Hyundai Sun Bowl Picks: Virginia Tech vs. UCLA

Willie Bee

Thursday, December 12, 2013 1:39 PM UTC

Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013 1:39 PM UTC

Celebrating its 80th birthday this year, the Sun Bowl will be televised by CBS with a 2 PM (ET) kickoff on New Year's Eve.  One of two matchups that afternoon pitting the ACC against the Pac-12, the opposing sidelines will be occupied by the Virginia Tech Hokies and UCLA Bruins.

The first-ever gridiron meeting between the two schools opened up with the Bruins as touchdown favorites, and there has little to no movement to that spread. Early totals on SBR's live college football odds have bounced between 48 and 50 for a game that features a good UCLA offense opposite a stout Va Tech defense.

Hokies Prep for 21st-Straight Bowl Appearance

Seeing Frank Beamer take Virginia Tech into college football's postseason schedule is nothing new. Beamer, who just wrapped up his 27th season in Blacksburg, has the Hokies about to play in their 21st consecutive bowl game and hoping to improve on a 9-11 record in that span.

Virginia Tech (8-4 straight up, 4-6-2 against the spread) had to open the year against defending national champ Alabama, suffering a 35-10 setback to the Crimson Tide, and then reeled off six straight wins to gain bowl eligibility by the second Saturday of October.  But three close ACC losses in the final five games took the Hokies out of the conference championship picture, tying Miami-FL for second in Coastal Division. All three ACC defeats were by seven points or less.

The Hokies only covered one of last five games, and that was a 42-24 triumph at the Hurricanes as 5 point road 'dogs. Those 42 points went against the norm for a Va Tech offense that averaged only 23.4 per game (96th in nation), and it was also a rather abnormal day for Logan Thomas and the offense by not turning the ball over. Beamer would no doubt love a similar performance from Thomas & Company against a decent but exploitable UCLA defense.

The Bruins, in turn, are facing one of the top defenses in the country. Michigan State hogged a lot of the defensive accolades in 2013, but Virginia Tech's stop unit wasn't far behind the Spartans in total yards allowed (269.6) and scoring (17.4 ppg).

The Hokies could be without a couple of key players on defense and special teams; Cornerback Antone Exum is questionable with an ankle injury, and special teams stud Matt Roth is in the same boat with a concussion that kept him on the sidelines the final three games.

Read SBR's sportsbook reviews to find the best bookie for you!

Mora Gets Big Extension To Stay At UCLA

It certainly hasn't taken Jim Mora long to help Bruins alum forget the sour ending to the Rick Neuheisel era. Having just completed his second year at Westwood, Mora has delivered back-to-back 9-win seasons and a chance to win 10 for the first time since 2005, coincidentally the last time UCLA (9-3 SU, 8-4 ATS) was in the Sun Bowl. That prompted Bruins AD Dan Guerrero to get Mora's name on a contract extension that runs through 2019.

The Bruins lost a shot at the Pac-12 title tilt with a 38-33 home loss to Arizona State before Thanksgiving, a game that was really decided in the closing seconds of the first quarter and opening play of the second. UCLA did rebound nicely with a 35-14 thrashing of crosstown rivals USC, the first Bruins win over the Trojans at the LA Coliseum since 1997. Getting 4.5 in the contest, UCLA easily covered to give their backers the cash in three of the last four regular season matches.

Brett Hundley directed and starred in a pretty efficient UCLA offense, leading the team in rushing (587 yds) to go with over 2,800 yards passing and a 22:9 TD-interception ratio. The sophomore was only picked off once in the last five games, but it was a costly INT that Arizona State ran back for a momentum-changing touchdown.

There's a reason it's called the Sun Bowl since there's usually plenty of sunshine in El Paso this or any other time of the year. But it could be on the very cool side of the thermometer, and there's a chance of windy conditions so bettors are encouraged to get a forecast before making a final decision.

I'm tempted to ride with the Hokies as underdogs, but the total intrigues me more. I'm adding the 'over' to my list of free college football bowl game picks.

My pick: Virginia Tech-UCLA Over 48

Reg. Season: 31-15 (+14.5)


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