Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl Picks: UCLA Bruins vs Illinois Fighting Illini

2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl
AT&T Park – San Francisco, California
UCLA Bruins vs Illinois Fighting Illini
Saturday, December 31, 2011, 3:30 pm Eastern, TV: ESPN
Opening Line: Illinois -3
Current Line: Illinois: -2 1/2
Opening Total: 47
Current Total: 47
Opening Money Line: Illinois -140 / UCLA +120
Current Money Line: Illinois -150 / UCLA +130

Big South Tournament
The Illinois Fighting Illini are 2 point favorites against UCLA in the Fight Hunger Bowl Saturday afternoon.

Though this game is admirably sponsored by Kraft foods and part of the proceeds go to hunger relief efforts, some have facetiously suggested that it should be sponsored by since both coaches were fired at the end of the regular season. Illinois started off the season 6-0 but lost their last 6 games, to fall to 6-6 which cost Ron Zook his job.  Toledo coach Tim Beckman will coach Illinois next year, but Illini offensive coordinator Vic Koenning will be the interim coach for the bowl.  Illinois has wins over Arkansas St 33-15, Arizona St 17-14, Western Michigan 23-20, Northwestern 38-35. and Indiana 41-20. The the wheels came off, and Illinois lost to Ohio St 17-7, Purdue 2-14, Penn St 10-7, Michigan 31-14, Wisconsin 28-17 and Minnesota 27-7. All except Minnesota and Indiana qualified for bowl games. Illinois is 7-9 all time Bowl games. Illinois beat Baylor 38-14 last year in the Texas Bowl.

UCLA is 6-7 this year, and had to get a special waiver from the NCAA to be bowl eligible. The Bruins are the first team since 2001 to play in a bowl with a losing record. It is only because USC is ineligible that UCLA won the Pac 12 South Division Title and played in the Pac 12 Championship game where the Bruins were beaten handily by Oregon 49-31. Rick Neuheisel was fired before the Oregon game but did coach the Bruins in that game. Offensive coordinator Mike Johnson will be the interim coach for the Bowl, and Jim Mora Jr. will take over the Bruins next year.  UCLA has losses to Houston 38-34, Texas 49-20, Stanford 45-19, Arizona 48-12, Utah 31-6, and USC 50-0. The Bruins have wins over San Jose St 27-17, Oregon St 27-19, Washington St 28-25, California 31-14, Arizona St 29-28, and Colorado 45-6. UCLA is 14-15-1 all time bowl games. The Bruins last bowl game was a 30-21 victory over Temple in the 2009 Eagle Bank Bowl in Washington, DC. UCLA leads the series against Illinois 6-5. The Bruins won the last meeting in 2004. The Bruins and Illini have met 3 times in bowl games previously, the 1947 Rose Bowl, 1984 Rose Bowl, and the 1991 Sun Bowl.

UCLA is averaging 388.8 yards and 23.8 points a game. The Bruins are averaging 190.7 rushing yards and 198.1 passing yards a game. The Bruins have 24 turnovers and have allowed 24 sacks. The Bruins are 70/188 on third and fourth down conversions and 42/55 scoring in the red zone with 34 touchdowns. UCLA is giving up 424.2 yards and 32.2 points a game. The Bruins allow 232.6 passing yards and 191.5 rushing yards. The Bruins are near the bottom of the nation in all categories.  UCLA has forced 20 turnovers and 13 sacks so far. Bruin opponents are 103/209 on third and fourth down conversions and 45/50 scoring in the red zone with 35 touchdowns. The Bruins average 7 penalties a game for 62 yards. The Bruins have one defensive touchdown.

UCLA has alternated quarterbacks this season. Kevin Prince is 112/195 passing (57.4% completion) with 1,627 yards, 10 touchdowns and 7 interceptions, along with 110 carries for 455 yards and a touchdown. Richard Brehaut was 67/121 passing for 935 yards, and 6 touchdowns and an interception, along with 44 carries, 169 yards, and 2 touchdowns. He is out for the season with a leg injury.  Running back Johnathan Franklin has 158 carries, 947 yards, and 5 touchdowns, along with 9 catches for 74 yards and a touchdown. Derrick Coleman has 143 carries for 726 yards and 11 touchdowns. Receiver Nelson Rosario has 61 catches for 1,106 yards, with 4 touchdowns. Joseph Fauria has 34 catches for 445 yards and 6 touchdown catches. Shaquelle Evans and Taylor Embree each have 18 catches this season.  Kip Smith, Tyler Gonzalez and Jeff Locke have split the kicking duties this season. Smith is 7/8 on extra points and 2/3 on field goals with a long of 38. Locke is 6/9 on extra points and 2/3 on field goals with a long of 51 yards. Smith hasn’t played in 11 games and is out for this game with a hip injury. Locke is probable with a shoulder injury. Gonzalez is 19/20 on extra points and 7/10 on field goals with a long of 44 yards. UCLA has 15 players listed on the injury report, including 9 defensive players.

Illinois is averaging 358.2 yards a game including 171.2 rushing yards a game. Illinois passes 187 yards a game. Illinois is scoring 22.8 points a game. Illinois has 27 turnovers and has allowed 35 sacks this season. The Illini are 83/194 on third and fourth conversions, and 34/40 scoring in the red zone, with 27 touchdowns. Illinois has been great on defense this year allowing only 291.8 yards and 20.1 points a game. The Illini are #7 in total offense.   The rush defense allows 132.7 yards a game. The pass defense allows 159.4 yards a game, which is #4 in the country.  Illinois has forced 36 sacks and 20 turnovers this season. Illini opponents are 68/187 on third and fourth down conversions, and 20/36 scoring in the red zone with 22 touchdowns. Illinois has 2 defensive touchdowns this season.

Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is 166/261 passing (63.6% completions) with 1,971 yards, 12 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions. He also has 169 carries, 514 yards, and 6 rushing touchdowns. He is listed as questionable for an undisclosed reason. If Scheelhaase can’t go, back-up Reilly O’Toole will get the start. O’Toole has a touchdown pass and 4 interceptions in limited action this season, plus a handful of carries. Running back Jason Ford has 155 carries, 600 yards, and 7 scores, along with 19 catches for 130 yards. He will miss the game due to being academically ineligible.  Troy Pollard has 62 carries, 462 yards, and 2 touchdowns.  Donovonn Young has 75 carries, 406 yards. He is questionable with an ankle injury. Expect Josh Ferguson to get more carries with Ford out and if Young doesn’t play either. Receiver A.J. Jenkins has 84 catches, 1,196 yards, and 7 touchdowns. Darius Millines, Spencer Harris, and John Davis all get significant catches as well.  Evan Wilson only has 9 catches but 3 of them went for touchdowns. Kicker Derek Dimke is 32-32 on extra points, and 8/9 on field goals with a long of 49 yards. The Illini have 4 other players on the injured list besides Scheelhaase, Ford and Young.

Ilinois is 5-7 against the spread, and the total is 3-9 this season. UCLA is 5-8 ATS and the total is also 5-8 this season. The Bruins are 5-1 ATS in December, 4-1 after a straight up loss, 4-1-1 vs Big Ten teams, 5-12 as an underdog, 6-15 overall, 3-9 on grass, 1-5 after a cover, and 0-4 as an underdog of 3 points or less. The Fighting Illini 10-2 ATS after failing to cover, 15-32 after scoring 20 points or less, 6-15 against teams with losing records, 5-15 in non-conference games, and 0-4 as a favorite.

UCLA’s defense is horrible, but Illinois can’t move the ball very well. Actually, neither can UCLA. I don’t see a lot of points scored in this game. These are two bad teams just playing out the string, with lame duck interim coaches.

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