UCLA does not get to go to the Rose Bowl, but the Bruins do get to stay home for bowl season.
The Bruins will play Baylor in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego on Dec. 27. It will allow UCLA to scrub clean the 27-24 loss to Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game Friday.
That put the Cardinal into the Rose Bowl and the 17th-ranked Bruins in limbo.
The Valero Alamo Bowl and Holiday Bowl were the two possible destinations. Players received the news that they were going to San Diego before UCLA’s season-ending banquet Sunday night.
“I was interested to see what mood the seniors would be in coming off that tough loss and the disappointment of not going to the Rose Bowl,” Coach Jim Mora said. “They were excited to get to play one more time together and play in the Holiday Bowl.”
The Bruins, 9-4, were appealing to Holiday Bowl officials in part because of the Los Angeles television market. That UCLA fans could make an easy trek to the game was an added bonus.
“I love the idea of staying in Southern California,” Mora said. “Our fans can come down and play one more time. It will give us great exposure.”And 15 more practices.
“It’s like an additional spring practice,” Mora said.
This is an upgrade for UCLA. The Bruins had become accustomed to bargain-bin bowl games in Las Vegas and San Francisco. The Holiday Bowl is their biggest bowl game since they played in the 1999 Rose Bowl.
“The only thing we can control is on the field,” Mora said. “Beating Stanford and going to the Rose Bowl was the only thing we could control. We’re just excited to get another chance to play.”
Mora began his NFL coaching career in San Diego as a Chargers assistant from 1985-91. He was an NFL coach for 25 seasons, so getting one more game after a postseason loss to Stanford was new to him.
“I had to adjust my thinking,” Mora said. “After that game, playing and losing, it will stay with you a long time. It felt like the end. I slowly came to realize that we’ve got another game to play. I got jacked up again.”
He’d certainly better be to watch Baylor game tapes.
The Bears are No. 1 in total offense nationally, averaging 578.8 yards per game. They are third in passing offense, averaging 353.3, and fifth in scoring offense, averaging 44.1 points per game.
Baylor, which is 7-5, got into the bowl picture by winning its last three games, beginning with a 52-24 victory over then-No. 1 Kansas State.
It will be the second time this season that the Bruins will face a team that beat the No. 1 team in the nation. Stanford beat Oregon on Nov. 17.
Mora said that facing a wide-open offense would not be new to the Bruins.
“We have a lot of experience with that style of offense, given the fact that we have played teams like Arizona, Arizona State; USC opened up pretty well,” Mora said.Besides, he said, “we can win tight games, we can win wide-open games.”
The Bruins and Bears have never met. Mora said he knew little about Baylor, beyond former Bears quarterback Robert Griffin III, last season’s Heisman Trophy winner.”He’s my son’s favorite college player last year,” Mora said. “That’s why he wears a Washington Redskins jersey around.”
Nick Florence replaced Griffin and has thrown for 4,121 yards and 31 touchdowns. He has gained 531 yards rushing and rushed for nine touchdowns.