Stanford Cardinal (6-5 SU, 5-6 ATS) vs. UCLA Bruins (9-2 SU, 4-7 ATS)
College Football Week 14
Date and Time: Friday, November 28, 2014 at 3:30PM EST
Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California
by Scott, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: STAN +4.5/UCLA -4.5
Over/Under Total: Off
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At the Rose Bowl on Friday in a big Pac-12 match-up, the Stanford Cardinal will meet the highly-ranked UCLA Bruins. For the Bruins, the situation is that they control their own destiny. If they beat Stanford, they will win the Pac-12 South and face Oregon in the Pac-12 title game. For Stanford, the goals are less-concrete, but a win over the Bruins would at least end a disappointing regular season on a positive note.
The Bruins have won 5 in a row, all against conference opposition. Last week in their big rivalry game against in-town foe USC, things looked bad when QB Brett Hundleys first pass was run back for a touchdown. After that, he was excellent en route to a 38-20 win. The Bruins started the year 4-0, lost to Utah and Oregon consecutively at home, then ran off 5 straight wins. The last several weeks saw the Bruins peaking at the right time on both sides of the ball. They held two ranked teams in USC and Arizona to 27 combined points and will be tough to beat at the Rose Bowl this week.
Stanford beat Cal 38-17 on Saturday and still have some fight in them despite a disheartening 6-5 mark. Other than conclusive road defeats to Arizona State and Oregon, Stanford has been right in there, losing to USC, Notre Dame, and Utah all by a 3-point margin. Their defense is their saving grace, while their offense continues to be a roadblock to victory.
Still, theres a reason why a team barely over .500 is only a 4.5-point underdog against a top-ten team at home that can win their way into the conference title game. Stanfords defense may have allowed 45 on the road against Oregon, but other than that, no team has really feasted on this defense. Arizona got 26 points. Utah got 20. Then the numbers start really going down to almost nothing. The Bruins offense is good and really hitting their stride, but are they good enough to put up an impressive total against this defense?
Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan is an experienced and efficient field general who is handcuffed by a cast lacking in playmakers. Ty Montgomery and Devon Cajuste are a pair of reliable ball-catchers, but even they have underachieved to a certain degree. And Montgomery, their best producer on offense, is questionable for this game with an injured shoulder. The running back triple-tandem of Remound Wright, Kelsey Young, and Barry Sanders has also been humdrum. Theyve gotten 6 rushing touchdowns out of the whole bunch and all of them were scored by Wright.
Against lower-end conference fodder like Washington State, Oregon State, and Cal, this Stanford offense can move the ball quite well. But against USC, Washington, Arizona State, Oregon, and Utah, they have averaged a little over 14 points per game. And thats the problem they face on a very basic level. Sure, its not hard to envision a weary UCLA offense perhaps struggling to gain traction against Stanford on Friday, but unless the Cardinal can score points, what good is it? The point-spread of 4.5 is nice and could certainly come in handy with a defense as stout as Stanfords, but theyre going to need to find points from somewhere. And so far this season against the better conference opponents they have faced, they have produced a string of performances that probably wouldnt cut the mustard in this spot.
On the surface and without using a reference-point, the urge would be to take UCLA. More is on the line. Theyve had a better season. Theyre at home. You could go on. But then we think back and remember all the times we were led astray by over-simplifying the urgency dynamic. Not all teams thrive under increased pressure. And sometimes teams that you think have little to play for wind up thriving in the looseness of a pressure-free spoiler role.
The Bruins seem to have found another gear offensively. Other than a 17-7 win over Arizona a few weeks ago, they have been putting up 40 points pretty consistently. Again, theyre not Oregon, but theyre still one of the more offensively-talented teams the Cardinal have faced this season. RB Paul Perkins is at 1262 yards on the ground. WR Jordan Payton is having a big season. Add to that a cast of speedsters in both the ground and aerial attack–its a tough load for Stanford to repel for 4 quarters.
As is often times the case, a good offense will hit a wall. And that very well might happen this Friday. To what degree is the real question. But if Stanford can peel off a few big plays and throw up something like 21 points, it could be a grind for UCLA to win or cover the spread. Taking the Bruins is a wholly understandable position, but something tells me this game is going to be a grind that comes down to the end. Ill take the points.
Scott’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Im betting on the Stanford Cardinal plus 4.5 points.