A pair of Pac-12 rivals will meet this week as the UCLA Bruins make the trip up north to take on the California Golden Bears. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:00 EST on Saturday, October 13, at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, California. The game can be seen on the Pac-12 Network.
Oddsmakers list the Bears as 7-point favorites. That line has gone down slightly after Cal opened as 7.5-point favorites. The over/under for the game is set at 52.5 points. Don’t forget to check out a full list of this week’s college football betting odds.
Chip Kelly and the Bruins enter this game still searching for their first win of the season. UCLA sits at 0-5 overall and 0-2 in Pac-12 play. To be fair, the Bruins have played two top-10 teams in Oklahoma and Washington early in the year. However, lopsided losses at the hands of Fresno State and Colorado have been frustrating for a fan base that was excited to see Kelly come to Westwood.
If there’s a silver lining it’s that the Bruins are coming off their best performance of the season. UCLA put up a fight against Washington last week and ended up only losing by a touchdown. Of course, moral victories don’t count for much when you’re 0-5. If the Bruins can’t get a win before the end of October, a winless season could become a realistic possibility.
Meanwhile, the Golden Bears are reeling from back-to-back losses. Cal actually cracked the top-25 after a 3-0 start. But losses to Oregon and Arizona have stopped all of their early-season momentum in its tracks. Last week’s loss was particularly troubling, as the Bears out-gained Arizona by over 200 yards but lost because quarterback Brandon McIlwain turned it over four times, including a pair of pick-sixes.
Nevertheless, Cal is still on pace to reach just their second bowl game since 2011. Three wins in their final seven games will be enough to get the Bears over the hump. However, Cal’s November schedule is stacked with difficult games, so the Bears need to get back on the winning track quickly before their bowl hopes start to dissipate.
Historically, UCLA has owned this rivalry, and that has held true in recent years as well. The Bruins have beaten the Bears in five of the last seven years, including a 30-27 win last year. However, Cal certainly sees this game as an opportunity to knock off their So. Cal rivals.
I’ll be honest, UCLA’s numbers on the season are ugly, and there’s no getting around it. However, I was encouraged by what they showed last week against Washington. With Cal also going through some hard times, I don’t feel comfortable swallowing a full touchdown for the Bears. I’ll lean toward UCLA at least keeping this game within seven points and perhaps stealing their first win of the season.
UCLA’s freshman quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson appears close to turning a corner. He was 27 for 38 for 272 yards passing last week against Washington. The Huskies have a top-5 defense, so those numbers are nothing to scoff at. Obviously, young players are prone to inconsistency from week to week. But I think Thompson-Robinson has gained some confidence and will play well against a Cal defense that’s no pushover but not quite as good as the Washington defense.
I’ve also been encouraged by the way UCLA has run the ball the past couple of weeks. In his last two games, Joshua Kelley has 249 rushing yards on 32 carries. Keep in mind that he’s done that against Colorado and Washington, two of the best teams in the Pac-12. Again, Cal is solid defensively, but the Bruins are definitely showing signs of having a breakout offensive game.
Meanwhile, I have some legitimate concerns about the California offense. Justin Wilcox hasn’t named a starting quarterback yet, but he figures to stick with McIlwain despite his four-turnover performance last week. McIlwain has just two touchdown passes against five interceptions this season. That’s a problem, especially with all five picks coming the past two weeks against Pac-12 foes. The caveat is that if you take McIlwain out of the equation, the Bears may have a problem generating a productive rushing attack. That may force Cal to stick it out with McIlwain until he can improve as a passer.
Of course, the UCLA defense is very much a work in progress. The Bruins currently rank 110th in the country, as they’re giving up 36 points per game. However, it’s worth noting that the five teams they’ve played are a combined 25-3. Also, Washington is the only team they’ve played that isn’t ranked among the top-30 nationally in points per game. UCLA’s schedule has been brutal, so facing Cal should be a more manageable opponent for the Bruins.
In the end, I’m not convinced that Cal is all that much better than UCLA. If the Bears had played the same schedule as UCLA, they’d be fortunate to have more than one win. I think the Bruins have shown some promise the last couple of weeks whereas Cal has gone backward a little. If nothing else, this should be a close game, so I’ll lean toward UCLA to at least beat the 7-point spread.