Baylor Bears (7-5 SU, 8-4 ATS) vs. No. 17 UCLA Bruins (9-4 SU, 8-5 ATS)
Date/Time: Thursday, December 27th, 2012, 9:45 p.m. EST
Where: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, Calif.
TV: ESPN/DirecTV 206
by Badger, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: Bay pk/UCLA pk
Over/Under Total: 80.5
The 17th-ranked UCLA Bruins are the kings of Los Angeles this year for the first time in five seasons, and they can earn their first 10-win season since 2005, but they'll have to score a ton of points to do it when they take on the Baylor Bears in the Holiday Bowl in Qualcomm Stadium on December 27th on ESPN.
The Bruins won three more games this year than last year under first-year head coach Jim Mora, but still fell short of their goal when they lost to Stanford twice to close out the season, including the second time in the PAC-12 title game, 27-24, for the chance to go to the Rose Bowl. Now Mora will have to try and keep the Bruins focused and motivated for "just" the Holiday Bowl, although a shot at a 10-win campaign and the short drive down to San Diego should help give UCLA an advantage.
In order for UCLA to reach those goals though, they will have to beat the Baylor Bears and the No. 1-ranked offense in college football that piles up an average of 579 yards a game. Quarterback Nick Florence has successfully replaced Robert Griffin III, and he'll lead the high-powered Bears offense into their third straight bowl game and try and continue the three-game win streak that has gotten them into the second season.
Baylor started their win streak with a huge upset win over then-No. 1 Kansas State, 52-24, back on November 17th. With an average score of 48 points during the win streak, and fresh off of last year's record-setting performance in a win over Washington in the Alamo Bowl (won 67-56 and set record more most points in a regulation bowl game), if there's one thing the Bears can do it's score, so we all could be in store for a shootout in the Holiday Bowl this holiday season.
Oddsmakers originally opened the game with UCLA as 2-point favorites, but early and quick money on high-powered Baylor has brought the game all the way down to a pick 'em at most sportsbooks. You can still find a few offshore sportsbooks listing UCLA as slim 1-point favorites, but they are few and far between.
Any game with Baylor playing in it is going to cause some sticker shock when it comes to the over/under total, and the Holiday Bowl is no exception since the game opened at 77.5. That apparently wasn't high enough, since the total is up to 80 at some books and even as high as 80.5 (the highest total in all of the bowls) at a few books and properties in Las Vegas.
It took almost half a season for Florence to get completely in the Bears offense, but he's certainly rolling now and Baylor is as dangerous as ever these days. The senior from Garland, Texas, has hit on 61 percent of his passes, has thrown for 4,121 yards and has 31 throwing touchdowns as well as nine on the ground with his legs. For awhile his decision making was suspect, since he threw 11 of his 13 interceptions in the first seven weeks of the season, but he seems to have gained confidence of late and the Bears are amassing 353 yards a game in the air as a result (3rd in FBS).
But Baylor is not just a spread-passing attack, since they have two quality running backs in Oregon-transfer Lache Seastrunk (7.6 ypg, 6 TD) and Glasco Martin (5.0 ypc, 12 TD) that take advantage of nickel and dime defenses stretched thin to stop the pass to the tune of 226 yards a game (19th). The main weapon those defenses are trying to stop, receiver Terrance Williams (1,764 yards, 12 TD), is a beast on the outside and his 18.6 yards per catch is one of the best marks in college football.
The biggest problem for Baylor has been the fact they have to play defense … if you can claim what they play is actual defense. Baylor allows over 500 yards a game (514 ypg - 123rd), mostly in the air since they play in the Big 12 (323 ypg - 122nd) and their 38.2 points allowed each week is also one of the worst in the college game … ever.
It will be the task of UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley to pick apart the Bears defense and try and stay with the Bears point-for-point. Hundley has had a good first season as the starter (68%, 3,411 yards, 26 TD-to-11 INT), but it's no secret the Bruins are going to use heavy doses of senior running back Johnathan Franklin to neutralize the Bears attack. Franklin has rushed for 1,701 yards and 13 touchdowns this year, and his 6.3 yards per carry is something the Bruins will hang their hat on is order to try and keep Florence and Baylor off the field as much as possible.
These two have never met before this year's Holiday Bowl, so trends and history are hard to find for clues. Baylor is 5-2 ATS in neutral site games, but when the game only a few miles down the road in San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium, it's certainly going to be more like a home game for the Bruins.
I know it's hard to believe, but the over looks like a strong trends play too. Not only is the over a good choice in any game Baylor plays (8-3 this year, 5-0 in non-Big 12 games, 21-5-1 in L27 overall), but the over is also 6-0 in the Bruins last six games overall and 6-1 in games versus teams from the Big 12.
Badger's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: There is going to be a TON of offense in this game and which team will win is really a coin flip. The UNDER 80.5 is the best option here. I think it will come very close to this number and sneak in right under it.
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