Coach Jim Mora's first season at UCLA comes to an end tonight in San Diego when the Bruins take the field against an explosive Baylor Bears program from the Big-12 conference. If you want to read up on our game coverage and check out the extensive notes we have curated around this contest, you should check our 2012 Holiday Bowl hub here.
As for the game Bellerophon put it best little more than three weeks ago when we kicked off our coverage of this game:
To be blunt: this is must win game for UCLA, from not only a recruiting stand-point, but to give UCLA's seniors, who have done everything we could have hoped for in their final season for the Blue and Gold one last chance to go out as winners in front of a blue-and-gold home crowd in Southern California. So, yes, it is a must-win and this young team needs to win, not just to keep the recruiting momentum going strong, but to give Johnathan Franklin, Joe Fauria, Richard Brehaut, Jeff Locke, Datone Jones, Jerry Johnson, Damien Holmes, Aaron Hester, Sheldon Price, Donovan Carter, Andrew Abbott, Ryan Medina, Kevin McDermott, Brett Downey, Jeff Baca, David Allen, and Dalton Hilliard that one last win. And of course, there's nothing I want to see more than Kevin Prince on the field at the end of the game, taking the final snaps in victory formation for the Blue and Gold: that kid has earned it and has bled Blue and Gold for UCLA at every step of the way.
Pete Yoon from ESPNLA has the seniors' perspective as they prepare for their last game as Bruins:
"I wish I had one more year," safety Andrew Abbott said. "I'd give anything to play with these coaches for one more year. It is cool to be a senior and being a part of a program that's changing. I tell people all the time that there is something special going on at UCLA. I tell recruits that they'd be a fool not to come here and enjoy what's going on."
The senior leaders played a big role in getting the team to this point. Players such as Franklin and Abbott as well as fellow captains Damien Holmes, David Allen and Jeff Locke and offensive lineman Jeff Baca each took command of their position groups and made sure everyone was buying in to the goals of the team and the methods needed to reach those goals.
Many of them had been recruited to UCLA by Karl Dorrell and his staff, played most of their careers during Rick Neuheisel's tenure and will leave just as Mora came in and laid the groundwork for a new era in UCLA football.
For the seniors it is also about getting that 10th win as the Bruins haven't had a meaningful double-digit win season since 1998:
"It would be big," safety Andrew Abbott said. "Ten wins, we haven't had that in a while. It's been a pretty special season already, but putting an end to the season in that fashion would really make it special."
Players who have been around for five years have endured a pair of 4-8 seasons and have won as many as seven games only once before this season. The Bruins have won nine games twice since 1998, so a win on Thursday in San Diego would help the outgoing seniors put their stamp on the program.
"My big thing now is to leave this team with a 10-win season," said offensive lineman Jeff Baca, a fifth-year senior who grew up as a UCLA fan. "I remember watching the Bruins when they had 10-win seasons and it's been a while, so it would be huge to say, 'Hey, we struggled a little early in our careers, but our senior year we won 10 games.' That's something we would talk about for a long time."
They will talk about it for a long time IF the Bruins follow up a win tomorrow night with monster seasons in Brett Hundley's (redshirt) sophomore and juniors years if the Bruins are put in position to not just compete (and win) conference title(s) but also carving out a place at BCS bowl games. Elswhere:
- The OC Register has a piece on the Jet Ski "finally" being "at peace" with himself at UCLA. The article lays out the main storylines of the life journey of perhaps the best UCLA RB off all time - who started out at Dorsey High School in South Central Los Angeles. He has come a long way since fighting off "self-doubt" from his years in high school, and then dealing with fumbling issues in his early years in Westwood.
- Speaking of the "rich and recent tradition of UCLA stars from South L.A., those who have a degree in Life 101 before they even get to Westwood," Mark Whicker from the OC Register wrote about Datone Jones, who is glad that he "stayed a Bruin." Jones has 13 sacks in his careers and his' 35 career tackles for loss are 11th on UCLA's alltime list, behind Donnie Edwards and Carnell Lake. Hopefully he will have a grand finale tomorrow night in San Diego.
- Chris Foster from the LA Times looks at how Brett Hundley has "exceeded expectations" in his first full year as a starter in Westwood. Ryan Kartje from the OC Register essentially hits the same notes here - noting how "Hundley has UCLA eager for '13." Needs to take of business tonight first though.
- SBNation's Bill Connelly has a terrific (and "fun") game preview here (just don't read Bill's final prediction). Speaking of SBNation you may also want to check out the Holiday Bowl hub of our SBN College - OurDailyBears.com - here.
- For some generic game previews here are the "matchup" write-ups from the OC Register, the LA Times, Inside UCLA, and SBNationLA.
- If you are still jonesing for more preview, here is the video preview from the official site:
Enjoy your last game day of the season.