UCLA Bruins (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS) vs. Texas A&M Aggies (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS)
College Football Week 1
Date/Time: Saturday, September 3 at 3:30PM EST
Where: Kyle Field, College Station, Texas
by Scott, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: UCLA +2.5/TAM -2.5
Over/Under Total: 56.5
The UCLA Bruins come to Kyle Field to face the Texas A&M Aggies on opening Saturday of the college football season in a key Pac-12 vs. SEC battle.
Neither team was able to end a promising 2015 on a particularly positive note and face numerous challenges headed into this new season. Still, the team that comes out ahead in this matchup will be able to begin the new campaign with a nice head of steam. So who comes out ahead in this one?
Both teams were 8-5 last season, with both good and bad signs in topsy-turvy seasons. A&M started the season 5-0, before falling in a big way to the real players in the SEC. From early-October to the end of the season, they covered the spread one lone time, as their backers will attest to how poorly they ended the season. UCLA was also up-and-down, but they got a full year’s of experience for promising Josh Rosen, their star quarterback. They lost a ton of offensive pieces, however, though they do return almost everyone on defense, while getting difference-making defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes back from injury. They lost 3 of their last 4 games and look to have a more complete and consistent season in 2016. We’ll see if either team can withstand the personnel losses to forge a better season.
Those following A&M were probably rattled at the end of last season, when all their pertinent QB talent exited. They were able to secure the transfer rights of former starting Sooners quarterback Trevor Knight, who they are hoping can fulfill his promise this season after not quite turning the corner during his days in Oklahoma. Knight offers experience and a certain level of athleticism.
The Texas A&M offense needs to find a way to keep their ground-game on the right track with the departure of Tra Carson, in addition to three starting offensive linemen. But Knight will have a nice package of receivers with which to work, including Ricky Seals-Jones, Speedy Noil, Christian Kirk, and Josh Reynolds. The O-line allowed 37 sacks last season and has some voids to fill, though there is more optimism on this latest cycle of linemen to be filing through the program and this line could get better.
A&M Defensive coordinator John Chavis was able to make major strides with the Aggies “D” last season and should continue making them better in 2016 and beyond. They were excellent against the pass last season, bolstered by the standout line play of pass-rushing Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall. The run will need to be stuffed better and should be with the growing experience of defensive tackles Daylon Mack and Zaycoven Henderson. Linebacker looks dicey with no real playmakers, but better run-stuff up front could help that a lot. The secondary is good with corner Donovan Wilson and safeties Armani Watts and Justin Evans. The venom of this defense will be determined by their ability to not have teams running downhill on them all season. Luckily for them, that’s not UCLA’s M.O.
New UCLA offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu will opt for more of a pro-style approach that will bring out the best in Josh Rosen. This will give the now-sophomore quarterback more chances to stretch the field, make plays with his arm, and give him more general command over this offense. Rosen showed his promise as a true freshman thrown to the lions, as he showed tremendous upside. For this new approach to take flight the line of scrimmage needs to be controlled and we’ll see if they retained enough menace on their offensive line to make it all work. In addition, they lost one of the top backs in the conference with the departure of Paul Perkins.
Rosen will be working with backs Nate Starks and Soso Jamabo out of the backfield. Both have talent, though the run-game might take a small step back without a real star and a line that still has some questions to answer. In addition to the line and ground-game, Rosen’s cast of receivers is a bit depleted after they lost their two top receivers from last season. At the same time, they have nice foundational pieces up-front with tackles Conon McDermott and Kolton Miller. And using a tight end differently along with a fullback will offer more blocking opportunities.
UCLA looks to have a difference-making defense that could do wonders for this team. Getting Vanderdoes back helps their shaky run-defense, while Eli Ankou and Takkarist McKinley fill out the line to make it a potential team asset. A capable 4-pack of players occupies the linebacker corps, though this is a part of the “D” that needs to make more of an overall impact. If the front 7 does its job, the secondary should benefit. And after an injury-plagued 2015, they will need to remain healthy to really come around. But there is some talent with corners Randall Goforth and Marcus Rios, with safeties Tahaan Goodman and Jaleel Wadood. It’s a group with a lot of upside.
Each team enters 2016 with a wide range of possible outcomes. The ceiling is high, but the floor is low and we’ll see how it all shakes out. UCLA faces issues as they transition styles on offense, namely with their line, run-game, and receiver set-up. But their defense looks like the real deal and the areas that are iffy are typically reloaded well. A&M is loaded in the receiver area, but are working in a new QB, might suffer on the ground, and there is a lot of youth up-front. While the A&M defense made gains, they are still iffy across different areas.
Texas A&M has gotten off to 5-0 starts in each of the past two seasons and College Station in a season-opener is a tough road spot for the Bruins. UCLA won’t have time to find their bearings as they work on new things, namely that pro-style offense we’ve been hearing so much about. It just seems like UCLA faces less overall questions and with them getting points, I think they’re a solid pick in what will be a good close game.
Scott's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I’m betting on the UCLA Bruins plus 2.5 points.
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