The (9-4) UCLA Bruins will try to finish off a fine first season under first-year head coach Jim Mora, Jr. in winning fashion when they go against the high-flying (7-5) Baylor Bears in the Holiday Bowl Thursday, Dec. 27 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego (9:45 p.m. ET, ESPN).
The early Holiday Bowl odds listed Baylor as a one-point favorite over UCLA at most sportsbooks tracked by OddsShark.com, but the game eventually got bet into a pick 'em.
UCLA, after going 6-8 last year, was expected to finish somewhere in the top three but behind USC in the Pac-12 South this season. Instead, the Bruins won the South for the second straight season and didn't need the Trojans to be on probation to do it.
UCLA started 3-0, with a win over Nebraska, then fell at home to Oregon State. A couple of weeks later, the Bruins were upset by Cal. But UCLA then reeled off five straight wins, including a 38-28 decision over Southern Cal that won them the South division.
But the Bruins lost their regular-season finale at home to Stanford 35-17, which meant they had to go up to The Farm for the Pac-12 championship game six days later, which they also lost to the Cardinal 27-24.
Led by RB Johnathan Franklin, who ran for 1,700 yards, and freshman QB Brett Hundley, who threw for 3,400 yards and accounted for 35 touchdowns, the Bruins averaged 475 yards per game (YPG) on offense
Defensively, UCLA allowed 410 YPG, and its last four opponents averaged 31 points per game.
Baylor, having lost Heisman-winning QB Robert Griffin III, was expected to take a step back this season, after going 10-3 last year. The Bears then started 3-0 this year, but lost their next four in a row, giving up some big numbers on defense.
A few weeks later, Baylor sat at 4-5 on the season, but won its last three games, including a 52-24 trouncing of then-No. 1 Kansas State and a 41-34 victory over Oklahoma State to finish the regular season.
So the Bears finished in a tie for fifth place in the Big 12 at 4-5 in conference play.
Baylor, led by QB Nick Florence, who threw for 4,100 yards and 31 scores, and WR Terrance Williams, who caught 95 balls for 1,700 yards, led the nation in total offense at 579 YPG.
Defensively, though, the Bears allowed 514 YPG, as eight opponents scored at least 34 points.
Baylor, playing in a bowl for the third straight season, is 1-1 in bowls under Coach Briles. Last year, the Bears beat Washington 67-56 in the Alamo Bowl.
UCLA is playing in a bowl for the second straight season. Last year, the Bruins lost to Illinois in the Fight Hunger Bowl 20-14.