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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Tuesday night, the Pullman Police Department confirmed that 21-year-old Washington State quarterback Tyler Hilinski was found dead in his apartment of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Very early Wednesday morning, the football program and athletic department released statements addressing the devastating developments.
HEAD FOOTBALL COACH MIKE LEACH
“We are deeply saddened to hear the news of Tyler’s passing. He was an incredible young man and everyone who had the privilege of knowing him was better for it. The entire WSU community mourns as thoughts and prayers go out to his family.”
INTERIM ATHLETIC DIRECTOR John Johnson
“The tragic news today surrounding Tyler Hilinski is devastating to all. Tyler was a tremendous individual, great friend and teammate, and he will be deeply missed. Our hearts go out to his family and friends.
“Earlier tonight, the football team was brought together and informed of the tragedy. There, they were met by campus and department counseling and psychological services, including athletics’ on-staff clinical psychologist and a licensed mental health counselor, along with WSU Athletics medical team. The university will continue to coordinate and provide ongoing counseling care for all student-athletes as long as needed.“
There is utterly tragic and horrific news coming out of Pullman Tuesday night.
According to the Pullman Police Department, Washington State quarterback Tyler Hilinski was found dead at his apartment late Tuesday afternoon of what was described as an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. “A rifle was discovered next to Hilinski and a suicide note was found,” the police stated in a release.
Police officers were called to the residence at 7:30 p.m. ET (4:40 p.m. local time) for a wellness check after the redshirt sophomore failed to show up for a team activity earlier in the day.
Hilinski was just 21 years old.
As of this posting, there’s been no official response from the football program regarding the passing of Hilinski. Wednesday, the university had been expected to announce the new athletic director replacing Bill Moos, Florida Atlantic’s Pat Chun; because of the football player’s death, that press conference will be rescheduled for a later date.
In place of Luke Falk, Hilinski started Wazzu’s Holiday Bowl loss to Michigan State. With Falk off to the NFL, Hilinski was expected to be the Cougars’ starting quarterback in 2018.
Our thoughts, prayers and condolences go out to all of those impacted by Hilinski’s way-too-early passing.
Dino Babers has added a very experienced trenchman to his Syracuse coaching staff.
The school confirmed Tuesday that Babers has hired Mike Cavanaugh as his next offensive line coach. In a coaching career that spans 32 seasons, Cavanaugh has been a line coach in some form or fashion for 31 of them.
“Mike has an outstanding track record of teaching and developing quality offensive linemen,” Babers said in a statement. “He’s done it successfully at every level in college as well as the pros. This was an opportunity to add someone whose knowledge and experience will greatly enhance our staff and benefit our players.”
The past three seasons, Cavanaugh was the line coach at Nebraska. At the FBS level, he’s also served as a line coach at Oregon State (2005-14) and Hawaii (1999-2004).
From 1997-98, Cavanaugh was the assistant offensive line coach for the NFL’s San Diego Chargers.
“I’d like to thank Coach Babers for this opportunity and for welcoming me into the Syracuse family,” Cavanaugh said. “He and his staff have coached some of the most prolific offenses in college football. I’m excited to learn from them and to be part of the championship-caliber program they are building at Syracuse.”
The 2018 season will mark the first time since 2004 Cavanaugh is not a part of a Mike Riley-coached staff.
At least in South Bend, Kevin Stepherson‘s freefall is complete.
According to 247Sports.com, Stepherson, along with three other Notre Dame football players — sophomore running backs CJ Holmes and Deon McIntosh as well as junior defensive tackle Brandon Tiassum — have been dismissed from the Fighting Irish program. No specific reason or reasons for the dismissals were given.
Stepherson was one of four Irish players who were suspended for the team’s Citrus Bowl matchup with LSU, with the wide receiver’s suspension stemming from a handful of off-field issues.
Dec. 15, Stepherson was arrested for shoplifting. The day before that arrest, Stepherson was pulled over on a traffic stop and charged with marijuana possession, driving without a valid license and speeding (he was clocked doing 80 in a 60 mph zone). To make matters worse, at the time of his twin arrests the receiver was already on probation for a marijuana-related arrest in August of 2016.
Adding to the off-field issues, Stepherson was suspended for the first four games of the 2017 season for reasons unrelated to the arrest in August of 2016.
At the time of the second suspension, Stepherson led the Fighting Irish in receiving touchdowns with five and yards per catch at 18.9 despite missing one-third of the regular season because of the first suspension. His 19 receptions and 359 receiving yards were both good for third on the team.
Another of the players who were dismissed, Holmes, was arrested along with Stepherson in the shoplifting incident. Holmes ran for 32 yards on eight carries this season.
McIntosh was the fourth of the four players suspended for the bowl game. At the time of his suspension, McIntosh was third on the team in rushing with 368 yards and five touchdowns.
Tiassum played very sparsely this past season, and wasn’t looking at much more playing time in 2018.