The UCLA Bruins saw their Rose Bowl hopes fade away after a late-season slump, including a key loss to USC. But despite that, they have a chance to win the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl in their first bowl game appearance since 2017. UCLA is 9-3 SU and 6-6 ATS on the season but they ended their regular season campaign with a 3-3 SU mark.
The Bruins will take on the Pittsburgh Panthers on December 30th at the Sun Bowl Stadium. Pitt closed out its regular season campaign with a 4-0 SU and 3-1 ATS record. The Panthers are 8-4 SU and 5-7 ATS on the season but will be playing this game without nearly half of their starters.
Pitt heads to El Paso seeking its best back-to-back finishes since winning 9 games in 2008 and 10 games in 2009. The Panthers went 11-3 last season and won the Atlantic Coast Conference title. But the departure of Kenny Pickett to the NFL and the transfer of Biletnikoff award winner Jordan Addison has made this season’s 8-4 SU mark quite impressive already.
Israel Abanikanda led the ACC with 1,431 rushing yards but he will not be playing on Friday after declaring for the draft before Christmas Day. Meanwhile, the Panthers’ defense will be without All-American defensive tackle Calijah Kancey who announced his departure last December 22. QB Kedon Slovis has transferred, leaving the door open for Nick Patti who started in last year’s Cotton Bowl but played just one quarter due to injury.
The Panthers scored an average of 30.8 points per game this season, earning 221.3 yards through the air and 181.3 yards on the ground. The team allowed its opponents to score an average of 23.4 points per game this season. Pitt conceded 224.2 passing yards per contest and 95.5 rushing yards per outing.
No. 13 UCLA can win 10 games in a season for the first time since 2014. The Bruins were looking at contending for the Pac-12 title and earning a berth in the College Football Playoffs but back-to-back defeats to Arizona and rival USCA by an aggregate margin of 9 points, cost them their plans. However, the Bruins will be playing their first bowl game under the leadership of Chip Kelly after last year’s Holiday Bowl showdown with NC State was canceled due to the pandemic.
Dorian Thompson-Robinson completed nearly 70% of his passes for 2,883 passing yards with 25 TDs. Robinson also rushed for 631 yards with 11 rush TDs. Star running back and senior Zach Charbonnet has not made his appearance in this game official but if he does suit up, his power rushing game is a perfect compliment to fellow senior Thompson-Robinson.
UCLA averaged 39.6 points per game while earning 261.5 yards through the air and 246.3 yards on the ground. On defense, the Bruins allowed 28.3 points per game while surrendering 275.7 passing yards per contest and 124.2 rushing yards per outing. The UCLA define amassed a total of 807 tackles, 27 sacks, 31 defended passes, 10 INTs, and 9 forced fumbles.
The Bruins are 9-5 SU in their last 14 games played against Pittsburgh. However, the last meeting between these two teams was way back in 1972 with UCLA prevailing 38-28. UCLA has won seven out of the last 8 games between these two teams.
Pittsburgh Panthers SU trends:
UCLA Bruins SU trends:
Pitt was one of the hottest ACC teams down the stretch as they won their last four games by an average winning margin of 17 points per game, covering three of those contests. However, while they have the momentum heading to this game, they will be without nearly half of their starters due to opt-outs, transfers, and injuries.
The absences include six defensive starters, including the entire defensive line. The Panthers’ front four was the strength of the Pitt defense this season, allowing just 95 rushing yards per game, the 7th best average in the nation this season.
QB Kedon Slovis is among their offensive players who will not be playing in this bowl game. That leaves Nick Patti and freshman Nate Yarnell as their top two QB options. Patti has bowl game experience after he started last year’s Peach Bowl when Kenny Pickett opted out. Star running back Izzy Abanikanda has also left the team, leaving Pitt with big shoes to fill.
At the time of this writing, Bruins QB Dorian Thompson Robinson was in play to appear in this bowl game. Thompson-Robinson has been practicing with the team but has not committed to playing on December 30th, meaning there is still a chance that he decides to opt out.
Like their QB, UCLA’s star running back Zach Charbonnet, top wideout Jake Bobo, and safety Mo Osling III are other notable players who are practicing but have not made a final decision on whether they will play in this game. However, with most of these UCLA players not experienced playing in a bowl game, that could motivate them to play on Friday.
UCLA might also want to finish its season on a high note. They started 6-0 SU but closed with a mediocre 3-3 SU mark during the regular season while failing to cover their final three assignments. UCLA’s Rose Bowl ambitions ended after a late-season defeat to USC. But they are still playing on Bowl weekend which should be motivation to win here.
UCLA had higher ambitions one month ago but that has gone down the drain. Now, they may want to salvage their season but too many uncertainties as to who plays or not at this stage make it difficult to go with a favorite like UCLA. Meanwhile, Pitt will be missing several key players too but given that the Bruins’ secondary was one of the worst against the pass, they should be able to move the ball well even without their starting QB.
Assuming UCLA gets most of the players in doubt for this game, they should have the edge on both ends of the field. Again, that’s an assumption but I have a good feeling that the Bruins will have most of their key players on Friday. That means a win for UCLA.
Prediction: UCLA Bruins
Pittsburgh Panthers ATS trends:
UCLA Bruins ATS trends:
Pitt will be without its starting QB, that’s for sure. Although they have two backups who could play well against one of the least formidable pass defenses in college football, the inexperience could prove costly here.
On the other hand, UCLA could have most of its offensive starters. That should be an issue for a Pitt defense missing too many starters. Even if not all UCLA key players play in this game, I don’t expect them to struggle too much in moving the ball. Defense was key to Pitt’s success without most of its core players, it will be difficult to win.
Prediction: UCLA -5.5
Pittsburgh Panthers over/under trends:
UCLA Bruins over/under trends:
I don’t expect Pitt to contribute much to the scoring in this game. Without their starter, I reckon that most of the Panthers’ points will come from field goals. The Bruins’ defense should be able to break up the Pitt offensive line and pressure Patti. Patti has played in a bowl game before but overall, he’s too inexperienced.
The Bruins are more of a rushing team and they take up plenty of time with their possessions. Although I believe that UCLA will be able to score more than enough points to win outright and cover the spread, hitting the total will be a challenge with Pitt playing undermanned.
Prediction: Under 52.5
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