Friday Night Lights
Published on Dec. 1 at 11:36 a.m. Eastern.
By Brian Edwards
Gamblers have a pair of college football games to wager on Friday night, including the MAC Championship Game in Detroit and the inaugural Pac-12 title game in Eugene.
Let’s start with the mismatch at Autzen Stadium between Oregon and UCLA. The Ducks won the North division with an 8-1 record, while the Bruins are representing the South loop thanks to some fortunate circumstances.
First of all, USC was a run-away winner of the South but the Trojans are ineligible for postseason play due to NCAA sanctions that came about from the impermissible benefits received by Reggie Bush. Arizona St. appeared poised to win the division before completely collapsing in November and then Utah could’ve clinched before its unfathomable loss to Colorado as a 22 ½-point home favorite.
Therefore, UCLA’s 5-4 ledger in league play earned it a shot at the Pac-12 title. But it’s not as if there’s a bunch of celebrating going on for the Bruins, who concluded the year by getting dealt cream-cheese treatment by arch-rival USC in a 50-0 loss. That embarrassment earned Rick Neuheisel a pink slip, although he will coach against the Ducks on Friday night.
Most books are listing Oregon (10-2 straight up, 6-4-2 against the spread) as a 32-point favorite with a total of 66. As of Thursday, 5Dimes was the only book offering a money-line return on the Bruins, who had 55/1 odds to win outright.
Chip Kelly’s team dropped its season opener to LSU by a 40-27 count in Arlington at Cowboys Stadium, but it responded by ripping off nine consecutive wins to get back into the national-title hunt.
But on Nov. 19, Southern Cal came to Eugene and raced out to a huge lead before holding off a late Oregon rally for a 38-35 win as a 16-point road underdog. The Ducks bounced back to beat Oregon St. 49-21 as 28-point home favorites in last week’s renewal of the Civil War.
Junior quarterback Darron Thomas was the catalyst against the Beavers, completing 27-of-40 throws for 305 passing yards and four touchdowns without an interception. LaMichael James rushed 24 times for 142 yards and one TD. De’Anthony Thomas had 10 receptions for 86 yards and one score.
UCLA (6-6 SU, 4-8 ATS) won three of its four games both SU and ATS prior to the debacle against the Trojans at The Coliseum. The Bruins posted home wins over California (31-14), Arizona St. (29-28) and Colorado (45-6).
In the win over CU, junior QB Kevin Prince enjoyed the best game of his career, connecting on 15-of-19 passes for 225 yards and four TDs without an interception. Prince also rushed for 84 yards on 10 carries, while junior RB Jonathan Franklin ran for 162 yards and one TD on just 15 totes.
For the season, Prince has passed for 1,463 yards with an 8/7 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He’s also got scrambling ability, as evidenced by 424 rushing yards and a 4.5 yards-per-carry average. Nelson Rosario is Prince’s favorite target, hauling in 55 catches for 1,008 yards and a pair of TDs.
UCLA’s Franklin has rushed for 912 yards and five TDs, averaging 6.1 YPC, while Derrick Coleman has 643 yards on the ground with 11 TDs and a 5.1 YPC average.
Oregon’s Thomas has enjoyed another banner campaign, posting a 27/5 TD-INT ratio while throwing for 2,274 yards. James has missed several games but still has 1,427 yards rushing and 14 TDs with a 7.2 YPC average.
Thomas will have an easier job finding receivers because UCLA’s best player in the secondary, senior strong safety Tony Dye, is ‘doubtful’ with a leg injury suffered at USC.
As a home favorite on Kelly’s watch, Oregon has compiled a 10-5-3 spread record since 2009. Meanwhile, UCLA has an abysmal 5-16 ATS mark in 21 road underdog situations during Neuheisel’s four-year tenure.
The ‘over’ is 8-4 overall for the Ducks, 5-2 in their home games. On the flip side, the Bruins have watched the ‘under’ go 8-4 overall, 4-2 in their road assignments.
When these long-time rivals met in Eugene last season, Oregon cruised to a 60-13 triumph as a 26 ½-point home ‘chalk.’ Thomas threw for 308 yards and three TDs without a pick, while James rushed for 123 yards and a pair of scores.
Kickoff is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. Eastern on FOX. Temperatures are expected to dip into the 30s as the game progresses.
The MAC Championship Game will feature No. Illinois vs. Ohio at Ford Field in Motown. Most spots are listing the Huskies as 3 ½-point favorites with a total of 69 ½. The Bobcats are available to win outright for a plus-145 payout (risk $100 to win $145).
No. Illinois (9-3 SU, 5-7 ATS) has won seven in a row while going 4-3 versus the number. The Huskies failed to cover the number in their last two regular-season games as double-digit home favorites.
They are led by senior QB Chandler Harnish, who threw for 2,692 yards with a 23/4 TD-INT ratio during the regular season. Harnish also rushed for an incredible 1,351 yards and 11 TDs with a 7.9 YPC average. Jasmin Hopkins is NIU’s second-leading rusher, gaining 879 yards and rushing for 15 TDs.
Ohio (9-3 SU, 5-7 ATS) has won five consecutive games but like NIU, it also failed to hook up its backers in its final two regular-season games. The Bobcats are underdogs for the third time this year. In the two previous spots, they went 1-1 both SU and ATS, losing 38-26 at Rutgers and winning 35-31 vs. Temple.
Frank Solich’s squad is led by sophomore signal caller Tyler Tettleton, who has thrown for 2,842 yards and has a 26/7 TD-INT ratio. Like Harnish, Tettleton can also get it done with his legs, as he’s rushed for 547 yards and eight TDs.
The MAC Championship Game is slated for a 7:00 p.m. Eastern kick on ESPN2.
**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**
–Ohio and NIU have both seen the ‘over’ go 7-5 overall.
–UCLA has been granted a waiver to go to a bowl game even if it loses to Oregon to fall to 6-7 overall. Mike Johnson, the team’s offensive coordinator, will be the team’s interim head coach for the postseason.
–If I had a Heisman ballot…
1-Robert Griffin III (Baylor)
2-Andrew Luck (Stanford)
3-Trent Richardson (Alabama)
4-Matt Barkley (USC)
5-Case Keenum (Houston)
–Just as I tweeted late Wednesday night, pinch yourself, Wazzu fan. What a hire by the Cougars! The only way another school will make a better off-season hire is if UCLA can get Chris Petersen to leave Boise St. If Petersen is ever going to jump (and he’s given no indication that he will anytime soon), maybe now is the time with Kellen Moore departing?
—Coach of the Year candidates:
1-Les Miles (LSU)
2-David Shaw (Stanford)
3-Mike Gundy (Oklahoma St.)
4-Bill Snyder (Kansas St.)
5-Brady Hoke (Michigan)
6-Art Briles (Baylor)
7-Kevin Sumlin (Houston)
8-Hugh Freeze (Arkansas St.)
9-Nick Saban (Alabama)
10-James Franklin (Vanderbilt)