UCLA offense vs. Baylor defense: Although they give up more yards than every team in the country except Louisiana Tech, the Bears aren’t the second-worst defense in the college football. Baylor has won four of its past five games because it suddenly discovered the ability to force turnovers. In that span, the Bears grabbed 11 of their 18 interceptions on the season. (Meanwhile, quarterback Nick Florence threw just two picks.) However, this still doesn’t mean that Baylor is a particularly good defense. Only two teams in the Big 12 give up more yards per play than the Bears, which partly negates the argument that their numbers are bad due to the offenses they face.
Though Brett Hundley has thrown a pick in three of this past four games, he is still just 60 yards away from Cade McNown’s single-season passing record and could crack that by the end of the first quarter. Johnathan Franklin could conceivably get 300 yards to hit 2,000 on the season. (Great stat, courtesy of ESPN: Franklin averages 4 yards after contact on fourth-quarter rushes. He averages just 2.1 per carry in the first three quarters.) Edge: UCLA
Baylor offense vs. UCLA defense: Florence isn’t the superstar Robert Griffin III was a year ago, but the senior quarterback has been more than enough to power the Bears’ high-octane offense. A skilled runner, Florence actually averages more total yards per game (387.7) than Griffin did in 2011 (384.0).
“The next guy part was never talked about or brought up,” coach Art Briles said Wednesday. “That’s why he’s successful. He’s being him. And him is good enough.”
Florence also has unanimous All-American wideout Terrance Williams, who is only 236 receiving yards from 2,000 on the season. Lache Seastrunk, once the top recruit in the country, could very well be in contention for the Heisman next year — even if that campaign is largely self-promoted.
Jim Mora is the superior coach in this matchup, but even his defensive inclinations probably aren’t enough here — particularly with the suspension of safety Tevin McDonald. As Mora has said plenty of times in the past two weeks, Baylor does a great job spreading the field. The Bruins have struggled to limit big plays this season, and the Bears don’t lack for home-run threats. Edge: Baylor
Special teams: Baylor kicker Aaron Jones has missed more than a third of his field goals this year and is just 7 of 16 on attempts inside of 40 yards. (He has hit both his 50-plus tries, so points for that.) UCLA’s Ka’imi Fairbairn has been money from close range all season, and has the leg for 40-plus — if not the consistency yet. Neither team stands out on returns, but don’t expect either team to punt very often. Almost a bit of a shame, since it would be nice to see Jeff Locke boom a few in his final game as a Bruin. Edge: UCLA, slightly
Players to watch: Lache Seastrunk, in case he decides to run 50 yards on one good leg again. Anthony Barr, in case he knocks someone out of the game for the third time in four games (with Matt Barkley and Stanford punter Daniel Zychlinski being the first two). Freshman defensive back Randall Goforth, since he’ll likely see most of McDonald’s reps Thursday and will likely start in the secondary next fall.