SAN FRANCISCO - The UCLA Bruins, champions of the Pac-12 South division, will meet the Illinois Fighting Illini in the second Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl at AT&T Park. The Bruins and Illini will play Saturday, December 31, 2011 with a 12:30 p.m. [PST]/3:30 p.m. [EST] kickoff. ESPN will televise the game to a nationwide audience.
Bowl co-founder and the game's only Executive Director, Gary Cavalli, noted the Bruins' return to San Francisco. UCLA met Florida State in the 2006 contest, then known as the Emerald Bowl. The Seminoles rallied for a 44-27 victory in an offensive showcase that produced Bowl records still in place today.
"We're thrilled to bring UCLA back to San Francisco," Cavalli said. "The Bruins played in our 2006 game against Florida State, and we had a great experience with Dan Guerrero and the entire UCLA family. That 2006 game was a classic matchup of two premier programs that had never met before on the gridiron. It was also our first sellout and we anticipate another big crowd at AT&T Park on New Year's Eve.
"We are also extremely happy to have Illinois come to us and produce a Pac-12/Big Ten matchup for the first time in our history. Illinois brings a great tradition to the Bay Area and this is a wonderful chance for all the Fighting Illini alumni in Northern California to see their team as well."
The Illini opened the 2011 season 6-0 and among its early-season triumphs was a stirring 38-35 decision over in-state rival Northwestern.
Illinois's defense is among the Big Ten's best. Allowing just 291.8 yards/game, the Illini was second in the conference, trailing only Michigan State and just ahead of conference champion Wisconsin. Illinois was third against the run [129.1] and second against the pass [159.1]. The Illini also rang up 36 QB sacks, second only to the Spartans' 41.
Senior A.J. Jenkins [84-1,196-7 TD] led all Big Ten receivers in total receptions and was second overall in receiving yardage. Junior Whitney Mercilus led the Big Ten in sacks with 14.5 total, 13 of those unassisted. He is one of six finalists for the Ted Hendricks Defensive End of the Year Award. Sophomore LB Jonathan Brown led his team with 102 total tackles [43 unassisted, 59 assists].
"We're very excited about the opportunity to be the first Big Ten team to go to San Francisco and play in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl," said Illinois interim coach Vic Koenning. "Even though it's only been around for ten years, this game has had a number of quality matchups. We are glad to become a part of the bowl's tradition. This is a great honor and a tremendous opportunity for us."
UCLA's rushing offense ranked third in the Pac-12, 190.7 yards/game. The Bruins' pass defense also was third in the conference, permitting 232.6 yards/game, bettered only by Cal & Oregon State.
UCLA's 5-4 regular season conference record outperformed 20 bowl-eligible teams.
Junior RB Johnathan Franklin [158-947-6 TD] led all UCLA rushers. Junior QB Kevin Prince played in 10 games overall [112-195-1,627-10 TD-7 INT], missing three due to injury. Senior WR Nelson Rosario [61-1,106-4 TD] was UCLA's leading receiver. His 18.1 yards/catch average tied for first among Pac-12 receivers.
"On behalf of the UCLA coaching staff and players, I want to express our excitement over being offered an opportunity to continue our season in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl," said interim coach Mike Johnson. "The next few weeks will offer all of us associated with the Bruin football team an opportunity to grow, individually and collectively, as we prepare for the challenge that is ahead of us.
"I am very familiar with the Bay Area and know that all of us will enjoy our trip and the opportunity to compete again in a bowl game."
UCLA and Illinois have played each other 11 previous times. The Bruins have won six times to five for the Illini. The most recent meeting came in 2004, a 35-17 UCLA victory in Champaign, IL. The teams also met in the 1984 Rose Bowl when QB Rick Neuheisel guided the Bruins to a 45-9 triumph. Illinois looks for a win over UCLA for the first time since 1964.
The Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl is the only bowl game dedicated to raising money and awareness about the issue of hunger in the United States. Kraft Foods celebrates the culmination of its Huddle To Fight Hunger campaign at the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in four weeks. It is Kraft's largest-ever branded initiative to fight hunger in America, with an ambitious goal to donate 25 million meals to Feeding America - the nation's leading hunger relief organization - to help our neighbors in need.
Four of the previous five games have been sellouts, led by the standing-room-only 42,268 who viewed the '08 game between Cal and Miami. Last year, 41,063 spectators braved pregame showers and saw Nevada turn back Boston College.
The San Francisco Bowl Association has been the driving force behind the Bowl game since its inception in 2002. In that time, the game, played at San Francisco's AT&T Park, has generated over $120 million in economic impact for the City and County of San Francisco. Several of college football's most storied programs have already participated in the contest, formerly known as the Emerald Bowl. They include onetime national champions USC, Miami and Florida State, plus California, Boston College, UCLA, Oregon State, Utah and Nevada.
The Congrove Computer Rankings at CollegeFootballPoll.com project Illinois as a 5.32-point winner.