No. 17 UCLA vs. Baylor
Thurs., Dec. 27 – 9:45 p.m. ET, ESPN
San Diego – Qualcomm Stadium
The Bruins went toe-to-toe with one of the nation’s best teams in five of their last eight quarters. The heart-breaking loss to Stanford in the Pac-12 title game gave added credence to P101’s belief that first-year head coach Jim Mora packed it in for the final three quarters of the regular-season finale versus the Cardinal to avoid a trip to Eugene, in favor of a replay up on The Farm.
With those two opportunities to post a 10-win season gone, UCLA (9-4) needs a win to avoid losing three consecutive games to close its “turn-around” campaign.
Through the first three decades of this bowl, we came to expect shootouts with an average of 59 points scored, but over the last three years the total has been nearly cut in half. That means we’re due for a heaping helping of offense and these are the perfect teams to oblige.
After losing five of six in the middle of its schedule, Baylor (7-5) turned things around by crushing the hopes of then-No. 1 Kansas State on Nov. 17, sparking a three-game win streak.
Despite losing last year’s Heisman Trophy recipient to the NFL, quarterback Nick Florence kept the Bear offense rolling right along, racking up a national-best 578 yards per game. He’ll do plenty of damage against UCLA’s 88th ranked pass defense, but it won’t be enough to keep up with the generosity of a Baylor defense that ranks next-to-last, allowing 514 yards per game.
Those numbers have Bruin quarterback Brett Hundley and running back Johnathan Franklin licking their chops after churning out 461 yards in the Pac-12 title game against one of the nation’s best stop units.
UCLA needs to avoid souring the accomplishment of ending USC’s monopoly and produce its first meaningful bowl win since defeating Texas A&M in the 1998 Cotton Bowl.
Opening point spread: Baylor by 1
The pick: UCLA 47-38
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A key member of Indiana’s recruiting class won’t be able to play for the Hoosiers this season as a result of a serious compliance gaff at the school.
Freshman defensive back Bryant Fitzgerald was ruled by the NCAA to be a non-qualifier according to a statement released by the program and, as a result, will now be unable to play or practice for the team. A waiver was requested but both it and the appeal were denied.
At the heart of the matter seems to be the IU compliance office incorrectly advising Fitzgerald what classes to take in order to be eligible right away at the school in the eyes of the NCAA. As the above statement and a later one from athletic director Fred Glass make clear, this was a mistake on the school’s part that will cost the defensive back a full season and not about anything he did or didn’t do.
Fitzgerald was a three-star recruit coming out of high school in nearby Avon, Ind. but was expected to make a serious run at playing time given past comments by head coach Tom Allen. It certainly seems like a bummer all around for player, school and coach but the situation is what it is at this point.
We can joke about Lane Kiffin turning FAU into the real ‘Last Chance U’ in 2017 but… it’s kind of happening for real.
In addition to adding several alums from the Netflix show, the Owls have been stocking the roster left and right with FBS transfers this offseason and added yet another just before the season starts in West Virginia wide receiver Jovan Durante.
Durante has started 17 games in his first two seasons in Morgantown, racking up 331 yards and two touchdowns as a sophomore in 2016. He was expected to assume a starting role once again this year but didn’t report to the Mountaineers preseason camp for what WVU coach Dana Holgorsen described as personal issues.
The South Florida native will have to sit out the 2017 season but will have two seasons of eligibility for the Owls after he redshirts this year.
When BYU announced this week that linebacker Francis Bernard was going to redshirt this season, only a few people seemed to think anything was really amiss. That does not seem to be the case anymore just a week before the Cougars start their season.
The Salt Lake Tribune talked with Bernard’s brother, James, about the matter and it appears the family is not too happy over the situation and is now looking to transfer. While that wouldn’t normally be much to write home about, the fact that the younger Bernard wants to move up the road to Holy War rival Utah is bound to raise some eyebrows.
“Just to be clear: My brother wants to transfer, regardless,” James Bernard told the paper. “We talk almost every day. He just doesn’t want to stay there any more.”
He went on to say that the reason that first prompted the redshirt announcement was not related to academics or playing time but a potential Honor Code issue with the school. What exactly that violation was however, is not exactly being made clear by the program to the family.
Bernard was suspended from the team’s bowl game last year for an unspecified violation of team rules but was given every indication that he would be back in the good graces of the team prior to preseason camp. That is obviously not the question and it appears a brewing transfer battle to move from Provo to Salt Lake City will soon be taking place between two bitter rivals over the junior linebacker.
Ohio State’s newish looking offense is expected to lean on the ground game early in 2017 but a key cog in that machinery might not be 100 percent healthy heading into the Buckeyes’ opener against Indiana.
Starting tailback Mike Weber has dealt with a lingering hamstring injury he suffered over the summer and hasn’t participated at all in the team’s preseason camp. Despite that bit of concerning news, it seems both the running back and the coaching staff is expecting him to be good to go in less than two weeks when the team kicks off the 2017 campaign.
“I’m getting close,” Weber said Friday, according to Cleveland.com. “They’ve been holding me back all camp to make sure I don’t have problems with it during the season. … I talk to the trainer a lot and it’s looking pretty good. I’m not at full speed yet, but I’m going to get there and I should be ready for the first game.”
Weber rushed for 1,096 yards and nine touchdowns last year as a redshirt freshman and will see an increased load carrying the ball with Curtis Samuel off to the NFL. True freshman J.K. Dobbins has apparently slid into the backup role but running backs coach Tony Alford told reporters that the starting job is Weber’s when it comes time to go against the Hoosiers.
We’ll see if that eventually holds up given how finicky hamstring injuries are for tailbacks but at least the prognosis is good enough that Buckeyes fans can breathe a little easier as camp winds down in Columbus.