Well, it looks like I was wrong when I predicted that UCLA’s football team would end up in San Antonio, TX for the Alamo Bowl.
The good news is, neither the 17th ranked Bruins nor Bruin Nation will have to travel far this post season as they will head 120 miles down I-5 to San Diego to play in the Bridgeport Education Holiday Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium on December 27th.
Apparently the folks who run the Holiday Bowl decided that the Los Angeles TV market and a large contingent of UCLA fans, which will undoubtedly boost the attendance at Qualcomm, was a bit more important than the possible loss of tourist and hotel revenue as this is the first time that the Holiday Bowl has invited either of the two L.A. schools, despite the close proximity of UCLA and USC.
The Bruins’ opponent: The Baylor Bears from the Big 12 Conference, best known for having last year’s Heisman Trophy winner, Robert Griffin III.
People thought that Baylor, a private Christian Baptist school in Waco, TX, would suffer from the loss of arguably their best player ever, who’s now a Washington Redskin, but after starting the year 4-5 these green and gold-clad Bears rebounded nicely in winning their last three games, including a stunning 52-24 upset over then-number one Kansas State in November.
Baylor’s winning streak was nearly completely due to them having the nation’s top-rated offense as they averaged 578.8 yards a game. As for points, the Bears are fifth in the country with 44.1 points a contest; the reason why that only got them a 7-5 record was due to their extremely porous defense.
Because UCLA is only a couple of hours away from San Diego, it will be the Baylor fans and supporters that the Holiday Bowl will count on for the tourist dollars.
According to coach Jim Mora, the Bruin players are glad to be in a bowl so close to home and are “…excited to get to play one more time together…” he commented.
“I love the idea of staying in Southern California,” Mora continued. “Our fans can come down and play one more time. It will give us great exposure…(losing to Stanford in the Pac-12 title game) felt like the end. I slowly came to realize that we’ve got another game to play. I got jacked up again.”
As should Bruin Nation due the improvement that their team has shown only one year removed from their 6-8 campaign.
The fact that the Holiday Bowl is the 9-4 Bruins’ most prestigious bowl game since the 1999 Rose Bowl speaks for the job that Mora and his staff has done in changing UCLA’s culture as since the start of the 21st century, the Bruins’ post season destinations have been to lower-tier bowls in places like Las Vegas, San Francisco, and San Jose.
One thing that should be recognized, that no one seems to mention, is someone who should be credited and thanked for UCLA’s improvement in 2012: Rick Neuheisel.
It needs to be remembered that the players who did so well this year – Johnathan Franklin, Anthony Barr, Erik Kendricks, Datone Jones, even Brett Hundley as he spent last year as a redshirt – were almost all recruited by the former Bruin coach. Neuheisel may not have been very good on the sidelines, but he was an excellent recruiter as his classes consistently ranked among the top 15 in the country.
Surely Neuheisel must be thanked and given credit for at least some of this year’s success. Any rational Bruin fan would agree with me on this.
Meanwhile, it is very important that UCLA moves on from the Stanford disappointments and focus on beating Baylor and getting their 10th win; if nothing else, it will end the season on a deservingly positive note.
Plus 10-4 looks a heck of a lot better than 9-5 and finishing the season with three straight losses.
A full preview of the Holiday Bowl and the Baylor Bears, what to watch for and how I think the game will unfold, will appear on this site later this month.
OH, AND IN A BIT OF BY-THE-WAY NEWS:
USC is officially back in the bowl business after their two-year post season ban as the 7-5 Trojans accepted an invitation to play Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl in El Paso, TX on December 31st.