Holiday Bowl 2012: Future NFL Players Who Must Come Up Big

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistDecember 26, 2012

STANFORD, CA - NOVEMBER 30:  Johnathan Franklin #23 of the UCLA Bruins rushes fifty one yards for a touchdown chased by Jordan Richards #8 and Alex Carter #25 of the Stanford Cardinals in the first quarter during the Pac-12 Championship Game at Stanford Stadium on November 30, 2012 in Stanford, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The "big bowls" get most of the airplay, but every year, a number of other postseason games are worthy of the "can't-miss" epithet

On paper, the 2012 Holiday Bowl, which pits the UCLA Bruins against the Baylor Bears, appears to be one of those games.

Despite a middling 7-5 record, Baylor has been a source of must-watch television all season long. If you had to list the 10 most noteworthy games of 2012, the Bears would probably appear twice.

Back in September, slightly ignominiously, they lost to West Virginia 70-63—a game that featured 1,507 yards of total offense. Then in November, much more gloriously, they routed top-ranked Kansas State by a count of 52-24.

So, yeah. Their games are usually worth watching.

UCLA's been no slouch, either. The Bruins enjoyed a marvelous year of restoration, playing in the Pac-12 Championship Game and coming within three points of the Rose Bowl.

With all the excitement these teams provided, it's hardly a shock to learn that both rosters are littered with future NFL players. Here are three who will be counted on to come up big in the Holiday Bowl:


WR Terrence Williams, Baylor

Despite more-than-respectable numbers in 2011 (59 catches, 957 yards, 11 TDs), Williams often found himself in the shadow of Kendall Wright and, of course, Robert Griffin. In 2012, the spotlight was all his, and he took full advantage.

He leads the nation with 1,764 receiving yards, almost 100 more than his closest competition, Marquise Lee of USC.

Perhaps more impressive than his yardage total, however, was Williams' volume of quality catches. Of all qualified players, he finished 14th in the country with 18.8 yards per reception. But he also did so on 95 catches.

Nobody else in the top 34 even reached 70 catches.

UCLA will roll coverage toward Williams whenever it can, but teams have been doing that all season long. And all season long it's been a fruitless endeavor.

He must continue his dominance if Baylor wants to move the ball on UCLA's defense.


LB Anthony Barr, UCLA

UCLA is in trouble in their secondary can't keep up with Terrence Williams. Fortunately, covering receivers is not the only way to slow down a passing game.

A dominant pass rush works just as well.

And the word "dominant" only scratches the surface of Anthony Barr's 2012 season. The junior linebacker led the nation with 13.5 sacks, edging out future top-10 picks Bjoern Werner, Jadeveon Clowney and Damontre Moore.

Barr had a sack in each of the Bruins' first six games this season, and while he pace slowed down as the season went on, his productivity hardly faltered en masse. He was a persistent nuisance behind the line of scrimmage too, racking up 20.5 tackles for loss.

Despite first-round projections, Barr recently declared his intention to return for his senior season. But barring a major setback in 2013, he'll grace the first round in the subsequent draft.


RB Jonathan Franklin, UCLA

A lot of statistical leaders in this game, huh?

Franklin finished 2012, his senior season, as the nation's fifth-leading rusher. He started the year with two straight 200-yard games, barely slowed down as the season went on and when it was all said and done, he had racked up 1,700 yards and 13 touchdowns.

He's not exactly a burner, so his ceiling at the next level has been questioned. But no one doubts his potential to become a serviceable cog—a third-down back, at worst.

Baylor is an explosive opponent that loves throwing the football. That means Franklin will be counted on to move the chains and keep the Bears offense off the field.