Nebraska Cornhuskers vs UCLA Bruins (-6, o/u 61)
The Rose Bowl traditionally hosts a Big Ten and Pac-12 opponent. Less traditionally, the Foster Farms Bowl (Dec 26, 9:15 PM Eastern) involves a Pac-12 opponent against whomever is available. This year, lucky Nebraska (5-7, 3-5 Big Ten) gets to make the lengthy trip to northern California to take on the home state UCLA Bruins (8-4, 5-4 Pac-12) at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.
Cornhuskers coach Mike Riley knows UCLA well from his time at Washington State. His first campaign in Lincoln was an up-and-down one. Nebraska lost their season opener to BYU when the Cougars connected on a prayer on the final play. After crushing South Alabama, the Huskers also lost at Miami (36-33) and beat Southern Miss (36-28). They only won three conference games, but one came against Michigan State, 39-38, in one of the biggest upsets in the country this year.
It is hard to identify what Nebraska does really well. The team averages 32.5 points and is better throwing the ball (274.7 yards per game) than rushing it (167.8 YPG). Tight end Cethan Carter stepped up late in the season to be a valuable weapon. But QB Tommy Armstrong Jr. had his struggles, tossing 16 picks in just 11 games, including nine in the final three.
The defense was roasted on a consistent basis, as well, surrendering 30-plus points on five occasions, including 55 to a 2-10 Purdue team.
In addition to an inconsistent QB and suspect defense, Riley had to deal with some dysfunction amongst his players. Cornerback Jonathan Rose was dismissed from the team for a rules violation.
UCLA started the year looking like a playoff contender with non-conference wins over Virginia, UNLV, and BYU. They opened Pac-12 play with an impressive 56-30 win at Arizona. However, losses to Arizona State and Stanford fueled a 4-4 end to the campaign that included a 40-21 loss at USC in a game that sent the winner to the conference championship. Their best win on the year was probably their late-season victory at Utah (17-9).
Freshman quarterback Josh Rosen started the year incredibly hot and finished his first season with solid numbers, completing 60-percent of his throws for over 3,350 yards, 20 touchdowns, and nine interceptions.
The young QB was helped by a solid ground game. Running back Paul Perkins scored 13 times and averaged 5.7 yards per carry. The Rosen/Perkins combo led the Bruins to a respectable 32.5 points a game, while defensive tackle Kenny Clark led a unit that allowed a reasonable 25.1 PPG. .
Riley knows UCLA well, and Nebraska’s record probably should have a couple more ticks in the win column. Laying six points with the Bruins seems like a bad idea based on how they ended the year. The Huskers (+6) is the play.
Pick: Nebraska (+6).
(Photo Credit: Neon Tommy [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)