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Holiday Bowl Preview: Baylor, UCLA in a Battle of the Bear Species

The holidays -- a perfect time to watch an all-out offensive slugfest between two teams named after bears. Or something


Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl, Thursday, 9:45 p.m. ET, ESPN

Why it exists: Because of all the days to hold a holiday bowl this time of year, Dec. 27 is the right one

The Teams: Baylor and UCLA

How Baylor got here: The end of the year. Baylor stood at 4-5 going into the Kansas State game, with a trip to Texas Tech and a home game against Oklahoma State still in the offing. The chances of going to the postseason -- which would require wins in at least two of those games -- seemed slim. But the Bears slammed Kansas State, then edged the Raiders and the Pokes to get to bowl eligibility. The offense is as explosive as ever, tops in the nation in total yardage (578.8 ypg) and in the Top 5 in scoring (44.1 ppg). The defense is ... well ... there. Baylor allowed more than 40 points to half of its opponents and is averaging 513.9 yards per game in total defense, next to last in the FBS. Even without checking, I'm almost sure that Baylor is the only team this year to score 63 points in a game and lose.

How UCLA got here: The Jim Mora NotJr. bounce. The former Falcons head coach -- who is not a Jr. of any kind, as you will likely hear at least once tonight -- quickly minted a nationally-ranked Bruins team, just like he delivered an 11-5 Atlanta team in his first season. We'll see if this one lasts any longer. (No, I'm not bitter. Why do you ask?) UCLA played solid offense and subpar defense but only lost by more than a touchdown twice: in the 26-point shellacking at Cal -- still one of the weirder results of the season -- and in the first game against Stanford, which just conveniently allowed UCLA to play Stanford instead of Oregon and very nearly beat them in the Pac-12 Championship Game a week later. All coincidental, I'm quite sure.

College football fans care because: This is one of the first bowl games where you can look at it and say, "ooh, interesting" without being an absolute fanatic

SEC fans care because: A game between a Pac-12 team from California and Baylor? From the SEC perspective, there really are no winners

Watch this game if...: You think defense is overrated

cocknfire's pick: UCLA 57, Baylor 52

Line: UCLA by 3