnathan Franklin has excelled as a senior, rushing for 1,700 yards, and is coming off a 194-yard game against a Stanford defense that had been rated No. 1 against the run. Baylor held Kansas State to just 76 yards a game on the ground, but Texas Tech ran for 208 and Oklahoma State for 218 in the last two games.
When UCLA passes: QB Brett Hundley is one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country and should have a big day. The Bears allowed 362 passing yards to SMU, 656 to West Virginia (yes, 656), 381 to Iowa State, 359 to Texas Tech and 342 to Oklahoma State.
Special teams: UCLA freshman PK Ka'imi Fairbairn is 14 of 20, but just 1 of 4 from 40-plus yards. First-team all-conference punter Jeff Locke is one of the best around. He is great at placement and hang time, helping UCLA rank 14th nationally in net punting. Baylor PK Aaron Jones has a strong leg but is a so-so 16-of-27 on field goals.
Mora has given UCLA swagger; it's no more of the "gutty little Bruins." One of the first things Mora did when he was hired last year was blast the school tradition where the seniors go "over the wall" to ditch a bowl practice. That stuff isn't flying anymore.
PREDICTING THE HOLIDAY BOWL
Don't expect UCLA to be hanging its head over missing out on the Rose Bowl with a close loss at Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game. Playing in a good bowl with plenty of its fans making the short drive to San Diego should invigorate UCLA. The Bruins will take this seriously. The Bears closed the season on a three-game winning streak that includes a win over then-undefeated Kansas State, so that's a confidence booster.
UCLA 42, Baylor 34
PLAYERS TO WATCH
QB Nick Florence had the unenviable task of replacing 2011 Heisman winner Robert Griffin III, and what did he do? Simply have the second-most productive passing career in Baylor history with 6,113 yards, behind only the 10,368 yards Griffin compiled. Florence passed for 4,121 yards this season.
WR Terrence Williams had 71 yards on six receptions in the regular-season finale against Oklahoma State to finish the year with 1,693 receiving yards, a school record. He has 95 catches on the year.
RB Lache Seastrunk, the native Texan who returned home after spending a year at Oregon, finished in a big way after a slow start to the year. He had touchdowns runs of 80 (Kansas State) and 76 (Oklahoma State) in two of the last three games.
QB Brett Hundley will be happy to see someone other than Stanford lined up across from him. Hundley had trouble penetrating the Cardinal defense, throwing for just 177 yards in the Pac-12 title game loss and managing only one touchdown throw in the two meetings vs. Stanford. Baylor is 119th in total defense (513.9 yards per game) and 118th in passing defense (323.1)
FS Tevin McDonald, a two-year starter as a sophomore, has 79 tackles to rank second on the team, and he also has broken up 10 passes. McDonald will be needed over the top, especially against star wideout Terrance Williams, a speedster who is first nationally with 147 receiving yards per game.
LB Anthony Barr, a junior in his first year on defense after being a running back/receiver, might have played his way into the 2013 NFL Draft. He had a reasonable case for Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year (which went to ASU DT Will Sutton), with 20.5 tackles for loss, including 13.5 sacks, and four forced fumbles.