Pick – Analysis
Virginia has one of the toughest non-Conference Schedules in the country with three Games against Top 25 foes and it starts with a Game at Rose Bowl Stadium against UCLA, where the Bruins are a -19.5 point favorite at 5 Dimes up from an opener of -17.
These teams battled last year in a 28-20 UCLA win, which makes that line look a tad iNFLated as the Bruins no longer have quarterback Brett Hundley.
However, even with Hundley gone, there is hope around UCLA that this team could be even better than the ones that Hundley led. Enter true freshman Josh Rosen, who was named the starting quarterback over last year’s backup Jerry Neuheisel. Rosen has a huge amount of hype surrounding him (considered top QB recruit in UCLA history), whether it’s his football mind, his confidence or his pure talent, the Bruins believe this offense could be better with the pieces already in place.
For the first time in a few years, the offensive line should actually be a strong suit for the Bruins, who return five starters. Throw in the experience of running back Paul Perkins (1,575 yards, 9 TDs) and receivers Jordan Payton (67 receptions), Thomas Duarte (19.3 yards per reception) and Devin Fuller (59 receptions) and it would be a disappointment if this offense were worse.
This potent offense will go against a mediocre, but feisty defense of Virginia. The Cavaliers battled last year and were actually a 21-point underdog, eventually losing 28-20. The Bruins couldn’t do much on the offensive end, averaging 3.0 yards per carry, while Hundley didn’t even pass for a touchdown. The Cavaliers love to attack and that will be the case again with coordinator Jon Tenuta. He loses a couple of his top players, but there is still enough there to give Rosen something to worry about in his first career start.
The question will be whether Virginia’s offense can keep up or not. That was the main problem last year as they split quarterback duties between Matt Johns and Greyson LAmbert. Head coach Mike London likes that the Cavaliers are deep at quarterback, but that doesn’t always mean much. He will need Matt Johns to build on last year when he only completed 54.9% of his passes for 8 TDs and 5 INTs. Otherwise, this offense will continue to struggle.
Virginia likes to use a power-rushing attack, but will have some new faces with Taquan Mizzell (64 carries) expected to lead the group behind a stout offensive line. Incoming transfer wide receiver T.J. Thorpe is expected to have a big role as well, as he comes over from UNC.
Once again, the Cavaliers have a solid shot to cover in this Game because the Bruins are usually a team that gets overrated in the early season, especially with a home Game. UCLA can have a good defense (eight returning starters), but didn’t live up to the bill last season. However, it’s hard to ignore the talent they have, along with new coordinator Tom Bradley, who comes over from Penn State. Linebacker Myles Jack leads the group, but they have NFL talent at every level on this team.
Virginia has an uphill battle, maybe more so than last year even as a smaller underdog, but covering on the west coast at the Rose Bowl is a little different situation. Matt Johns is key for Virginia in covering this Game. If he shows some improvement, maybe don’t expect the same type of Game as last year, but at least another difficult contest for the Bruins with a true freshman in his first college Game.
Our Pick – No question UCLA is the superior team. In fact, this could very well be Virginia coach Mike London’s last season. They lost half their starters to what was a mediocre team to begin with.
But, the number is just too high here, and still rising. UCLA has a rookie QB and with that, no matter how good he was in high school, comes growing pains. That goes aong with a defensive unit that routine gave up 30+ points a year ago. At +21 or higher, we could be interested in this one for real. At the current line, it’s just a small opinion. Virginia +19.5.