The UCLA Bruins begin their first season under new head coach Jim Mora, Jr. when they travel to Houston to play the Rice Owls Thursday night (7:30 pm Eastern, CBS CS).
As of Thursday morning, most of the dozen sportsbooks tracked by OddsShark.com had UCLA as -16.5-point favorites, with a total that had been bet down from 59 to 55 over the past week or so.
And while 16.5 points is a big spread, Rice hasn't shown much ability to cover those numbers in the past few seasons. The Owls are 1-8 ATS in their past nine games in the role of double-digit underdog.
UCLA meanwhile has only been a double-digit road favorite four times since 2005, but is 3-1 ATS. And if 2011 data can be trusted, big home underdogs cannot be trusted with your money.
In 31 games last season where the home team was dogged by 21 points or more, they were a money-losing 10-21 ATS, according to Jack Randall, a football handicapping analyst at OddsShark.com.
"Bettors see a huge home underdog and figure that team will be motivated, but often times, that home team is a very big dog for a very good reason—they suck," Randall said in an interview Wednesday night.
To this point, several shops are reporting brisk action on the Bruins.
"Right now we are taking 3-to-1 action on UCLA on the point spread, so we are Rice fans," Scott Winstone, a spokesman at Top Bet, said in an interview this afternoon. "Interestingly, we are seeing twice the action on the halftime over as the halftime under when the full game total wagering is split 50-50."
The Bruins return 16 starters from a team that went 6-8 last year, including senior QB Kevin Prince, RB Johnathan Franklin, three along the O-line and nine on defense. That defense, however, allowed 417 YPG last year.
Rice, meanwhile, gets five starters back on both sides of the ball from a team that went 4-8 last year. But the Owls only have one returning starter on each line, a recipe for early-season chaos.
Four years ago, Rice went 10-3 and won a bowl game; since then the Owls have gone 10-26.
Coach Mora compiled a 31-33 record as a head man in the pros with Atlanta and Seattle, but hasn't coached in the college ranks since he was a graduate assistant at Washington back in the early 1980s.
These two teams last met in 2006, when the Bruins beat Rice 26-16. A year earlier, UCLA pounded the Owls 63-21, according to the college football database at OddsShark.com.
UCLA vs Rice Pick: UCLA has a considerable edge along both lines in this matchup and we don't fall for the "motivated home underdog" myth. We'll go with the Bruins minus the points in their debut for Coach Mora.
All quotes were obtained first-hand unless otherwise noted.