One team has more losses than wins and the other has lost six in a row. Both teams fired their head coaches after disappointing finishes to the regular season.
So, to say the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl on Saturday is about redemption is an understatement, but both teams have responded to the adversity thus far.
“It’s been a crazy, very unique situation,” UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince said. “So many different emotions and events happening, and it’s been crazy, but that’s part of college football. On a week-to-week basis, you have to come back from losses and put wins behind you.”
UCLA (6-7) comes into the game having lost three of its last four, including the 50-0 loss to Southern Cal, which sealed former coach Rick Neuheisel’s fate.
Illinois (6-6) became the first team in Football Bowl Subdivision history to win its first six games only to lose the following six.
“We know what it’s like to go into games and come out [with results] you don’t expect to have or want to have,” Prince said.
But UCLA interim coach Mike Johnson has been encouraged in practices leading up to the bowl game.
“The focus has been there,” Johnson said. “I think they have done and prepared in a way that I am happy with.”
There have been many changes this season for the Bruins, including which quarterback has been under center.
Junior Richard Brehaut, who was coming back from a broken leg, was suspended on Dec. 21 for the bowl game for undisclosed reasons.
He had returned to play briefly against Oregon in the Pac-12 title game on Dec. 2.
Prince, who has thrown for 1,627 yards in seven games, has been the Bruins’ quarterback since the injury.
Illinois interim coach Vic Koenning has been active throwing in new schemes on offense and defense and has seen a different attitude the past couple of weeks.</P>
“They’re excited for the opportunity to prove they’re a better football team than what people have told them,” he said.
Illinois was second in total defense in the Big Ten Conference, allowing just short of 292 yards per game.
The Fighting Illini are led led by defensive end Whitney Mercilus, who has 14½ sacks and nine forced fumbles, one short of tying an NCAA record.
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl
Illinois (6-6) vs. UCLA (6-7)
WHEN: Saturday, 12:30 p.m.
WHERE: AT&T Park