Nebraska Cornhuskers (5-7 SU, 6-6 ATS) vs. UCLA Bruins (8-4 SU, 5-6-1 ATS)
Foster Farms Bowl
Date/Time: Saturday, December 26, 2015 at 9:15PM EST
Where: Levis Stadium, Santa Clara, California
by Scott, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: NEB +6.5/UCLA -6.5
Over/Under Total: 61
The Nebraska Cornhuskers play the UCLA Bruins at the Foster Farms Bowl at Levis Stadium on the day after Christmas. This game features an 8-win UCLA team that nearly won their division against a 5-7 Nebraska team that was 3-5 on the season in the Big Ten. UCLA was 5-4 in a tougher conference. And UCLA will be playing in-state. But despite the teams respective records, this promises to be a competitive battle.
In terms of letdown, the team to watch might be UCLA. They had a chance to play in the Pac-12 title game and were at one point this season the 7th-ranked team in the nation. So to be playing in a bowl game named after chicken against a sub-.500 team might be a bitter pill to swallow. Nebraska, meanwhile, was fortunate to even be playing this time of year, with only the ever-widening bowl landscape responsible for them still playing.
This has been a transitional season for Nebraska, with first-year head coach Mike Riley. He was working with players that arent his, while making sweeping changes to the Nebraska philosophy. So a certain amount of growing pains were to be expected, though maybe not appreciated by the Cornhusker faithful who want results now. But despite their multiple issues and a slew of troubling defeats, they still managed to remain a dangerous opponent. They beat an unbeaten Michigan State this season, while giving Iowa a really good battle in their last game of the season on the 27th of November.
UCLA last played on the 28th of November, with an upsetting 19-point loss to rivals USC, a game to determine the winner of the south division in the Pac-12. UCLA won their first four games of the year, but a pair of bad losses to Arizona State and Stanford had their season a bit sideways. They responded with three straight conference wins, but their season ended erratically, with a bad home loss to Washington State, a good road win over 13th-ranked Utah, and the loss to USC.
True freshman Bruins quarterback Josh Rosen had his ups and downs, but as this season comes to a close, he offers tremendous promise moving forward. He threw for 3350 yards and 20 TDs, but his youth was also a roadblock to greater success. He works with a couple of difference-making receivers in Thomas Duarte and Jordan Payton. But the best player on this offense is Paul Perkins, the junior running back who has 1275 yards rushing, 27 receptions, and 14 touchdowns. Soso Jamabo and Nate Starks have also made nice contributions to this offense on the ground in 2015. Its the 24th-ranked aerial offense and 48th running offense, averaging 32.5 points per game. But with 38 combined points in their last two games, they arent exactly heading into this game with a lot of offensive momentum.
Injuries and inconsistent play have been major problems for the UCLA D. Sometimes, theyre pretty good, allowing a combined 3 field goals in scoring against Oregon State and Utah toward the end of the season, while giving up 71 points to Washington State and USC. In their 4 conference losses, they gave up a lot of points and their performance will be a major determinant to the winner of this game.
Nebraska is led on offense by Tommy Armstrong, Jr, at quarterback. There are times where hes been pretty good in leading his offense, but his 16 interceptions, including 9 in his last three games, is a major reason the Cornhuskers were 5-7 this season. He did have nearly 3000 yards passing on the season in 11 games, while rushing for 6 touchdowns, so he is able to move this offense. Jordan Westerkamp, Brandon Reilly, and Alonzo Moore (questionable) lead the aerial attack, with 17 combined TDs. The ground game is led by Terrell Newby and Imani Cross. Ironically, they average 32.5 points per game, the exact number UCLA averages.
The Nebraska defense can be defined quite simplyreally good against the run and horrible against the pass. Against Rosen and Company, the pass-defense is going to need to find something that they havent been able to find all season. And if they dont, this could get ugly. They arent very adept at rushing the passer or in creating turnovers. The defense is good against the run, but when teams are having so much luck through the air, they dont have to run the ball as much. In giving up nearly 28 points a game, this defense is certainly nothing special and a big reason why they didnt get to .500 this season.
Nebraska has taken their share of knocks this season as they transition into the Riley era. But through all the struggles and strife, they managed to remain a dangerous opponent in a lot of tough spots, being competitive against the better teams they faced this season, while holding a win over a team that is now in the CFP. Its just that based on the way theyve looked in the past month, UCLA isnt the best candidate to cover a big number against a decent team like Nebraska, who ended the season with a little better momentum. Ill take the points.
Scott’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Im betting on the Nebraska Cornhuskers plus 6.5 points.
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