I find Coach Jim Mora Jr.'s UCLA Bruins to be one of the five most interesting teams in the nation this season, and I'm not a fan of theirs in the least, although they probably do have the best uniforms in college football. UCLA opens the season Saturday at home against Virginia.
I'd argue the Bruins have the one of the most talented teams in the nation and the most in the Pac-12 with 18 starters back. There are future NFL players all over the field, coached by Mora, a past and likely future NFL coach. Just one problem: UCLA is starting a true freshman under center, and the only true freshman quarterback to win a National Championship was Oklahoma's Jamelle Holieway in 1985. He took over in the fourth game that year when Sooners starter Troy Aikman went down with injury. So maybe that's good karma for the Bruins because Aikman would later transfer to UCLA.
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Virginia at No. 13 UCLA Betting Story Lines
That freshman is Josh Rosen, and he's got about the about the best prep pedigree you could get, starring at St. John Bosco High in California, a powerhouse, and was the No. 1 ranked pocket passer in the Class of 2015. He also enrolled in January to get a head start on things. Rosen beat out Jerry Neuheisel, who was Brett Hundley's backup last season. Hundley is really all that UCLA lost on that side of the ball. Running back Paul Perkins rushed 251 times for 1,575 yards and nine scores a year ago. And leading receiver Jordan Payton caught 67 balls for 954 yards and seven TDs.
Defensively, likely 2016 NFL first-round pick and linebacker Myles Jack leads eight starters back. He was second on the team with 88 tackles, 8.0 for loss, and had seven passes defended. Jack also carried the ball in nine games, finishing with 113 yards on 28 carries and three scores. However, the news isn't all good. Junior cornerback Ishmael Adams has been suspended indefinitely following a robbery arrest early last Sunday morning. He allegedly used force to take a cell phone from an Uber driver. Adams was first-team All-Pac 12 last year. He had 41 tackles and returned both interceptions he had for touchdowns. Adams also was good return man.
There's no question that Miami's Al Golden is on the hottest coaching seat in the ACC, but a close second is Virginia's Mike London. He has recruited really well since arriving in 2010 but has just one winning season to show for it, in 2011. The Wahoos did improve by three wins to 5-7 last year. But I'm skeptical he will be back in 2016 because of UVa's schedule. It definitely has the toughest nonconference schedule in the nation: this game, next week vs. No. 11 Notre Dame, then a scrimmage vs. William & Mary before hosting No. 23 Boise State. I haven't found any other Power 5 team facing that many ranked nonconference foes. I suppose the good news in the conference is that Virginia avoids Florida State and Clemson from the Atlantic Division. So perhaps if London can go 2-2 out of conference, a bowl berth is possible to keep his gig.
But Virginia brings back just 10 starters, among the worst nationally. Matt Johns is your starting quarterback. He beat out Greyson Lambert this spring, and so Lambert transferred to Georgia and recently won that job. Nice upgrade for him. Johns went 89-for-162 for 1,109 yards with eight touchdowns and five interceptions last season as a sophomore, playing in every game and starting three when Lambert was hurt. The Cavs' offense ranked 11th in the 14-team ACC in total yards per game (374), 10th in points (25.8) and sixth in passing yards (236.4) in 2014.
Defensively, Virginia lost just about its entire pass rush as defensive end Eli Harold and linebackers Max Valles and Henry Coley combined for 24 sacks and have moved on. The UVa front seven was very good last year. Now it's question mark. At least Freshman All-American safety Quin Blanding is back. He became the first Virginia true freshman to start a season opener at one of the two safety positions since Tony Blount in 1976. Blanding finished the regular season No. 2 in the ACC and No. 12 nationally with 123 tackles. That led the nation for freshmen.
Virginia and UCLA met in Charlottesville to open last season, and the Bruins won ugly 28-20 as 18-point favorites (total was 50.5). The Bruins scored three defensive touchdowns in the second quarter. One was an Adams 20-yard interception return. Perkins rushed 16 times for 80 yards, while Payton caught eight balls for 98. Johns split time with Lambert and was 13-for-22 for two touchdowns. The UVa defense sacked Hundley five times. The Cavaliers had a first down at the Bruins' 19 late in the game but couldn't do anything from there with Johns under center.
Virginia at No. 13 UCLA Betting Odds and Trends
At BetOnline , UCLA is 19.5-point favorite with a total of 56. The Bruins are -1000 on the moneyline. The Cavs are 4-0 against the spread in their past four nonconference games. UCLA is 7-3 ATS in its past 10 in September. The "over/under" has gone under in six of Virginia's past seven. It is 4-1-1 in UCLA's past six at home. The Bruins are 9-1 SU in their past 10 as a home favorite of at least 18 points but 5-5 ATS.
Free NCAA Football Picks: Virginia at No. 13 UCLA Expert Betting Predictions
No question UCLA will win. How ready is Rosen? That determines whether the Bruins cover. But I like that this is spread under three touchdowns, so I'll say they do. Not sure Virginia will score more than 10, and UCLA should get at least to 30. Go under.
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