UCLA to play Illini in Fight Hunger Bowl

In a meeting between teams that recently fired their head coaches, UCLA will face Illinois in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl on Dec. 31 at AT&T Park in San Francisco, the bowl committee announced Sunday.

UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel was fired last Monday, but coached a final game in the Pac-12 championship Friday at Oregon. Illinois fired Ron Zook on Nov. 27 after the Illini started 6-0 but finished on a six-game losing streak.

"I think it's going to be a good matchup," UCLA interim coach Mike Johnson said. "It's two teams that have gone down similar

The game will be televised by ESPN at 12:30 p.m. PT.

It will be the 12th meeting between the schools. UCLA holds a 6-5 record in the series. The Bruins have won the last four meetings between the teams, including a 35-17 victory the last time they met. This will be the fourth bowl game featuring the teams which faced off in the Rose Bowl in 1947 and 1984 -- the game in which Neuheisel led an upset victory as quarterback -- and the 1991 Hancock Bowl.

"We both appreciate and accept the invitation to the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl," UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero said in a statement. "Not only will our 18 seniors have the chance to end their collegiate careers on a high note, but both our entire team and our travel party will have the opportunity to enjoy the sights and sounds of one of America's greatest cities."

This will be the 31st bowl appearance for UCLA, which needed a special waiver from the NCAA to become bowl eligible after falling to 6-7 with their loss to Oregon on Friday.

The Bruins are the first team to make a bowl with a losing
record since North Texas went to the New Orleans Bowl with a 5-6
record after winning the Sun Belt conference. The Eagles lost that
game 45-20 to Colorado State.

"It's a group that's a resilient group," Johnson said. "I
don't think it will be tough to get these guys focused on playing
the game. Everyone, to a man, coaches and players, are determined
to get the program back to where it should be. This is a stepping
stone to get that going in the right direction."

UCLA is 14-15-1 in previous bowl games, including a 44-27 loss to Florida State in its last appearance in San Francisco, when the bowl was called the Emerald Bowl.

The Bruins will be making their second-ever bowl appearance in San Francisco. UCLA's last bowl game was in 2009 at the EagleBank Bowl in Washington, D.C., where they defeated Temple 30-21.

This will be Illinois' second straight appearance.

Illinois opened the season 6-0 and briefly surged into the top
25. The Illini then lost six straight games, costing Zook
his job after a 27-7 loss to struggling Minnesota in the
regular-season finale.

Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning is serving as interim coach,
but athletic director Mike Thomas is already searching for a
long-term replacement.

"We're extremely excited," Koenning said. "It's an
opportunity that, you know, we hoped very much to have a chance to
play again. We have a lot of redemption to do. I think our players
have been working very hard to try and heal up in a lot of ways."

Some Illini players said after Zook was fired that they didn't
care whether the team went to a bowl game or not. Koenning said
that, after a week, that ambivalence is gone.

"We need to be excited to play in the game," he said.
"Typically the one that does best in the bowl game is the team
that's happiest to be there."

The bowl is sponsored by Kraft and is dedicated to raising money
and awareness about the issue of hunger in the United States.

Peter Yoon covers UCLA for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.