Time: 3:30 PM EDT
Spread: TEX -3
M/L: TEX (-155), UCLA (+135)
Betting odds c/o 5dimes
UCLA finished last season with an 8-5 mark but lost 37-29 to Nebraska at the Foster Farms Bowl. The Bruins return four offensive starters and eight on the defensive side, but the loss of running back Paul Perkins and pass-catchers Jordan Payton, Devin Fuller and Thomas Duarte to the NFL is going to require the offense to reshuffle and revamp a lot. The offensive line has a lot of turnover, too.
The Bruins will take some time to hit full-form this season, perhaps, and that all begins with a Week 1 challenge that sees them as 3-point underdogs to Texas A&M on oddsmaker 5dimes.
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UCLA also changes offensive coordinators with Noel Mazzone departing to work for its Week 1 opponent Texas A&M. Sophomore QB Josh Rosen is talented, though, and should be able to head the offensive unit just fine without one of the NCAA’s best OCs. He needs more playmakers around him, but is as good in the saddle as any QB in the nation, almost. Kennedy Polamalu takes over as OC, but only T Conor McDermott and Kenny Lacy return on the line.
The Bruins will rush by-committee with three good ball carriers. Nate Starks, Bolu Olorunfunmi and Soso Jamabo will all see a good number of touches, and while the Bruins have some questions to answer on the perimeter, it should be able to improve last season’s 177.5 yards rushing per game, when it ranked No. 59 in the NCAA.
Defensively, UCLA allowed 26 points and 401.7 yards per game last year, ranking tied for No. 54 and No. 67 among FBS schools. UCLA’s defense returns eight starters, including two DEs, two LBers and three in the secondary. It lost a host of high-impact linebackers, too, but the secondary should be enough to keep the defense from allowing too many big plays. The rush defense has to improve, though, after allowing nearly 200 yards per game last season and ranking No. 97 nationally.
The team has cycled through a lot of high-caliber talent the last two seasons, losing it all to the NFL, and 2015 was something of a down year. At QB, UCLA is about as strong as can be, but the shift in offensive philosophy will take time for Rosen to adjust to probably. The thin OL has to be a concern for the offense, too, given the playmakers that may be stifled by mediocre blocking and lack of holes.
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Texas A&M finished last season 8-5 and lost its Bowl game 27-21 to Louisville at the Music City Bowl. The Aggies return six starters on offense and six on defense, and Kevin Sumlin enters his fifth season coaching at Texas A&M where he boasts a 36-16 record over the past four seasons.
The Aggies lost a 1,000 yard rusher in Tra Carson, but transfer Keith Ford should make a big impact. He comes from Oklahoma after sitting out last season and he could be dominant. An ankle injury slowed him in spring, but he will be ready to play hard this week.
A&M has a new offensive coordinator in Noel Mazzone, and he will look to senior transfer QB Trevor Knight to lead his unit. Tailbacks James White and Trayveon Williams will be heavily ridden this season, as will Christian Kirk and Ricky Seals-Jones as playmakers in the short passing game. The OL is plenty strong and will be able to make the system work. But tight end remains a question mark, though Tanner Schorp may start as a junior. Texas A&M lost its only scholarship player at the position, and Schorp has a lot of pressure to perform this season despite lacking experience.
The Aggies are deeper than last season, but the top-end talent on the team is not quite the same. The Aggies had a nice schedule last season, but it really did not take full advantage and has not since joining the SEC in 2012.
The QB position is going to be an issue and even with a strong OL it is asking a lot of Ford to carry the offense which averaged 27.8 points and 424.7 yards last season, ranking No. 71 and No. 50 in the nation. The Aggies lost its final two games to LSU and Louisville by a combined count of 46-28.
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