One of the biggest surprises of the 2012 season so far certainly has to be at UCLA. Already, head coach Jim Mora Jr. has to be on a short list for National Coach of the Year and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone among the leaders for the Broyles Award, given to the nation’s top assistant coach. When UCLA opened with a blowout of Rice, it was met with yawns. But now the Bruins are media darlings following a 36-30 upset of Nebraska last Saturday. That was enough to land UCLA at No. 23 in this week’s AP poll, the first time the school has been ranked in four years.
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Things couldn’t be more different at Houston, which is playing its final season in Conference USA before heading to the Big East in 2013. The Cougars were nearly BCS busters last year behind record-setting quarterback Case Keenum. Those big bowl dreams were dashed with a loss in the C-USA title game to Southern Miss, but Houston still finished 13-1. But that success saw Texas A&M lure coach Kevin Sumlin away, and new head coach Tony Levine is having a rough start.
The Cougars were stunned by first-year FBS school Texas State, 30-13, in their opener. Things were so bad that offensive coordinator Mike Nesbitt resigned immediately. The offense was much better last week in scoring 49 points, but the Cougars still lost to Louisiana Tech by a touchdown. Through two weeks, UH ranks No. 98 in the nation in rushing and No. 118 in points against.
Houston at UCLA Betting Storylines
Mazzone likely will spend only one season at UCLA if the Bruins’ offense continues like this. The Bruins have posted back-to-back games with at least 500 yards of offense for the first time since 1998. Redshirt freshman QB Brett Hundley looks right at home in Mazzone’s spread. Last week vs. the Huskers, Hundley was 21-of-33 passing for 305 yards, four touchdowns and no picks while running 12 times for 53 yards. No Bruin had a 300-yard passing game last year. Hundley is No. 18 nationally in passer rating. He tweaked an ankle vs. Nebraska but is fine.
Running back Johnathan Franklin has put up back-to-back 200-yard games, the first Bruin to do that since 1995. He leads the nation by far in rushing and UCLA is No. 2 overall on the ground and No. 3 in total offense. This week Franklin, who is averaging a ridiculous 10.5 yards per carry, became the first player to earn back-to-back Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week honors since Stanford's Toby Gerhart in 2009.
UCLA doesn’t have Oregon on its regular season schedule and doesn’t face USC until Nov. 17. It’s not impossible that the Bruins could be 10-0 then as there’s only one currently ranked team on the schedule before the Trojans: No. 24 Arizona. But Bruins fans have seen this before. Last year, UCLA was 5-4 overall and 4-2 in the conference after beating No. 19 Arizona State. But then UCLA lost four of its final five, with a few of them very ugly. In 2010, the Bruins beat ranked Houston and Texas in back-to-back weeks before losing six of their final eight.
As for Houston, David Piland is trying to fill Keenum’s shoes and Piland was awful in the season opener, going 17-for-44 for 211 yards with a TD and a pick. But he was much better vs. Louisiana Tech, putting up Keenum-like numbers of 53-for-77 for 580 yards, four touchdowns and no picks (an NCAA records for attempts in a game with no picks). Houston tied an NCAA record with 115 total offensive plays on Saturday.
Piland was 2-6 as a starter in 2010 in place of Keenum. Piland didn’t play in the Cougars’ 31-13 loss at UCLA that season. Last year in Houston, the Cougars won, 38-34. But, needless to say, both teams are vastly different from those clubs. Franklin had a solid game for UCLA with 128 yards and a TD on 16 carries.
Houston at UCLA Betting Odds and Trends
The Bruins are 17-point favorites with the total at 73.5 on WagerWeb. The Cougars are 0-2 ATS this season (both at home), while UCLA is 1-0 ATS at home. “Over/under” records: HOU 1-1, UCLA 2-0.
Houston is 3-7 ATS in its past 10 nonconference games. The Cougars are 1-4 ATS in their past five after a loss. UCLA is 2-8 ATS in its past 10 after a win. The Bruins have covered four straight at home. The over is 8-2 in Houston’s past 10 road games vs. a team with a winning home record. The under is 24-3 in UCLA’s last 27 home games vs. a team with a losing road record. The home team is 4-0 ATS in the past four meetings.
College Football Picks: Houston at UCLA Predictions
Houston might try to actually run the ball this week as UCLA ranks No. 100 in the nation in rushing defense, giving up an average of 217 yards per game on the ground. And the Cougars should be able to score as UCLA has given up 24 points in the first half of each of its two games. However, the Bruins have allowed a total of 183 yards of offense and six points in the second half so far.
I am fairly certain UCLA is better in 2012 but not as good as it has looked so far. And, obviously, the Bruins haven’t seen a passing attack like they are about to. Houston will hang tough for about three quarters before fading a bit. I still think the Cougars cover. I simply can’t recommend the over at that huge number (biggest on board this week). I’d look for something like 41-28 Bruins.
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