Finishing second in the Pac-12 South, the UCLA Bruins will accept an invitation to play Illinois in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. UCLA last played in this particular bowl in 2006, when it was called the Emerald Bowl, losing 44-27 to Florida State.
After ending the season with a 6-7 record, UCLA had to petition for a bowl bid.
The Bruins are 6-5 overall against Illinois, including a 2-1 record in bowls. The two teams last met in the postseason during the 1991 Hancock Bowl, a game UCLA won 6-3. The Bruins also won their most recent meeting with the Fighting Illini, a 35-17 romp in Champaign.
If UCLA is to win this time around, it will need big contributions from its star players on both sides of the ball. The Bruins showed a lot of heart during their valiant 49-31 loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game and will need to do so again.
One familiar Bruins face that onlookers won’t see on the sideline is Rick Neuheisel. The former UCLA head coach was fired after four years of underachievement and leaves the program in the hands of offensive coordinator Mike Johnson on an interim basis.
On the heels of another disappointing season in Westwood, and with a national coaching search in full swing, UCLA needs something positive to build on for the future. While it will take a complete team effort to beat the Fighting Illini on Dec. 31 in San Francisco, these five Bruins in particular will need to perform well if UCLA is to win.