Bruins: UCLA ranked 20th in the country in total offense, averaging 474 yards per game, and the Bruins are particularly explosive on the ground with the combo of senior tailback Johnathan Franklin and freshman quarterback Brett Hundley, who took the season’s first snap and ran for a 72-yard TD against Rice. With blocking from a huge offensive line that includes one true and two redshirt freshmen, Franklin is enjoying an impressive final season. He is UCLA’s all-time leading rusher, eclipsing the 25-year-old record held by Gaston Green, and already has set the school’s single-season rushing record with 1,700 yards. Hundley is already being touted by head coach Jim Mora as a future Heisman Trophy candidate, and his 26 TD passes are second-most in a Bruins single season. At receiver, Shaq Evans leads the team in receptions (53) and receiving yards (795), while Joseph Fauria’s 11 touchdowns were the second-best total ever for the Bruins.
Bears: Baylor has an offense that Mora called “ridiculously good.” The Bears have been the most explosive team in college football this season, averaging a national-best 578 yards per game in total offense while putting up a remarkable 44 points per game. To UCLA, Baylor’s high-tempo spread offense will look much like those they faced in Houston, Arizona State, Arizona and Washington – all games in which the Bruins prevailed. But they probably didn’t see a quarterback as good as Nick Florence, who has seamlessly succeeded Robert Griffith III. Florence is the national leader in total offense at 387 yards per game, and he’s got one of the country’s most dangerous receivers in Terrance Williams, the school’s record holder in all-purpose yards. The Bears are hardly one-dimensional. They averaged 225 yards rushing with Glasco Martin (12 TDs) and Lache Seastrunk carrying the load.
Bruins: Slowing down Baylor already was going to be an enormous challenge, and then UCLA lost starting safety Tevin McDonald. The team’s second-leading tackler was suspended for violating team policy, with the Los Angeles Times reporting McDonald tested positive for marijuana. Mora said the position will be manned by “committee,” depending on how many receivers Baylor has on the field. The Bruins have been weak defending the pass, ranking a poor 91st by allowing 255 yards per game. They will have to disrupt the Bears with a pass rush, and junior linebacker Anthony Barr (the nation’s leader with 13 ½ sacks) and senior defensive end Datone Jones (11th in school career tackles for loss) need to have huge games. Sophomore linebacker Eric Kendricks figures to be prominent. He is 12th in the nation in tackles and is the first Bruin to lead the conference in that category since 2004.
Bears: This is the squad that has to give UCLA some hope. The Bears rank next-to-last in the country in total defense by allowing 513 yards per game, last in allowing third-down conversions, and their effort against the pass is particularly weak (328 yards per game). However, the Bears do play plenty of up-tempo teams in their conference, which might skew that stats and also better prepare them for UCLA’s multi-faceted attack. They are definitely athletic and speedy in the secondary, with nine different players recording the team’s 18 interceptions. The leader of the defense is linebacker Bryce Hager, the Big 12’s top tackler.
Bruins: Senior punter Jeff Locke is one of the outstanding kickers in college football and pinned a conference-best 31 punts inside the 20-yard line, and 20 at or inside the 10. He’s also the kickoff specialist and led the Pac-12 with 64 touchbacks. True freshman field-goal kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn is reliable from inside 40 yards (13 of 15), but he doesn’t have a very strong leg. He only converted 1 of 5 from 40 or longer, the make coming from 48.
Bears: Aaron Jones has been the best placekicker in Bears history and owns nearly all of the school records. Baylor isn’t afraid to let him give big kicks a try. He was 2-for-2 from 50 or longer this season, with a best of 58, but was only 3 of 9 from 40-49. Punter Spencer Roth has a strong leg, but he doesn’t come close to Locke’s caliber, with only 12 kicks downed inside the 20.
Edge: Slight edge to UCLA because field position battle will be vital.
Thursday, Dec. 27, 6:45 p.m.
No. 17 UCLA BRUINS (9-4) vs. BAYLOR BEARS (7-5)
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Pictured: California quarterback Zach Maynard (15) fumbles the ball as he is sacked by UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr (11) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Berkeley, Calif., Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012. California recovered the ball. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)ok