The Stanford Cardinal may have their best team in the tenure of Coach David Shaw this season, and they now get a chance to prove it vs. the UCLA Bruins Thursday night.
The home team looks like the more complete team in a great Pac-12 matchup of nationally ranked schools on national television Thursday night when the 18th ranked UCLA Bruins (4-1, 2-2-1 ATS) pay a visit to the 15th ranked Stanford Cardinal (4-1, 4-1 ATS) at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, CA at 10:30 ET in a game televised nationally on ESPN.
The point spread at Pinnacle Sports has Stanford as a moderate home favorite for this contest with the current line at -5½ with odds of -110.
Both Teams 4-1 but Trending Differently
Both these teams have had ample time to prepare for this contest having not played since October 3rd and both enter with identical 4-1 overall records, but the difference comes in their mindsets. You see, Stanford opened up the season with a lethargic 16-6 loss at Northwestern that does not look so bad now in light of what the Wildcats have done, and the Cardinal have since been the winning college football picks four straight times by an average of +20.0 points!
Meanwhile the UCLA season has been the polar opposite as the Bruins began the year with four straight wins and it was in their most recent contest that they unexpectedly tasted defeat, losing rather handily at home to Arizona State 38-23 as a 12½-point favorite while getting out-gained by 123 yards. The Bruins thought they had discovered a ground game in prior weeks to give support to their freshman quarterback Josh Rosen, but they managed just 62 rushing yards on 28 carries (2.2 YPC) vs. the Sun Devils.
Complete Cardinal Team
Coach David Shaw took over as the head coach at Stanford in 2011 and he returned the school to national prominence over his first three years on the job before a disappointing 8-5 season last year. However the Cardinal have bounced back well this year and this might be his best team yet with a very good offense to compliment Shaw’s always good defense.
It would be hard to find the last time Stanford had an offense averaging 35.0 points and 452.6 total yards like this 2015 edition, and remember that includes putting up just six points and 240 total yards in the opener at Northwestern! Thus the Cardinal have ravaged their last four opponents thanks to having a veteran quarterback in Kevin Hogan and one of the most dynamic running backs in the country in Christian McCaffrey playing behind a bruising offensive line.
That great line play has helped Hogan pass for 1155 yards while competing 67.5 percent of his passes and averaging a fat 9.6 yards per pass attempt with nine touchdown passes vs. two interceptions, while McCaffrey has rushed for 601 yards already on a nice 5.7 yards per carry while adding 15 receptions for another 168 yards (11.2 yards per catch). And all this is not to mention a punishing defense allowing only 3.5 yards per rush and 6.2 yards per pass.
UCLA entered this season with high hopes as the Bruins returned the most starters of any team in the country but the one non-returning starter on offense may have been the most important one in quarterback Brett Hundley, as he has been replaced by a true freshman in Rosen that has been inconsistent and is thus one of the biggest reasons the Bruins have been enigmatic this year.
UCLA looked like a national title contender in big wins over Virginia, UNLV and especially Arizona on the road. However, Rosen struggled vs. BYU and the Bruins ran the ball almost exclusively in the second half while rallying for a 24-23 win, and then it was the running game that did not show up last game, proving fatal in the home loss to Arizona State.
But perhaps the biggest obstacle for UCLA here is trying to find a way to contain McCaffrey with the 100th ranked rushing defense in the country, as the Bruins are allowing a distressing 197.0 yards per game on the ground. The inability to fix that could mean a fairly easy Stanford win at home, especially with the Cardinal defense expected to apply heavy pressure on the young Rosen when the Bruins have the ball.
Finally, Stanford has now won the last seven meetings between these schools straight up while going 6-1 ATS in those encounters, and taking things back a bit further the Cardinal are 6-2 ATS in the last eight meetings here at Stanford. Last year, it was Stanford that ended the bid of UCLA to go to the Pac-12 Championship Game with a season ending 31-10 rout of the Bruins on the road in Los Angeles.
Granted that may bring revenge into this picture, but the problem with that is that this Stanford team seems clearly better than the one that trashed the Bruins last year so look for a rather handy Cardinal win this time playing at home in Palo Alto on Thursday.
College Football Pick: Stanford -5½ (-110)