The UCLA Bruins will face the Baylor Bears in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl on Dec. 27 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, staying close to home for their bowl game for the second consecutive year.
It will be the first time the Bruins (9-4) and Bears (7-5) have met in football, and UCLA coach Jim Mora sounded like a guy who had very little knowledge of Baylor when he heard the news.
"I know RG3 went there," Mora said, referencing Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III who now plays for the Washington Redskins. "That was my son's favorite player in college football last year and that's one of the reasons he wears a Redskins jersey around."
UCLA, which played in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco last year, was the Pac-12 Conference runner-up after a tough 27-24 loss to Stanford in the conference championship game Friday night. Mora said getting the news that there was another game on the horizon helped ease the sting of that loss a bit.
"To a man they were all excited about getting to play one more time and getting to play in the Holiday Bowl," he said of his players. "I just think they like to play. They like to play together and they like to compete. That's the sense that I got."
Baylor finished tied for fifth in the Big 12 but ended the season with consecutive wins over Kansas State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State.
It will be another major test for UCLA's defense as Baylor leads the nation in total offense with 578.75 yards per game, is third with 353.25 yards passing per game and is fifth in scoring at 44.08 points per game.
But as good as they have been on offense, they have been equally bad on defense, giving up 513.92 yards and 38.17 points per game to rank No. 119 and 114 in the nation, respectively.
This will mark the first appearance in the Holiday Bowl for both teams. Mora, who began his coaching career as an assistant with the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium, says he likes the idea of staying in Southern California for the game.
"I think it'll give our fans a chance to come down and watch us play one more time," Mora said. "It's a quick drive down there. It's a great stadium. I think it will give us great exposure and I'm excited about it."
It's not quite the Rose Bowl, however, which the Bruins would have made had they defeated Stanford. Still, it's a step up from the Kraft Fight Hunger, Eagle Bank and Las Vegas bowls that the Bruins have been in during their past few postseason games.
"Once we didn't win that game and weren't going to the Rose Bowl, that was the only thing we controlled," Mora said. "Then whatever decisions were made, were made and we'd be excited no matter what we were doing just to get a chance to play again."
Mora said he doesn't envision the team having any kind of letdown because it didn't make the Rose Bowl.
"That's one of the things I really respect about these players is that they just go out and compete," he said. "Regardless of the score, regardless of the opponent, regardless of the location, regardless of the style of team we're playing, they just go out and compete."
The team is allowed 15 practices between now and the bowl game. UCLA has finals next week, so Mora said the schedule would be light until after they are over but embraced the idea of what he called "a second spring."
"We won't go nearly as hard as we went in spring, at least in the early part of our practice schedule," he said. "We'll get a few days in of skills and drills and then after finals in that last week and half or two weeks, we'll really hit it hard."