LAS VEGAS — There can be no more frustrating position in college football than head coach at Utah. Teammates, coaches, students, alums, boosters, bookmakers and oddsmen must be devouring drums of aspirin.
Quarterback Cameron Rising has been practicing, but he hasn’t been cleared to play. And that green light will only come from Dr. Neal ElAttrache, the Dodgers’ and Rams’ head physician who repaired Rising’s torn left ACL in January.
Rising sustained the injury in the Rose Bowl against Penn State. Utes coach Kyle Whittingham might have said it best when he recently called his quarterback’s status, “day to day to day to day to day.”
With such clouds, look for UCLA to travel to Salt Lake City and cause further disruption.
- NCAAF – Sat (9/23) @ 3:30 p.m. ET
- Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City, Utah
- Line: Air Force -4.5, 51
No. 22 UCLA Bruins at No. 11 Utah Utes Odds
Our Pick: Bruins +4.5 (-110)
This is a grand time of the season, with sufficient information to formulate accurate templates of the true nature of college football squads.
We can concoct scoring outcomes, emphasizing two — math and computer models — that have served us well. Comparing those with point spreads can confer Wrong Team Favored status.
And that’s UCLA, which is one of eight such prospects we have unearthed for this weekend.
(Want the other seven? I should start a tout service.)
No. 22 UCLA Bruins (3-0, 2-1 ATS)
The rankings we apply here come courtesy of the Associated Press. A computer we trust pits UCLA more accurately at 18, Utah at 24.
The final scores that we’ve culled from our resources say, first, UCLA wins 33-32; second, Bruins win 22-17.
So we take the points, for several reasons, and feel Utah’s quarterback questions will be its undoing.
Laiatu Latu, UCLA’s 6-foot-4, 265-pound sophomore menace from Sacramento, will be a thorn in the Utes’ sides. It’s amazing he can even take the field since, at Washington, a neck issue forced him to medically retire.
He’s tied for third in the country with four sacks, tied for 12th with six tackles for loss.
What Bruins fans rave about, however, after the superb career of Dorian Thompson-Robinson, is that Dante Moore is fifth in the nation in pass efficiency (with a 205.4 rating) in his first season at quarterback.
With seven TDs and only one pick in 51 attempts, and an astounding 12.1 yards-per-toss average, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound true freshman is spoiling those supporters.
The stinger is J. Michael Sturdivant, a former Cal receiver who averages 24.3 yards on his nine receptions, with two touchdowns.
UCLA is tough on the ground, too, as TJ Harden (9.3, fourth) and Carson Steele (8.1, 12th) have punished foes in yards per carry.
We especially heeded what the Bruins did at San Diego State, whose defense is usually tougher than a midnight steak on Fremont Street in downtown Vegas.
Through the air, 296 yards and three TDs; on the ground, 39 runs for 254 yards and two TDs.
UCLA at Utah Full Sportsbook Odds
No. 11 Utah Utes (3-0, 1-1-1 ATS)
This is Whittingham’s 19th season as Utah boss. Now, perhaps, he can boast of having seen everything.
He and his staff not only await word on when Rising can go, but so does the Utah medical staff. Nobody knows when ElAttrache will give the nod for Rising to be able to participate in practice full bore and then games.
For now, he can’t be hit or tackled.
Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, his drama has become Shakespearean. A late-August report detailed that his return had suffered “another setback.”
“He practices as if he was … playing the game,” Whittingham told reporters. “The surgeon is the ultimate guy who says ‘thumbs-up, thumbs-down’ for playing. And right now, we don’t have that thumbs-up.”
If and when Rising is allowed to play in a game, how will he respond to real action, edge rushers hunting him as if he were a boar in the woods? And how will he react to that knee taking hits?
Utah produces only 0.341 points per play, below average nationally. UCLA is at 0.481, top-30 in the land.
The Utes gain 6.5 yards per pass attempt, 85th in Division-I football; the Bruins are 25th, at 8.2. In passing yards allowed per throw, Utah’s defense is 68th, at 7.7; UCLA is 30th, at 6.0.
The Bruins have the edges everywhere.
In Rising’s place, Bryson Barnes and Nate Johnson have kept the Utes pertinent.
Sure, they’re undefeated. But it’s also obvious that need Rising to be élite. Rising, after all, is 3-0 against USC, having thrown for more than 1,000 yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions in those mega games.
Barnes has gone 18-for-37, with 230 yards, a TD and one pick. Johnson is 22-for-32 for 281 yards, a TD and no interceptions. Johnson, who covered 100 meters in sub-10.4 seconds in high school, has also run for 148 yards and three TDs.
One report claims Utah has determined that Johnson is its quarterback for next season. Has the brain trust already resigned itself to Rising not returning?
Utah has been getting by with two reserve quarterbacks as it awaits a decision on Cameron Rising, as it’s been doing for a few weeks.
The bandages and camouflage won’t work against UCLA, very capable on both sides of the ball, come Saturday afternoon.
We’ve tabbed this as a Wrong Team Favored situation, so take the points and know that they might not be needed. The half-unit tactic also goes by the wayside as we’ve got enough ammo to risk a whole unit.