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UCLA is one of the few teams getting its starting QB back in the Pac-12 so that automatically puts them at the top of the list. USC has slightly better odds to win the South with a more talented roster, but the Trojans also have a tougher schedule and travel to UCLA. The Bruins had higher hopes last year instead of finishing 8-5 and losing in the Foster Farms Bowl to Nebraska. A lack of consistency on the defensive end was the main issue and the reason for most of their losses.
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Offensively, even with a lot of players gone, UCLA should once again be one of the best in the conference and that's mostly because of quarterback Josh Rosen. The freshman had his issues a year ago, tossing 11 picks, but he looked like a seasoned veteran at times, completing 60% of his passes for 23 touchdowns. Matching and even surpassing those stats will be important for this offense, especially with a lot of new faces around him.
Receiver is the biggest question with the Bruins losing four of last year's top five guys. Darren Andrews (43 receptions, 443 yards) is the top returnee, while some younger guys like Theo Howard are expected to step up. There shouldn't be a huge drop-off at running back as Soso Jamabo (403 yards, 4 TDs) looks set to become the next Paul Perkins and be a dominant force with Rosen the next two years. Nate Starks (320 yards, 5 TDs) is an able backup as well. There's a bit of a question on the line with three starters gone, but both tackles return, including All-Conference man Conor McDermott.
The defense struggled last year, but return loads of talent at all levels, so improvement is imminent. They were terrible against the run and that was partly due to injuries. Eddie Vanderdoes returns along the line and will be a huge help to go with linebackers Jayon Brown and Deon Hollins. UCLA's secondary should once again be their top unit with all starters returning, led by All-Conference performers in Jaleel Wadood and Randall Goforth.
The Bruins would have a chance for a better overall record, but get the unfortunate schedule of two road games in non-conference play against solid teams. The good news for Pac-12 play is that they get five home games compared to four on the road. Two of those home games come against the teams that finished above them last year in Utah and USC. So the slate is there for UCLA to take the South this season. In addition, drawing Washington State, California and Oregon State out of the North is quite favorable, while they host Stanford.
USC is favored to win the South, but as long as Rosen doesn't take a step back with less experience around him, the Bruins could be looking at the title. UCLA's over/under is sitting around 9 wins (over 9 -120 at 5Dimes) and that should be attainable if they can win at least one of those road non-conference games.
2016 UCLA Bruins Football Schedule
Sept. 3 at Texas A&M
Sept. 10 vs. UNLV
Sept. 17 at BYU
Sept. 24 vs. Stanford
Oct. 1 vs. Arizona
Oct. 8 at Arizona State
Oct. 15 at Washington State
Oct. 22 vs. Utah
Nov. 3 at Colorado
Nov. 12 vs. Oregon State
Nov. 19 vs. USC
Nov. 26 at California
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