The Pac-12 will take center stage in the college football world on Thursday night with a battle between the Stanford Cardinal and UCLA Bruins. Kickoff is set for 9:00 EST on Thursday, October 17, at Stanford Stadium. The game will be televised on ESPN.
Early betting odds have Stanford favored by 8.5 points at home. The over/under for the game is set at 54.5 points. Click here for a full list of this week’s college football betting odds.
UCLA’s only win of the season thus far was the wild comeback win over Washington State a few weeks ago. But that win has quickly been forgotten with back-to-back losses to Arizona and Oregon State heading into last week’s bye. The home loss to Oregon State was particularly disappointing. The Bruins were 4.5-point favorites in that game but fell behind 21-0 midway through the first quarter, ultimately losing 48-31.
It looks like it’ll be yet another losing season for Chip Kelly, who could find himself on the hot seat if he doesn’t show some progress during the second half of the season. After the Bruins ended last year 3-9, just matching that win total could be difficult. UCLA still has to play ranked teams like Arizona State and Utah, not to mention USC and Cal. This week’s game against Stanford is actually one of the more winnable games left on their schedule.
Meanwhile, Stanford has shaken off a rough 1-3 start to the season and is now starting to smell a bowl game after back-to-back wins. The Cardinal is fresh off a home upset of Washington, beating the Huskies as 13-point underdogs. With starting quarterback K.J. Costello sidelined due to injury, Davis Mills has stepped in nicely in leading the Cardinal to two wins, making Stanford 3-3 overall and 2-2 in conference play.
Of course, three more wins are far from a guarantee for a Stanford team that looks like a shadow of the program it was just two or three years ago. However, outside of their season-finale with Notre Dame, most of the Cardinal’s most difficult games are behind them. Stanford also plays four of their last six games at home. The Cardinal has a good chance to keep their bowl streak intact, but only if they can take care of business at home against one of the Pac-12’s basement dwellers.
Working in Stanford’s favor is an 11-game winning streak over the Bruins. David Shaw has won all nine of his games against UCLA, including last year’s 49-42 win in Pasadena. The Bruins haven’t defeated the Cardinal since 2008 and they don’t have a road win in this series since 2007.
To be honest, I don’t love this pick because I don’t think Stanford is the kind of team that’s going to beat teams going away. However, the Cardinal has definitely turned a corner after a rough start. More importantly, UCLA is the type of team that can get blown out, especially on the road. While I don’t love the line, it’s still in the single digits, so I’ll swallow the points and look for Stanford to cover at home.
It didn’t look like it the first few weeks of the season, but Stanford is starting to look like themselves. That means running the ball with success and playing good defense. Cameron Scarlett has rushed for at least 90 yards in three straight games, including 151 yards on 33 carries last week against a tough Washington defense. Oddly enough, his longest rush was 18 yards, which means he grinding out yards the hard way in between the tackles.
Meanwhile, Mills looks like he’s settling in nicely in place of Costello. He isn’t lighting the world on fire, but he’s completed over 70% of his passes in his starts against Washington and Oregon State while throwing four touchdowns and no interceptions. That tells me that he should be able to take advantage of a porous UCLA defense, especially if Scarlett and the running game can continue to produce. The Bruins are allowing over 37 points per game this season and was carved up by a 2-4 Oregon State team last time out.
In fairness, the UCLA offense is capable of moving the ball. It’s unclear if Stanford is going to see Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who missed the Oregon State game due to injury, or Austin Burton, who filled in nicely in that game. Either way, the Bruins have proved multiple times this year that they can be tough to stop once they get rolling. Just look at their comeback over Washington State when they scored 50 points in the second half. But I trust the Stanford defense. In their two previous home games, they’ve held Oregon to 21 points and Washington to 13 points. If they can limit those teams, I have no doubt they can handle UCLA.
As long as the Stanford defense and running game continue to excel, I feel good about the Cardinal being able to cover. The Stanford offense doesn’t have the explosiveness that I would prefer to eat the points in this game. But I think the defense will hold UCLA to a low point total, allowing the Cardinal to win by at least 10 points and cover.