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PAC-12 Looks To Shine On National Stage 1

Posted on September 24, 2015 by Jim Hurley
Jim Mora and the UCLA Bruins will look to remain undefeated against Arizona.

Jim Mora and the UCLA Bruins will look to remain undefeated against Arizona.

The Pac-12 South takes center stage on Saturday night, when ABC’s main nationally televised game will be UCLA-Arizona at 8 PM ET with Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit in the booth in Tucson. And there’s a late-night special across the state in Tempe when USC visits Arizona State (10:30 PM ET, ESPN). We’ll take a look at some keys for all four teams, from what to know when wagering on them, to what to watch for on the field.

The winner of this division title might well be in position to make the College Football Playoff when the conference championship games arrive the first Saturday in December, and these games will really start to sort it out. UCLA is favored by (-3.5) over Arizona, while USC is a (-5.5) road favorite at Arizona State.

UCLA: The Bruins are the most highly regarded team in the Pac-12 South right now, ranked #9 in the AP poll. That high regard has created problems for UCLA backers in Las Vegas though. Last season the Bruins were a miserable 4-8 against the spread (ATS) during the regular season and even though they’re 2-1 this year, it’s a very hairy 2-1.

The season opener was a 34-16 win over Virginia, a narrow cover as a (-18.5) favorite. Another close cover followed at UNLV, where UCLA won 37-3 while giving (-32.5). The Bruins came in as an (-11) favorite over BYU, and were picked to win and cover by ESPN Gameday’s Chris Fallica (“The Bear”) but had to rally just to pull out a 24-23 non-cover win. So the oddsmakers have either had UCLA’s games priced almost on the number or overestimate their strength.

What the Bruins do exceptionally well is run the football, something that’s been the case ever since Jim Mora Jr. took over as head coach. Paul Perkins saved the day against BYU with a 219-yard performance. He covered for a weak performance by freshman quarterback Josh Rosen, who has been prematurely announced as a Heisman contender.

After a strong outing in his debut against Virginia, Rosen was erratic against UNLV and awful against BYU. There’s nothing wrong that for a talented and developing freshman, but if the media is going to continue to talk about Rosen as though he’s ready for the NFL, it’s going to drive more people to bet on UCLA, which in turn will feed the issue of unreasonably high pointspreads for them to face.

If you’re uncomfortable with UCLA’s ATS history, but hesitant about going against them, the totals line is always another angle. A clear pattern emerges here. UCLA played 8 of its 12 regular season games last year to the Under, and all three games this season have gone Under. The total on Saturday night’s game with Arizona is 66. Read the rest of this entry →

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