When Northern Illinois slipped into the top 16 of the BCS rankings to end the regular season, it automatically received a trip to the Orange Bowl.
Well, that and UCLA had the gall to lose to Stanford twice.
In effect, the No. 17 Bruins will play Baylor in the Holiday Bowl on Thursday night. And they will prove they would have been a worthy opponent for Florida State when all is said and done.
The Bruins went 1-2 in their final three games, but the one win was against then-No. 18 USC and they lost to Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Game by a three-point margin.
Baylor's defense is atrocious, allowing 38.2 points per contest (117th in the FBS). It's one of the reasons why the Bears have gone 7-5 this season, despite averaging the fifth-most points in the country (44.1).
Beyond that, Baylor has allowed 7.5 yards per pass attempt (tied for 75th in the nation, via CFBStats.com) and 4.74 yards per carry (tied for 92nd).
Despite not having the greatest defense itself (25.9 points per game allowed, 56th in the nation), UCLA showed down the stretch against USC and against Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Game that it has been generally playing above its ability lately. The fact that the Bruins buckled down on Stanford star running back Stepfan Taylor in the Pac-12 Championship Game after he gashed them on Nov. 24 shows that this team is ready for bowl season.
Another point of note: UCLA senior running back Johnathan Franklin could have a huge game against the Bears. He's rushed for the fifth-most yards in the FBS this season (averaging 6.3 yards per carry) and he rushed for 194 yards and two touchdowns against Stanford's elite run defense in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Baylor just allowed Oklahoma State's Joseph Randle to run for 139 yards on 23 carries.
UCLA is certainly not going to be able to stop Baylor's offense completely, but the Bruins do have a better and more opportunistic defense than the Bears. They also have the look of a team that feels as if it was capable of more this season.
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