UCLA Bruins vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers, Saturday December 26, 9:15 p.m. ET
This game really should be called the Nightmare Bowl. The game is a total nightmare for the fanbases of both teams - they would rather be pretty much anywhere else than this game. Nebraska got tired of winning nine or 10 games a year under Bo Pelini - the same thing he had done seven straight years - and hired Mike Riley to correct the situation. He didn't correct it so much as he changed it - the team won just five games, and it suffers the ultimate humiliation of being a pity bowl invitee out of necessity. It was either invite Nebraska to play or cancel a bowl game - and the Huskers narrowly won out. A nightmare season.
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The story is different for UCLA but no less depressing for their backers. Heading into the season the Bruins were seen as a legitimate threat to make the playoffs. They won their first four games and looked solid, but then October happened. They lost two in a row and then added two more losses later for good measure. Another highly-promising season for the Bruins was wasted, and here they are - wrapping their season up a day after Christmas in a bowl game that means absolutely nothing. Again, a nightmare season.
Foster Farms Bowl Betting Storylines
If Nebraska is going to pull off an upset here then they need to make sure that they get things under control early and build a solid lead into the fourth quarter. If not then they are in trouble if it is tight late in the game. Four times this year they have lost either on the last play of the game or in overtime. In total, their seven losses have been by a combined total of just 31 points. In other words, they are just a break or two away from a decent record - or at least one good enough that they legitimately would have earned this bowl bid. Don't think that that means that they are really a good team hit with poor luck - they still have real flaws on both sides of the ball. It's not like they were blown out, though. A break or two and they would be 7-5 and we'd be talking about something other than their record - like their ridiculous imbalance on defense.
About that defensive imbalance. Freshman UCLA QB Josh Rosen and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, who was hospitalized leading up to the game for unknown reasons but was back at practice the next day, aren't going to have to work too hard to figure out what the gameplan should look like. Nebraska is a Top 10 defense against the run. Against the pass, though, they are a total disaster - 122nd in the country in yards allowed. Rosen just needs to trust his arm - which has served him pretty well so far - and avoid the temptation to slow the game down on the ground. UCLA is much better at passing than running, anyway, so this game certainly sets up well for them.
If I was writing this preview a month ago I probably would have suggested that it would be a mistake to sleep on Tommy Armstrong Jr., the junior QB for Nebraska. He is the only Husker to have back-to-back 3,000-total-yard seasons. While he still probably doesn't get as much respect as he deserves, we seem to have seen the wheels fall off a bit down the stretch. He threw nine interceptions in his last three games - more than he had in the nine previous games combined - and it was as if the opposition had started to figure him out more. In his defense, those three games included the two toughest opponents the team faced this year, but it still isn't a good omen - UCLA is no worse than the fourth-best team the Huskers have faced, and probably the third-best.
Foster Farms Bowl Odds and Betting Trends
The line opened with UCLA favored by a touchdown. That has since fallen to 6.5 in most spots. About 70 percent of all bets have come in on the Bruins, so the line movement suggests that early sharp money has hit the Huskers. The total sits at 61.
The Bruins have won their last 11 nonconference games. They are 0-2 in previous editions of this bowl game, though - losing in 2006 to Florida State and 2011 to Illinois. They lost their last game, but they rebound well as they are 6-1 ATS in their last seven following an ATS loss. The Huskers are 8-1 ATS in their last nine on grass.
UCLA vs. Nebraska Foster Farms Bowl Expert Picks & Predictions
I'm swayed somewhat by the betting action and lean towards looking for value on the Huskers. The Bruins looked like a team that didn't care enough last time out against USC. Nebraska is 3-1 ATS as an underdog this year, including a huge win against Michigan State. They aren't a great team, and the pass defense is a big concern, but I don't like UCLA right now, either, and trusting them when they are giving up this many points is more than I am willing to do. The Huskers have shown they can keep it close, and at the very least I'll bank on their ability to do so here, too. I'd likely wait until closer to game time, though, to watch the line movement - I'd accept the risk of having to bet them at 6 points for the shot at being able to get them at +7.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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