UCLA at Stanford

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The Pac-12 was in the spotlight Friday night last week and will have the Thursday night showcase game to start a huge mid-October college football weekend with 61 FBS games Wednesday to Saturday. UCLA and Stanford aren’t where they expected to be at this point in the season and both squads are in a need of a win to improve its chances at the postseason. Here is a look at the Thursday ESPN game in a Pac-12 crossover contest.

UCLA Bruins at Stanford Cardinal

Venue: Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, California
Time/TV: Thursday, October 7, 9:00 p.m. ET ESPN
Line: Stanford -7, Over/Under 52½
Last Meeting: 2018 Stanford (-7) 49, at UCLA 42

When the Thursday night schedule was set, this mid-October Pac-12 contest looked like one of the more appealing Thursday night games of the season with high profile programs and coaches in a matchup of potential conference title threats. The season hasn’t unfolded that way for UCLA or Stanford as this week’s game will feel like more like a postseason elimination game.

UCLA’s bowl hopes are certainly miniscule with a 1-5 start in Chip Kelly’s second season with the Bruins as few coaches have experienced a collapse like Kelly has in recent years. A star at Oregon, Kelly won the NFC East in his first season as a NFL head coach before some questionable roster decisions led to his departure and he had one terrible year in San Francisco as well. Back in the college game and back in the Pac-12, Kelly is 4-14 at UCLA and on a 12-37 run since 2015 in his three different coaching jobs.

He signed a five-year contract ahead of the 2018 season and school would owe him roughly $9 million should they move on from Kelly before January 15, 2022 as the Bruins are likely stuck with Kelly for better or worse after making a very favorable contract offer for him while competing with Florida among others for his services.

Allowing 131 points in three Pac-12 games is concerning, but the Bruins have scored 115 points and three of five losses have come by 10 or fewer points. The remaining schedule doesn’t offer great prospects but the best chances for wins are likely the next three weeks with this trip to Stanford before home games with Arizona State and Colorado. At this point matching last season’s 3-9 record would probably be considered a minor success and the good news is that next season’s schedule is much easier with no power five non-conference games while like this season, avoiding Oregon and Washington in the conference slate.

One of UCLA’s top receivers the past two seasons, Theo Howard, just announced he will redshirt and transfer for another negative headline but the production in the passing game has been adequate, though inflated from playing from behind often. Dorian-Thompson-Robinson has struggled with his accuracy at quarterback completing just 56 percent of his passes with six interceptions but the rushing game support has been limited with UCLA posting 857 yards on the ground over six games on just 3.7 yards per carry.

Stanford actually sits in second place in the Pac-12 North at 2-2, but having already lost to Oregon hopes for a run to the top are remote. The Cardinal needs three more wins to return to a bowl game, having made the postseason in all eight seasons under David Shaw. Certainly a coach that would have been given an opportunity at a higher profile program or the NFL had he shown the inclination, Shaw is 85-29 at Stanford including 57-18 in Pac-12 games with three conference titles and two Rose Bowl wins. The last championship came in 2015 and after winning 10 or more games in five of his first six seasons, this will be a third straight season without reaching that mark and likely Shaw’s worst season with the low mark 8-5 in 2014.

Stanford has played without longtime quarterback K.J. Costello in three games this season and he is expected to remain out of action with a hand injury this week. Backup Davis Mills struggled in the loss at USC starting ahead of Costello but he has played well the past two games in wins, including the upset over Washington. He injured his calf and remains very much questionable to play Thursday night. Sophomore Jack West could make his first start and he has seen the practice reps this week while also playing extensively as a primary quarterback in spring ball but his actual game experience is very limited, taking only a few token snaps the past two seasons.

Stanford has also been hurt by a marginal rushing attack as well Cameron Scarlett has posted 564 rushing yards he is doing so on 4.4 yards per rush and Stanford has posted just 3.8 yards per rush as a team. The Cardinal also lacks the big athletic receiving corps they had last season led by J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who is now playing with the Eagles.

Many of the toughest games for Stanford are behind them with four of the final six at home and USC, Oregon, and Washington already out of the way. The Cardinal drew a difficult non-conference schedule with Northwestern and UCF and September and will close the season facing Notre Dame in late November. Winning there of the next four ahead of that game in Pac-12 play is possible, but not a given as Stanford’s bowl probability could hinge this game.

Last Season:

Stanford’s game at UCLA last season was supposed to be the final game of the regular season, but the previous week’s game with rival California had to be postponed due to the nearby fires. After that unexpected off week, Stanford won 49-42 at the Rose Bowl despite being out-gained 528-470. UCLA led 3-0 early but didn’t take the lead again until a fourth quarter score made it 42-41 with the Bruins scoring 15 consecutive points with a safety, a kickoff return, and a 90-yard drive, though with a missed two-point conversion.

Stanford would hit a 52-yard pass about a minute later and got the two-point conversion to go up by seven (and even with the closing spread) and UCLA had three late drives ending in a missed field goal, a failed 4th-and-15 from the Stanford 24, and a failed 4th-and-8 across midfield. Wilton Speight was the UCLA quarterback for the game with 466 passing yards but no touchdowns while Costello had five for Stanford. It was the season finale for UCLA and followed up the win over USC the previous week in what wound up being a 1-4 run to close the season despite a few very competitive games.

Series History:

Stanford is 11-0 S/U & 9-1-1 ATS in this series since 2009 as Shaw has not lost to the Bruins. Stanford won 58-34 as 6½-point favorite in the last home meeting in 2017. Going back to 1980, Stanford is on a 12-8 ATS run at home in this series while on a 16-9-1 ATS run as a favorite with most of those instances in recent years as Stanford was favored just twice from 1980 to 2007 before being favored in all but one meeting since 2008 in this series. These coaches split two meetings while Kelly was at Oregon with the road team winning both games including Stanford winning as a +19 underdog in 2012 vs. an undefeated #2 ranked Ducks team led by Marcus Mariota.

Historical Trends:

UCLA is on a 3-17 S/U run in road games since 2016 with an 8-12 ATS record. Since 2008, UCLA is 18-27 ATS as a road underdog. Under Shaw, Stanford is 46-9 S/U and 32-23 ATS at home though with slightly lesser numbers as a home favorite at 27-22 ATS with just a 11-10 ATS record in that role since 2016.