Bowl breakdown: UCLA-Baylor

Our UCLA and Baylor publishers give you players to watch, keys to victory and more for the Holiday Bowl.

Editor's note: For selected games during bowl season, our publishers will go head-to-head to break down the game, giving you the players to watch, reasons to believe in each team and more.

Holiday Bowl

No. 17 UCLA vs. Baylor
Thursday, 9:45 p.m. ET (in San Diego)
CFN's Holiday Bowl prediction

UCLA Bruins

By Tracy Pierson,

Three players to watch

Johnathan Franklin, RB: The senior tailback set the all-time career rushing record and season rushing record at UCLA in 2012, taking his UCLA career to a completely differently level this season. He's also taken his game to another level, becoming a very legitimate NFL prospect and improving his speed, quickness, strength and balance. He is easily one of the best tailbacks in the country.

Brett Hundley, QB: The redshirt freshman quarterback has deserved the press he has received as one of the best young quarterbacks in the nation. He is only 60 yards away from setting the all-time single season passing yardage record at UCLA, setting him up to surpass former UCLA All-American Cade McNown.

Anthony Barr, LB: The junior, who switched from running back this season, leads the nation in sacks with 13.5. From his outside linebacker spot he is a quick, athletic force that disrupts opposing offenses.

Johnathan Franklin has been a force for the Bruins on the ground all season.

Three strengths

UCLA's offense is ranked 20th in the country, averaging 474 yards per game, with a good balance of passing and rushing. So much of that is due to a young offensive line that really put it together this season, led by All-Pac-12 sophomore guard Xavier Su'a-Filo. Franklin and Hundley are obviously weapons, especially with Hundley's ability to create with his feet. UCLA's go-to receiver has been 6-foot-8 tight end Joe Fauria.

The Bruins' defense started off the season a bit slow, still getting acclimated to the new scheme under new defensive coordinator Lou Spanos. But in the latter half of the year, the defense was very good, especially improving in its ability to stop the run and put pressure on the quarterback. UCLA is fourth in the nation in total sacks (44), and sixth in tackles for loss (95).

A weapon on special teams has been All-Pac-12 punter Jeff Locke, who not only has a huge foot but an uncanny knack for pooching the ball inside the 20-yard line.

Important thing you may not know

In his first season as UCLA's head coach, Jim Mora has changed the culture within the UCLA football program. Being able to do it has been an accomplishment, but turning around the program in such a short time has been extraordinary, getting the players to buy in to his approach and style of coaching.


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Only one coach in UCLA's history has won as many games in his first season as Mora, with Terry Donahue also winning nine in 1976. Mora's first-season success, his personality and his coaching staff's ability to recruit has translated very well on the recruiting front, too, with UCLA currently having the 10th-ranked class for 2013 and looking very good for many more elite prospects. It could allow them to have one of the top five classes by Signing Day in February.

What UCLA must do to win

Pretty simple: Outscore Baylor. Baylor's offense is the best in the country, but its defense is second to worst. In a game that will undoubtedly be a high-scoring shoot-out, it could come down to whichever defense is able get a significant number of stops, and UCLA's defense probably has a better chance to accomplish that than Baylor's.

UCLA will have to keep Baylor's explosive receiver, Terrance Williams, from completely dominating the game, but it has some experience doing that, limiting USC's Marqise Lee in UCLA's win over the Trojans earlier this season in the crosstown rivalry.

Baylor Bears

By Tim Watkins,

Three players to watch

Lache Seastrunk, RB: The Bears co-running back does not lack for cockiness, brashness, or pure speed. I will just let Lache tell you about Lache. "I feel like there's no back who can do what I do," he told the Sporting News. Don't worry, later in the interview, he guaranteed that he would win the Heisman next year. So yes, he lacks for neither speed nor confidence.

Terrance Williams, WR: The 2012 Biletnikoff finalist is Baylor's most prolific single-season receiver, after his dominating performance this year. With 95 catches, and an NCAA-leading 1,764 yards receiving to go along with 12 touchdowns, Williams has had as good a year as any receiver in the country.

Eddie Lackey, LB: The junior college transfer and first-year Baylor linebacker turned it on late in the year, and he is one of the biggest reasons for the improved defense over the last five games. Lackey was especially effective against Texas Tech and Oklahoma State with three huge interceptions, including two ran back for touchdowns. Though undersized, Lackey plays fast and with an edge that the Bears have really needed.

Lache Seastrunk is as good as any running back in the country ... just ask Lache.

Three strengths

Can we just put offense down three times and be done with it? Make no mistake, while the Baylor defense has shown improvement during the Bears' three-game winning streak, this team is all about the offense. The Bears lead the country in yards per game and are fifth in the country in points per game.

Early in the year, the Bears offensive attack was primarily through the air, as they struggled to get the big runs that had been a staple the past few seasons. Behind the "Thunder and Lightning" combination of Glasco Martin and Seastrunk, the Bears' rushing attack has exploded during the streak. They are averaging 313 yards per game over that stretch, the third most in the country.

The Bears defense does do one thing pretty well. They turn the ball over. They have the 38th most turnovers per game in the country but have been even better recently. They are forcing three turnovers per game over their last three, good for 10th in the country over that stretch.

Important thing you may not know

The Bears are turning into an offensive lineman's best way to get into the NFL. Since 2009, the Bears have had five linemen drafted and at least one every year, including the second overall pick in the 2009 draft -- Jason Smith.

Baylor will more than likely continue that streak with Ivory Wade being thought of as a future NFL center. Wade would be the third center in a row drafted from the Bears, following J.D. Walton and Philip Blake, who went to the Denver Broncos in 2010 and 2012, respectively.

What Baylor must do to win


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With such a high-powered offense, sometimes it is as simple as giving them a few extra possessions to score. The Bears defense doesn't have to be great. They don't have to stymie the UCLA attack and hold them to a few hundred yards under their average. They just have to turn them over a few times.

In the seven Baylor wins this year, the Bears are plus-14 in turnovers. In their five losses, they are minus-9. In the past two years, they are 15-2 when forcing two or more turnovers. If the Bears force two or more against UCLA, they will be in great position to win the game.

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