Posted December 27, 2013

Sun Bowl breakdown: UCLA Bruins vs. Virginia Tech Hokies

Bowl Previews, Sun Bowl, UCLA Bruins, Virginia Tech Hokies
Myles Jack

Freshman Myles Jack (30) has starred on both sides of the ball for UCLA this season. (John W. McDonough/SI)

UCLA (9-3) vs. Virginia Tech (8-4)
Dec. 31, 2:00 p.m. ET (CBS)

• Reason to watch: Fans of defense will have no trouble getting into this one. UCLA boasts the nation’s 26th-best defense, according to Football Outsiders’ S&P rankings, while Virginia Tech has the third-best unit, behind only Florida State and Michigan State. The Bruins are likely licking their chops in preparation for a Hokies’ offense that ranks 97th in scoring and 111th in rushing. Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas is basically the human equivalent of one of those logs lumberjacks try to run on for sport. On the other sideline, UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley has the potential to be elite, but also a tendency to force the ball into crowded spaces. That’s a lot of fun to watch, but not so great for offensive continuity.

• Keep an eye on: UCLA freshman phenom Myles Jack. The standout linebacker filled in at running back when the Bruins suffered a rash of injuries at the position, and he responded in a major way. He rumbled for 120 yards, including a 66-yard score, at Arizona on Nov. 9, and he had a four-touchdown game against Washington on Nov. 15. He can do things like this:

And get people to act like this:

With all this time off and the Bruins finally healthy at running back, there’s no telling how Jack will be used in the backfield. No matter where he plays, though, he’s electric. As linebacker Anthony Barr, an SI.com first-team All-America selection, told me earlier this season, “He’s a freak. He’s very athletic and very gifted. He’s also very hardworking and very smart. He has the right mix to be successful. He’s just fun to play with, and he’s an awesome person. He’s so good, I don’t think he’ll be [in college] very long.”

• Did you know: Virginia Tech is a big fan of animals. Obviously, the mascot is a fictional beast that resembles a turkey (kind of), but there is also a poultry research center, cows with portholes in their stomachs and a commercial featuring a horse on a treadmill. Robots are not animals, but Tech loves robots that play soccer and stuff. Try to top that, City of Angels.

• Final analysis: This game has flown under the radar, but it could turn out to be one of the most entertaining non-BCS bowls. Both teams have played toe-to-toe with some great competition, and both were just a few players away from staying near the top of the polls this season. Defensively, this might be the best matchup outside of the Rose Bowl. However, the problems that plagued the Hokies in losses to Maryland, Duke and Boston College haven’t exactly gone away, while UCLA won four of its final five contests down the stretch. It’ll be close, but expect the Bruins to come out on top.

• The pick: UCLA 24, Virginia Tech 21

BOWL SCHEDULE: Matchups, dates and coverage for every 2013-14 pairing

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