Guide to Big 12 bowl games: Baylor

Bridgeport Education Holiday Bowl
(7-5) Baylor vs. (9-4) UCLA  8:45 CT Thursday, Dec. 27 | Qualcomm Stadium – San Diego, CA
 
Baylor: the second-hottest Big 12 team behind Oklahoma, as the Bears closed out the regular season with three straight wins – including a bump-off of the nation’s No. 1 team, K-State.  The reason almost always has to do more to do with what’s going on inside each player’s helmet than what a stat sheet can tell us, but the stats do offer some ancillary hints. In this winning three-game flourish, Baylor’s turnover advantage is plus-seven (9 takeaways, 2 giveaways); while converting better than 50% of third downs (28 of 50) and holding the Wildcats, Red Raiders and Cowboys under 50% (21 of 45).

In the previous six conference games, where Baylor’s only win was over Kansas, the Bears converted only 39 of 96 third downs, while opponents converted 59 of 97. Almost identical third downs faced, yet Baylor’s beleaguered defense, and huffing and puffing chain gang, watched opposing offenses sustain and churn out drives. Over the last three weeks, the Bears’ defense buckled down and evened the scales, allowing its offensive stars to shine.

For what could and should be written about Nick Florence, Terrence Williams and the passing game, it must be pointed out that Baylor produced the Big 12’s top rushing team, 19th best in the NCAA, behind emerging stallion and just-named Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year, Lache Seastrunk.

Bears in Bowls: 18-18 all-time, yet 1-1 since becoming a Big 12 school in 1996, both games the last two years. This is still a fairly new trek the Bears are on playing football after Christmas. This is Baylor’s first bowl game in the state of California and just the second west of Texas (Tucson, AZ for 1991 Copper Bowl against Indiana).

Holiday Bowl: The Big 12 is 9-7 since 1996 in the Bridgeport Education Holiday Bowl, with Texas playing five times since 2000 and going 3-2. Notable performances involving the Big 12 include 1999 when K-State faced Washington and what appeared to be playful sideline horseplay between Willie the Wildcat and Harry the Huskie turned into heated haymakers. Both mascots were escorted away by security in what most in the stadium (yours truly included) perceived to be a prank for the crowd, but reports later surfaced upon Willie and Harry’s return that new students were occupying the mascot costumes and both previous students had been removed from the stadium for what turned out to be a real fight. The Wildcats won the bout on the field, 24-20.

UCLA:
The Bruins very oddly come off back-to-back losses to the same team, Stanford. First UCLA lost to the Cardinal to close out regular season play, then the two met again in the Pac-12 Championship game a week later.  Freshman QB Brett Hundley led the Pac-12 in passing – 3411 yards on 68% completions with 26 TDs to 11 INTs. That’s pretty effective considering how much time Hundley spent on his back, being sacked 46 times. Not unheard of for a freshman, but certainly for a conference passing leader. By comparison, the Big 12’s passing leader (Baylor’s Nick Florence – 4,121 yards) was sacked 16 times this year.