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Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl Preview: Baylor, UCLA look to renew Holiday tradition

Johnathan Franklin

Baylor Bears vs. No. 17 UCLA Bruins
Dec. 27, 9:45 pm (ET), ESPN
Reliant Stadium (Houston)
Line: UCLA -3

Dating back to the night in 1988 when Barry Sanders ran wild all over the Wyoming Cowboys, the Holiday Bowl has garnered a reputation as one of the more fun and festive of the postseason exhibitions. Back-and-forth shootouts and entertaining upsets in matchups between the Pac-12 and Big 12 have been the game's calling card.

The last two games, a lifeless Texas win over California in 2011 and a boring win for Washington over Nebraska in 2010, would qualify as duds. But for a ferocious performance by the Cornhuskers defense in 2009 against Arizona, that would have gone down as a snoozer, too. In UCLA and Baylor, however, we have two potent offenses ready to breathe a little life into the game.

Sexiness: Zoe Saldana

Much like these two offenses, Saldana showed in Avatar and Colombiana that she packs plenty of punch in a lithe package. The Bruins and Bears should hope to avoid a Death at a Funeral-like flop, though.

A word about our sponsor…: Party time. Based in San Diego, Bridgepoint Education Inc. is a publicly traded company that runs two regionally accredited universities.

Art Briles

Baylor

Aces: Art Briles has truly unleashed his souped-up Air Raid offense against opponents in the last three years and put together arguably the most successful stretch of football in school history. Even with Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III now taking the NFL by storm, the Bears offense hasn't seen much drop-off with quarterback Nick Florence running the show. With runner Lache Seastrunk making waves out of the backfield and Terrance Williams tormenting secondaries, it's hard to find a more dangerous offensive attack in the country.

Deuces: As good as the offense may be, the Baylor defense is that bad. The Bears ranked dead last in the Big 12 in both scoring defense and total defense. That's saying something.

Wildcard: The layoff. As the offense really kicked into high gear, Baylor won four of its last five games, including a blowout victory over then-No. 1 Kansas State. An uptempo O that relies on timing and precision like that of the Bears can slump following an extended break. As bad as the defense is, Baylor can't afford to misfire early.

UCLA

Jim L. Mora

Aces: Widely mocked in the offseason, the hire of Jim L. Mora paid immediate dividends in his first year. The Bruins won the Pac-12 South and nearly went to the Rose Bowl, as Mora cashed in on the abundance of talent that he inherited from Rick Neuheisel. Mora's best move may have been hiring Noel Mazzone to spreahead a deceptively potent offensive attack.

Deuces: Opponents with competent passing games burned the Bruins all season. The D did a good job getting pressure on passers, averaging 3.39 sacks per game, fifth most in the nation. The bigger issue was uneven play on the back end. That's trouble against a team that can sling it a la Baylor.

Wildcard: Travel, or lack thereof. While the Bears had to pack up and fly cross-country to get down to sunny San Diego, this is more of a pseudo-road trip for UCLA. Those situations tend to favor the de facto home team in the postseason.

So you don’t forget…: Briles continues to be a hot name when the coaching rumor mill gets fired up, and he keeps rebuffing potential suitors. Dalliances with other jobs can often distract a coach's team, but the opposite may be true in Waco. Briles appears entrenched at Baylor for the time being.

Crystal Ball: These two teams are likely to put so many points on the scoreboard that you'd think they got nothing but offensive gift cards this holiday season. UCLA has the better team from top to bottom, but Baylor's breakneck pace and potent aerial attack should help neutralize the Bruins' pass rush and enable Florence to exploit their defensive backs. In the end, though, look for UCLA to come up with one or two more stops and a win.

Score: UCLA 44, Baylor 38

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