The No. 7 UCLA Bruins will kick off their quest for this year's inaugural College Football Playoff with a trip to the East Coast to face the Virginia Cavaliers this Saturday afternoon at Scott Stadium in a Pac-12-ACC clash. The game is set for noon ET and will be broadcast nationally on ESPN.
The Bruins finished last season with a 10-3 straight-up record that included a 42-12 romp over Virginia Tech as seven-point favorites in the Sun Bowl. They went a profitable 9-4 against the spread, and the total stayed "under" in seven of the 13 games. UCLA was 6-1 against the spread as a favorite last year.
Virginia finished at the bottom of the ACC's Coastal Division last season with a 0-8 straight-up record in conference play, and its overall record on the year was 2-10. The Cavaliers posted a 5-6-1 record ATS in 2013, and the total went "over" in nine of the 12 games. They were 4-4-1 ATS as underdogs last season.
The Bruins have been working their way back to respectability in the Pac-12 for the last two seasons under head coach Jim Mora with back-to-back winning records, and he enters his third season at the helm with a number of key starters back from last season's squad.
The name at the top of that list is Heisman Trophy-hopeful quarterback Brett Hundley. He threw for 3,071 yards in 2013 while completing 67.2 percent of his 369 attempts. Hundley tossed 24 touchdowns against nine interceptions, and he also proved to be a dual threat with a team-high 748 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground.
The Bruins also return six key members of a defense that was ranked 35th in the nation in points allowed, giving up an average of 23.2 points per game.
Virginia is obviously in the midst of a major rebuilding process after a disastrous campaign in 2013, and there is little doubt that head coach Mike London could quickly find himself on the hot seat if this team gets off to a poor start. Things looked promising on opening day last year with a stunning 19-16 victory over BYU as a 2.5-point home favorite, but it was all downhill from there with double-digit margins of defeat in nine of the 10 losses.
The Cavaliers return 16 starters from last year's squad, so experience is in their favor, but that may not be the case when it comes to having the talent to turn things around. The offense was ranked 111th in the FBS when it came to scoring, averaging 19.8 points a game, and Virginia's defense was not that much better, allowing an average of 33.3 points a game. Look for Greyson Lambert to get the call as the starting quarterback this Saturday, replacing an ineffective David Watford.
Betting Odds and Trends by Doc's Sports
Point Spread: UCLA -21
Total Line: 57.5
The Bruins are 4-0 ATS in their last four nonconference games, and they went 5-2 ATS in their last seven games on the road. The total has stayed under in their last six road games.
The Cavaliers are 7-17-2 ATS in their last 26 games overall and 3-11-2 ATS in their last 16 games at home. The total has gone over in six of their last seven home games.
This will be the first meeting between these two teams in recent memory.
If UCLA wants to work its way to the top of rankings in the nation, it is going to have to win games such as this with relative ease. You never want to give up this many points in any team's home opener, but there is no reason that the Bruins do not win this game by more than the three-touchdown spread.
UCLA (-21) over Virginia