The no. 7 Utah Utes will try to get one step closer to a Pac-12 championship when they play host to Chip Kelly’s UCLA Bruins this week. Game time is at 8:00 EST on Saturday, November 16 at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah. The game will be televised nationally on Fox.
Current odds list the Utes as 21-point favorites at home with an over/under of 52 points. Make sure you check out all of this week’s college football betting odds.
Every week, Utah is getting a little closer to playing in the Pac-12 Championship Game for the second straight season. Last time out, the Utes survived a tough road game against Washington, winning their fifth straight game since suffering their only loss of the season against USC. The problem is that USC is still breathing down their necks in the standings. If the Utes suffer a second loss, they’re likely to lose their spot at the top of the Pac-12 South. The good news for the Utes is they play their last three games at home and should be heavily favored in all of them. If Utah wins out and wins the Pac-12 title game, they’ll have a strong argument for a spot in the College Football Playoff, so they have everything left to play for this season.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in the Pac-12 this year is the fact that UCLA still has a chance to win a conference championship at this point in the season. The Bruins have suddenly turned their season around with three straight wins over Stanford, Arizona State, and Colorado. If UCLA can win another three in a row, they will win the Pac-12 South, giving Kelly a chance to face his former team Oregon in the title game. Of course, the Bruins need to win two of their final three games just to become bowl eligible. With road games against Utah and USC and a home date with Cal to finish the season, that won’t be easy. However, the Bruins have two wins this year over teams that were ranked at the time and have given themselves a fighting chance to play in a bowl.
UCLA is also trying to snap a three-game losing streak against Utah. The Utes have won five of eight head-to-head meetings against the Bruins since joining the Pac-12. That includes a 41-10 win when the two teams met in Pasadena last season.
I don’t often consider laying down three touchdowns a risk, but this is one of those situations. A month ago, it would have been a no-brainer to take Utah to cover 21 points against UCLA. But the Bruins have done just enough to convince me during their three-game winning streak that they’ve turned a corner. Remember, Kelly was once one of the best coaches in college football, and a season and a half into his tenure at UCLA, he’s starting to get results. I’ll take a chance that the Bruins keep it up and can at least keep things respectable with Utah.
The biggest key for UCLA has been the production they’re getting from their rushing attack. Kelly’s scheme is finally clicking with the offense, as running back Joshua Kelley has 466 rushing yards and seven touchdowns over his last three games. It helps that quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson is also a running threat, which is a trait Kelly’s teams at Oregon always possessed. Thompson-Robinson doesn’t have eye-catching rushing stats, but he’s a good enough athlete that defenses have to respect his ability to pull the ball and run.
To be fair, Utah has the best defensive line in the Pac-12 and one of the most talented in the country. I don’t think Kelley and the Bruins will run wild against the Utes the way they have in recent weeks. But I think the Utes will struggle to take away the UCLA running game entirely.
Equally important is that Thompson-Robinson is starting to come along as a passer. His completion percentage has increased substantially over the past three games. He’s also thrown two touchdown passes in each of those three games. Keep in mind that he saw a lot of action last season as a freshman, so it’s not a surprise to see him growing and improving every week as he gets more comfortable in Kelly’s offense.
On the other side of the ball, the UCLA defense also appears to be making strides. The overall numbers on the season aren’t pretty. However, the Bruins have held three of their last five opponents to 20 points or less. I’m not saying that the UCLA defense is suddenly an asset. But they don’t appear to be as much of a liability as they were earlier in the season, which gives them a chance to keep Utah to a reasonable point total.
Again, I don’t necessarily love this pick because there is some risk here. The Utah defense has put the kibosh on some decent offenses, making it a little easier to cover a 21-point spread. But I think UCLA has made enough strides, especially on offense, to think that they can give the Utes a game and beat the spread.