LAS VEGAS — It took four years to turn the corner, but UCLA finally appears headed for its first winning season for coach Chip Kelly and a Pac-12 title is within reach.
Ironically, Kelly must beat his former team to truly make a statement. Kelly posted a 46-7 record at Oregon from 2009 to 2012, but he’s 0-2 against the Ducks as the UCLA coach. The teams meet Saturday afternoon at the Rose Bowl, where matters will be business and personal for Kelly.
The Bruins (5-2) are 2-2 in Pasadena after back-to-back home losses to Arizona State and Fresno State. UCLA upped its road record to 3-0 by beating Washington 24-17 last week as quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson accounted for three touchdowns and Zach Charbonnet rushed for 131 yards. A Bruins defense that has looked bad at times was better by limiting the Huskies to a season-low 267 yards.
Oregon’s offense will be tougher to contain, even with star running back CJ Verdell out with a season-ending injury. Travis Dye replaced Verdell last week and ran for 145 yards as the Ducks, 14-point favorites, rallied to beat California 24-17. Anthony Brown passed for 244 yards and rushed for 44 more, so UCLA’s defense will have its hands full with Brown and Dye.
The Bruins nearly pulled off an upset last year before falling 38-35 as 17-point underdogs at Oregon. The point spread has taken a dramatic shift this year. Circa Sports opened the Ducks -2 before sharp money flipped the Bruins to small favorites. Oregon (1-5 ATS) stunned Ohio State 35-28 as 15-point road dogs on Sept. 11 for its only cover this season.
The pick: UCLA -1
Northwestern (+ 24) over MICHIGAN: It’s common for Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh to get conservative and sit on leads, and he’ll likely do it again with a bigger game at Michigan State on deck. The Wildcats showed some life last week when Ryan Hilinski passed for 267 yards and two touchdowns in a 21-7 victory over Rutgers.
OREGON STATE (+ 3) over Utah: Cameron Rising, a Texas transfer, moved his record to 3-0 as the starting quarterback by rallying the Utes to a 35-21 victory over Arizona State last week. Utah hosts UCLA on Oct. 30 in the most important game remaining in the Pac-12 South race, so this is a tricky sandwich spot for the Utes. It would be a mistake to overlook the Beavers, who are 3-0 at home and off a bye week.
New Mexico State-HAWAII (Over 61.5): The last game on Saturday night’s board should not be boring. When these teams met a month ago in Las Cruces, Hawaii won 41-21. In the Aggies’ two games since, against solid Nevada and San Jose State defenses, Jonah Johnson completed 68 of 106 passes for 725 yards and six touchdowns. The offenses play fast and the defenses are weak.
Last week: 2-1
Utah (W), Minnesota (W), Kansas State (L)