Posted by Bryan Fischer
UCLA WILL WIN IF: The defense has to step up and get some stops. The Bruins defense looked better in the Pac-12 Championship game than they did in the regular season finale but still gave up nearly half a hundred. The secondary is young but has come along late in the season and should be healthier than they were at the end of the year. Both lines need for a few players to step up and become solid contributors this game, especially along the disappointing defensive line that was among the country's worst at getting into the backfield. The offense should be solid but if UCLA wants to get back to .500 for the season, they're going to need the defense to play the best they have since the Colorado game in mid-November.
ILLINOIS WILL WIN IF: The Illini have a pretty solid defense that has surprised some folks this season so it's up to the offense to use the extra time off before the game to get things going again. Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino has already left the team and that might be a good thing considering the team averaged just 11 points per game in their six game losing streak to end the season. Luckily their weakness (the offensive line) is matched up against the Bruins' weakness (the front seven - without middle linebacker Patrick Larimore) so it's likely quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase could have some time to make some plays. You can probably put All-American defensive end Whitney Mercilus down for a big game against the UCLA line he'll be facing.
X-FACTOR: Does anybody really want to be here? That seems to be the biggest question surrounding the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl given that two interim head coaches will be leading two teams that ended the year by falling flat on their faces. Illinois, sans Ron Zook, lost six straight games and you would figure that they want to get that taste out of their mouths. UCLA was thumped in their final two games to become the first team to make a bowl game at 6-7 and has several players who didn't make the trip up to the Bay Area due to a variety of reasons. Needless to say, motivation will be an issue in this one.