TEXAS A&M AGGIES (0-0)
at UCLA BRUINS (0-0)
Rose Bowl – Pasadena, CA
Kickoff: Sunday, 7:30 p.m. ET
Line: UCLA -4.0, Total: 55.5
Josh Rosen and UCLA open their season with a home game against Texas A&M on Sunday, Sep. 3.
Last year was disappointing for both Texas A&M and UCLA, as the Aggies lost five of their last seven games of the season and the Bruins finished a miserable 4-8. This is, however, a new year and they’ll each be trying to put last season behind them. Neither team was anywhere to be found in the preseason AP poll, but that is not something to be concerned with. Each team has plenty of talent and it wouldn’t be surprising to see either of them perform better than expected. These two squads met last year, when the Aggies beat the Bruins 31-24 as 4.5-point favorites. It was the first meeting between the two teams since 1998, when UCLA beat A&M 29-23 as 14-point favorites in the Cotton Bowl. One trend that stands out when looking at this game is that road underdogs of 3.5 to 10 points that had a winning record last season (Texas A&M) are 39-11 ATS since 1992 in the first month of the season after closing out the year with two or more consecutive losses. Favoring UCLA is the fact that home teams that closed the year out with two or more straight losses are 72-35 against the spread over the past five seasons in the first half of the year when returning eight or more starters including the quarterback.
The Aggies have not yet settled their quarterback situation, but it seems as though redshirt freshman Nick Starkel is going to get the nod. Starkel enrolled early last year, so he has had an extra year to learn head coach Kevin Sumlin’s system. Senior Jake Hubenak might have experience actually running it in games, but Starkel gives the team more of a chance to win. He has a good arm and has some decent accuracy as well, and the same can’t be said about Hubenak. Regardless of who is under center, the job of the quarterback will be to avoid turnovers and hand the ball off to RB Trayveon Williams (1,057 yards, 8 TD in 2016). Last year, Williams rushed for 94 yards on 15 carries against A&M. It’d be surprising if he doesn’t put forth at least a similar effort this time around. Starkel or Hubenak would also be wise to get the ball out quickly to WR Christian Kirk (83 rec, 928 yards, 9 TD in 2016). Kirk is one of the best receivers in the nation and he is also one of the most explosive players in the open field. He should be a highlight machine this season, but it will be tough against UCLA. He had eight catches for 58 yards against the Bruins last season, but the Aggies will need more from him here. Defensively, A&M allowed only 23.8 PPG last season (37th in NCAAF). That will, however, be tough to maintain with DE Myles Garrett off to the NFL.
The Bruins have had high expectations ever since QB Josh Rosen (1,915 yards, 10 TD, 5 INT in six games in 2016) arrived on campus, but he has not yet delivered a memorable season to the fans in UCLA. The hope is that Rosen will finally put it together this year, as he is likely leaving for the NFL after the end of this season. Rosen was one of the most hyped high school players ever, and it’s time he comes through. He struggled against A&M last year, as he threw for 343 yards but had only one touchdown and a miserable three interceptions. He’ll need to take better care of the football in this year’s game, and it’d be surprising if he didn’t show up in a big way in the home opener. Defensively, the Bruins allowed 27.5 PPG last season (58th in NCAAF) and should be a lot better this year. They returned six starters on defense, but also have some good recruits coming in. It’d be surprising if they were to really struggle on that end, and they also have the luxury of going up against an A&M team that doesn’t have its quarterback situation completely figured out.