It’s not unusual for a student to spend five years on a college campus. It is rare for a quarterback to start all five of his years, which is the case for Dorian Thompson-Robinson during his extended stay at UCLA.
Thompson-Robinson, from Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas, and coach Chip Kelly essentially walked in the door together in Westwood in 2018. He was Kelly’s first major recruit and has started 40 of the 48 games Kelly has coached. There were plenty of down times early in the Kelly era, but the Bruins are finally on the rise at 5-0, following an 8-4 record last year. It certainly helps to have one of the most experienced quarterbacks in college football.
Thompson-Robinson returned for a fifth year to experience moments like he had last Friday, when he passed for 315 yards, rushed for 53 and accounted for four touchdowns in a 40-32 win over Washington at the Rose Bowl. It was a game the underdog Bruins led 40-16 after three quarters, so the result was no fluke.
Utah, the defending Pac-12 champions, will present a tougher test Saturday. Led by the league’s best defense, Utah intercepted four passes and rolled to a blowout victory over Oregon State last week. The Utes also have a dual-threat quarterback, Cameron Rising, and one of the conference’s top running backs, Tavion Thomas.
UCLA has the offensive firepower to pull the upset in a meeting of ranked teams. Running back Zach Charbonnet carried the ball 22 times for 124 yards last week while Jake Bobo, a transfer wide receiver from Duke, had six catches for 142 yards.
Utah blasted the Bruins 44-24 last year in Salt Lake City, yet it’s important to note Thompson-Robinson did not play because of a hand injury.
While this is a possible letdown spot for the Bruins, it’s also a potential lookahead spot for the Utes, who host USC next week. Forget about those angles and focus on Thompson-Robinson, who has matured past the turnover phase that plagued the early part of his college career. This game should go to the wire, so take the points.
Pick: UCLA + 3.5
Four more plays for Saturday (HOME team in CAPS):
MARYLAND (-3) over Purdue:
Expect an early-morning shootout to develop between two of the Big Ten’s best quarterbacks. The Boilermakers are in a tough spot playing the second of back-to-back road games after upsetting Minnesota a week ago. Purdue prevailed despite quarterback Aidan O’Connell struggling with a rib injury. Terrapins quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa is not as good as healthy O’Connell, but this is a better situational spot for Maryland.
ARIZONA (+ 13.5) over Oregon:
Jayden de Laura, a transfer from Washington State, passed for 885 yards in the past two games and is triggering a much-improved Arizona offense that also features running back Michael Wiley. Ducks quarterback Bo Nix has performed poorly on the road throughout most of his career. I made this line Oregon -7.5, and Circa Sports opened it -10. The Wildcats are live dogs in Tucson, where they pounded the Ducks 44-15 as 8-point dogs in 2018.
Iowa (+ 3.5) over ILLINOIS:
This line represents a major role reversal in a one-sided series. Illinois is favored over Iowa for the first time since 2008. Chase Brown has 733 rushing yards (6.1 per carry) in five games for the Fighting Illini, but the Hawkeyes’ strength is their run defense. The Illini might be in a flat spot and a bit overrated after whipping Wisconsin last week. Iowa’s offense might also be too bad for anything else to matter, but this is the type of ugly game that coach Kirk Ferentz typically wins.
NEW MEXICO (+ 3.5) over Wyoming:
A year ago, the Lobos went to Laramie as 20-point dogs and beat the Cowboys 14-3. New Mexico defensive coordinator Rocky Long is the Bill Belichick of the Mountain West. Long’s schemes should shut down Wyoming quarterback Andrew Peasley, who went 6-for-20 for 85 yards in a loss to San Jose State last week. Take the points with the junkyard dogs from Albuquerque.
4-3 against the spread