It’s the third week in a row the Pac-12 is featured on ESPN’s Thursday night telecast when non-ranked foes UCLA and Arizona meet in Tucson, the Cats’ first home game in almost a month. This will also be the first time Arizona takes the field since Head Coach Mark Stoops was fired.
Just a year ago around this time the Wildcats were a contender in the Pac-10 as they were 7-1 overall and 4-1 in the conference after beating UCLA. Stoops was looking like a Coach of the Year candidate. However, UA hasn’t beaten a quality team since, losing its final five games last season (including their bowl) and all five this year vs. the big boys. The Cats’ only win in that stretch was a season-opening blowout of Northern Arizona. The final straw for Stoops was when Arizona was beaten 37-27 at then-winless Oregon State on Oct. 8. Defensive coordinator Tim Kish is the interim coach for the rest of this season.
UCLA also could be looking for a coach come the offseason as Rick Neuheisel is clearly on the hot seat. He probably needs eight wins, including a bowl, to keep his gig. That doesn’t look likely with UCLA at 3-3 overall (2-1 in Pac-12). However, UCLA is still in the running for the Pac-12 South title, so it would be hard to fire Neuheisel if the Bruins somehow reach the first conference title game.
UCLA at Arizona Betting Storylines
Inconsistent Kevin Prince had lost his gig as UCLA’s starting quarterback to Richard Brehaut, but Prince gets the call here because Brehaut broke his leg in UCLA’s last game, a 28-25 win over Washington State on Oct. 8.
Prince played well in that one when Brehaut went out, going 8-for-13 for 173 yards and two scores. Prince threw the go-ahead, seven-yard touchdown pass to Shaq Evans with 3:26 to play as UCLA rallied from an eight-point deficit in the fourth quarter.
Prince could have a big night against an Arizona defense that ranks No. 116 in the nation in total defense, No. 117 in scoring and dead last with only three sacks all year. The Wildcats have allowed 40 plays of 20-plus yards, which is tied for the fifth-worst total in the nation.
The UCLA defense is likely getting back a three-year starter in cornerback Sheldon Price. He has been practicing this week, his first live action practice action since spraining his knee Sept. 24 at Oregon State. Safety Tony Dye is questionable for the game, however.
One thing Arizona can do is throw. Quarterback Nick Foles is second nationally in yards passing, averaging 375.8 yards per game. The only quarterback ahead of Foles in yards per game is Houston's Case Keenum, who tore up UCLA for 310 yards in the season opener and completed 75 percent of his passes.
Foles has one of the nation’s top receivers in Juron Criner, although he has had a down season largely due to injuries. He left UA’s last game with a knee sprain but he is expected to start. The Cats need to throw because they are second-to-last in the nation in rushing.
UCLA‘s defense is allowing opponents to complete 68.3 percent of their passes and convert 55 percent of their third downs (No. 118 in nation in third-down conversion percentage).
Arizona is expected to be without one of its key defenders in safety Adam Hall. He was able to make his season debut in the Oregon State loss off an ACL injury suffered in the spring. Hall played well against the Beavers, leading Arizona with 10 tackles (two for loss), but he re-aggravated the knee injury and likely will take a redshirt year.
The Cats will use their third kicker of the season. John Bonano will handle the placekicking in this one. He replaces Alex Zendejas, who missed a field goal and PAT against Oregon State, and Jaime Salazar, who started the team's first two games before being benched. Bonano kicked the final PAT at Oregon State but hasn’t attempted a field goal in his collegiate career.
UCLA at Arizona Betting Odds and Trends
UA is currently a three-point favorite with the total at 61.5 on college football odds. The lean is about 65 percent on UA.
The Wildcats are 2-4 ATS and 1-2 at home. UCLA is 1-5 ATS and 1-2 on the road. The Bruins are just 1-6 ATS in their past seven games. They are 0-6 ATS in their past six after a bye week. The "over" is 7-3 in UCLA’s past 10 road games. It is 5-1 in Arizona’s past six conference games. The favorite has covered the past four in this series.
College Football Picks: UCLA at Arizona Betting Predictions
The first quarter should be interesting as Arizona has been outscored in the first quarter of games 55-17 on the season, while UCLA has been outscored 37-14. Since 2004, UA is 27-6 when leading after the first quarter.
The Wildcats really aren’t that bad, as three of their losses came against three ranked teams who might be the top three offensive teams in the nation in Oklahoma State, Stanford and Oregon. So those defensive numbers could be skewed a bit. Foles is head and shoulders above Prince, so I look for the Cats to cover easily. Also go with the "over."
Doc Moseman is the owner of Doc’s Sports football picks Web site.