Texas A&M Aggies (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS) vs. UCLA Bruins (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS)
College Football Week 1
Date/Time: Sunday, September 3, 2017 at 7:30PM EST
Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California
by Scott, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: TAM +4/UCLA -4
Over/Under Total: 56.5
The UCLA Bruins host the Texas A&M Aggies to kick off the season for both teams on Sunday at the Rose Bowl. This matchup might seem familiar, as both teams opened last season with this same pairing at College Station. In that one, UCLA seemed to undermine themselves, losing in overtime, 31-24. But again, the Aggies wasted a great beginning to the season, falling apart after a 6-0 start. For the Bruins, it started bad and stayed bad, with a pitiful 4-win season that saw almost everything go wrong. Who can get this season off to a fast start?
Losing QB Josh Rosen halfway through the season and having a back-up who stunk it up only explains part of how things got so sideways for the Bruins last season. Needless to say, the administration wont accept much more of that, meaning Jim Mora and the entire staff and team should be feeling some urgency this season, as the team has been showing some regression the past few seasons. While not an easy matchup, at least they get this one at home. A win over a typically fast-starting Aggies team would mean a lot.
A lot of the Bruins hopes rest on whether Rosen can recapture the sparkle that had many feeling he was a shoo-in as a high future NFL draft pick. This is a key season for him. His three picks in this matchup last season were a big part of why the Bruins didnt win. A better line that returns over 80 starts should be more-adept at protecting Rosen. Whether they can make a pedestrian run-game more serviceable remains to be seen. They simply need to have more of an overall impact from backs Nate Starks, Soso Jamabo, and Bolo Olorunfunmi. Last year, they werent very good. UCLA should, however, have pretty capable receiving from experienced pieces like Darren Andrews and Jordan Lasley. There are some young burners who could also manifest at some point in the season.
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The Bruins fielded a pretty tough defense last season, despite a failed 4-win campaign. There are some gaps they will need to plug with a lot of playmaking ability having moved on to the NFL. Jacob Tuioti-Mariner and young Jaelan Phillips need to somehow find the wherewithal to make up for the losses of Takkarist McKinley and Eddie Vanderdoes. Voids also exist in the middle and with the losses of Fabian Moreau and Randall Goforth in the secondary, thats a lot of production out the door. Top recruit Darnay Holmes needs to hit the ground running, as does a real good safety in Jaleel Wadood, along with Adarius Pickett, and Nate Meadors.
If UCLAs Jim Mora is feeling heat, then Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin is really feeling the burn. Over the last 3 seasons, fast starts have evaporated into dashed dreams and thats an especially painful way to see things unfold in multiple consecutive seasons. With the rash of college teams keeping the identity of their starting QB a secret, the Aggies have followed suit. As of press time, were supposed to guess if it will be the experienced Jake Hubernak, the pro-style Nick Starkel, or the dual-threat talents of Kellen Mond.
The A&M offense has some nice pieces in place to help whichever QB ends up getting a bulk of the snaps. Leading the way offensively are a pair of dynamic backs in Keith Ford and Trayveon Williams. They add a lot of pop with Ford the power-guy and Williams the speed-option. There isnt a ton of experience in the pass-catching corps, but Christian Kirk is a gem who is back in the mix. They have top youngsters like Jhamon Ausbon and are known for developing playmakers in this category ahead of schedule. Helping it come together is an offensive line that returns three versatile veterans who should make it easier for a pair of unproven tackles to get their feet wet.
For the Aggies to allow 192 yards on the ground per game in 2016 with guys like Daeshon Hill and first overall NFL draft pick Myles Garrett up-front speaks volumes about who was on the field last season. Zaycoven Henderson, Daylon Mack, and Kingsley Keke should help shore up the run-defense, but a wait-and-see approach will need to be taken, especially as they start to face the stronger running teams in coming weeks. Look for a couple freshmen to thrive in the middle, with Buddy Johnson and top recruit Anthony Hines. They lost their best defensive back. Its time for S Armani Watts to fulfill his potential. Its also time for big-contract defensive coordinator John Chavis to start living up to his billing. Sure, he needs to have the horses, but he was brought in two years ago to whip this D into shape and that simply hasnt occurred in any real measurable way.
On one hand, Texas A&M has issues to address. But theyve also been a team that is ready to go in week one, having done well and covered the spreads in these week one Pac-12 battles the last few seasons. Not that were all hung up on UCLA being 4-8 last season or neglecting the difficulty of a week one game at the Rose Bowl for A&M , but this game looks to be a veritable toss-up. When thats the case, Im inclined to take the points.
Scott’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Im betting on the Texas A&M Aggies plus 4.5 points.
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