Time: Sunday, September 3, 6:30 p.m. CT
Online Stream: FOX Sports Go (Where available; check local listings)
Spread: UCLA opened as 3.5-point favorites. The line shifted up to 4 in some locales.
O/U: 57/58, location pending
UCLA did so especially in 2016, finishing the year 4-8. Wunderkind QB Josh Rosen was hampered by injuries all season, and the hopes that they had were dashed in the process (It probably doesn’t help matters that crosstown rival USC Trojans are suddenly looking like studs themselves either).
A&M, meanwhile, did their usual song and dance: Start fast, lose to ‘Bama, crumble down the stretch. That led them to their third straight 8-5 season under head coach Kevin Sumlin. Sumlin, like Jim Mora out in LA, may be feeling the heat this year.
This may make the matchup on Sunday all the more fascinating. What may come for the loser might be an uncomfortable fate, while the winner can hope to boost and dispel the doubters.
What better of a setting for the matchup could it be than the venerable Rose Bowl? Pasadena will play host to this intriguing, nonconference matchup on the back half of Labor Day Weekend. What happens on the field? We’ll find out.
By now, if you’re a college football fan, you know all about Josh Rosen. The outspoken quarterback is a lofty prospect for next year’s NFL Draft. He’s battling with USC’s Sam Darnold for the honor of “Best College QB in LA” and, also, he’s never been shy about talking about the rigors of college athletics and education.
But as far as his on-field production goes, 2016 was a loss. The injuries battered him and left him with under 2,000 passing yards, 10 touchdowns and five interceptions. HIs yards per attempt was still a gaudy 8.3. That kind of number certainly gives UCLA fans hope, as it was higher than the 7.5 mark he achieved as a freshman.
Following this injury-riddled year, Rosen is certainly out for a level of redemption. He’ll get a solid chance to make something happen at the Rose Bowl on Sunday afternoon out in Pasadena. A&M’s secondary is certainly rich with experience. They, however, have something to prove.
The group finished 60th in passing S&P+ and did give up big plays from time to time. Armani Watts is an All-SEC DB, and is the biggest name that Rosen will have to look out for when he’s slinging it in the pocket.
UCLA’s receiving corp is littered with experience. Darren Andrews, Jordan Lasley, and Elridge Massington are all back in town. Tight end Austin Roberts is hanging around too. There’s talent around Rosen to be sure. He has the pieces to put it together. We’ll see what kind of start he can get off to.
TOUGH TASKS AGAINST A TOUGH UCLA DEFENSE
The players you see above are Christian Kirk (left) and Trayveon Williams (right). They are, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the best offensive players on the Aggies roster. Kirk is a dynamic threat with the football in his hands. He can do it while catching the ball and he can be a stellar return man too. Williams, meanwhile, burst onto the scene in his freshman season. His acceleration and sprinting are top notch.
They, and whoever A&M has at QB, will have their work cut out for them. UCLA’s defense was one of the Top 30 units in the country last year in most advanced categories. They lost a lot up front; Takkarist McKinley and Eddie Vanderdoes are gone. So is Eli Ankou and so is Deon Hollins. Linebackers Jayon Brown, Cameron Judge and Isaako Savaiinaea are no longer roving around either.
The benefit that UCLA has though is that they’re replacing them with veterans. A senior defensive in Jacob Tuioti-Mariner and Matt Dickerson, a senior defensive tackle. Senior Kenny Young can plug in at linebacker (and was already solid enough last year). So can junior Josh Woods. There are sophomores aplenty that Mora and defensive coordinator Tom Bradley can use to their advantage. Squeezing out potential from them is all that’s left.
Kirk and Williams will likely have the workload supplanted on them on Sunday. How well they fare against this seasoned unit will almost certainly dictate how well the Aggies fare in Pasadena.
I expect that both teams will be jazzed up. This will be the first time that Texas A&M has been to the Rose Bowl... ever. So that should be a fun experience for all involved.
The game itself should be highly entertaining. There are enough exciting players on both ends, and the fascination of the fallout of the game should be enough to keep everyone interested.
I sense Bruin redemption in this one, to be honest.
UCLA 24, Texas A&M 20