College football forecast: Kelly chipping away for UCLA

By Matt Youmans  (VSiN senior editor) 

November 17, 2018 01:40 AM
Chip Kelly’s first year at UCLA has been a bust, but the underdog Bruins look like a good bet against USC.
© USA Today Sports Images

At the tail end of a lost season, UCLA coach Chip Kelly could put a positive spin on the future with a rivalry win.

A loss for USC could mean the end of the Clay Helton era.

There is intrigue and something at stake Saturday, when the Bruins (2-8) play their bowl game against the Trojans (5-5) at the Rose Bowl. While Kelly’s first year has been a bust, he can sell his rebuilding project. Helton’s job is on the line, and he likely needs a win this week or next week against Notre Dame to reach a bowl and save himself. (It should be noted that, according to an ESPN report, Helton recently held a team meeting and told his players he plans to be at USC for another 15 years. … Helton might also be delusional and not make it another 15 days.)

The banged-up Trojans are limping to the finish line. JT Daniels has been an overhyped freshman quarterback and he flopped last week, when the Trojans went scoreless in the second half of a 15-14 loss to California. Helton is 7-18 against the spread in his past 25 games.

Kelly’s offense is showing signs of life. Wilton Speight, a Michigan transfer who got the starting nod over freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson a week ago, passed for 335 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-28 loss at Arizona State.

There are few statistics or trends that make a bold case for the Bruins, but these teams seem headed in opposite directions. I bet UCLA as a 3½-point underdog and this still is a play at 3.


Ten more plays for Saturday:

* NEBRASKA (Pick) over Michigan State: The Cornhuskers survived their 0-6 start and persevered to win three of their past four games mostly due to Scott Frost’s offense. Nebraska has scored at least 30 points in five straight games and has topped 450 yards of total offense in seven straight games, averaging 538 during that stretch. Freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez will be a good Heisman Trophy long shot next year. Martinez has passed for 2,212 yards and 15 touchdowns while topping 50 yards rushing in six games. Nebraska has one of the Big Ten’s worst defenses, however, and that makes its meeting with Michigan State a clash of contrasting styles. The Spartans allow 19.7 points per game to rank 17th in the nation in scoring defense. The offense misses the punishing running of LJ Scott, and the quarterback situation is shaky as Brian Lewerke fights a sore right shoulder. The Spartans are in a bad spot on the road after losing to Ohio State. Michigan State was a 2-point favorite for most of the week. The Cornhuskers are rolling and remain a play despite the late line move.


* Syracuse (plus-10) over Notre Dame: After a one-game injury absence, Irish quarterback Ian Book will start in this Top 25 matchup at Yankee Stadium. Book, who has completed 74.5 percent of his passes, is 6-0 as the starter for No. 3 Notre Dame (10-0, 6-4 ATS). The Irish rank 15th in scoring defense, allowing 18.7 points per game. Brian Kelly has only two hurdles left to clear — this one in the Bronx and next week at USC — to reach the four-team playoff. Both could be stressful tests, and the pressure is on the Irish. Syracuse (8-2) proved its worth in a 27-23 loss at Clemson in late September. Senior quarterback Eric Dungey is a mobile playmaker who triggers the No. 7-ranked scoring offense at 44.4 points per game. The Orange can hang around with the Irish.


* Cincinnati (plus-7½) over CENTRAL FLORIDA: UCF’s 22-game win streak is no fluke and includes a convincing bowl victory over Auburn. The star of the show is McKenzie Milton, a junior quarterback who has accounted for 29 touchdowns (21 passing, eight rushing) for an offense averaging 44.2 points. The Knights are soft on the defensive side, though, and allowed 670 yards in a 52-40 victory over Temple two weeks ago. Cincinnati (9-1) is one of the top surprise teams in college football in coach Luke Fickell’s second year. The Bearcats rank seventh in scoring defense (14.9) and boast a workhorse running back in Michael Warren, who has piled up 1,082 yards and 17 touchdowns. Consider this common opponent score comparison: Cincinnati beat Navy 42-0 two weeks ago; UCF struggled to get by Navy 35-24 last week. ESPN’s pregame circus is rolling into Orlando to crank up the hype and pressure for a prime-time game on ABC. It smells like a matchup with upset potential. The line has dropped to 7 at most books but you still can get the Bearcats at 7 and the hook.


* HAWAII (-6½) over UNLV: After stopping a six-game losing streak by stunning San Diego State as 24-point ‘dogs, the Rebels head to Honolulu. It could be a letdown spot, but it’s definitely a problematic matchup for UNLV’s weak pass defense and it should be a big night for the Warriors’ Cole McDonald (32 touchdowns, six interceptions). Even if dynamic quarterback Armani Rogers returns from a foot injury for the Rebels, he’s not expected to play the entire game. After four straight blowout losses, Hawaii had a bye to refuel and regroup. According to the NCAA, Hawaii (6-5) still needs a win to become bowl eligible because of its 13-game schedule. The Warriors, who finish at San Diego State next week, need to take care of business now.


* Other plays: Indiana (plus-28½) over MICHIGAN; WAKE FOREST (plus-6½) over Pittsburgh; KANSAS STATE (plus-6½) over Texas Tech; NAVY (-5½) over Tulsa; OKLAHOMA STATE (plus-6½) over West Virginia; TEXAS (-2½) over Iowa State.

Last week: 4-4 against the spread

Season: 41-38-3

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