Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Will UCLA Beat Stanford? Slim Chance

There's that line in the mournful ballad "Amazing Grace" that says something like: "I was blind but now I see." That's me.

I thought UCLA could whip Stanford last Saturday at the Rose Bowl. But the Bruiins were brutalized, 35-17. It was their worst licking of the season. That 43-17 loss to a bad Cal team doesn't count. In that one, the Bruins beat themselves, making a barrage of blunders, handing the game to the inferior Bears.

Looking at that Stanford game again on tape really opened my eyes. Face it. Stanford may be the best team in the country, as tough as the SEC's finest. They've beaten the elite of  the Pac-12, Oregon and UCLA. By the way, beating that fleet Oregon team on the road was a monumental achievement. I didn't give it enough weight. Could be that, being a Cal fan, I was blinded by my anti-Stanford bias.

UCLA lost last Saturday because they were going up against a monster team. Stanford won the game, where it's usually won, in the trenches. Sources tuned into NFL scouting say Stanford's front seven is as good at those impregnable units at Notre Dame and Alabama. That Stanford crew, claim these sources, has improved dramatically since the beginning of the season. Credit them with Stanford's No.1 ranking against the rush, surrendering only 71.4 yards per game and its No.11 ranking in scoring defense. The Cardinal also leads the country in sacks, racking up seven in the UCLA game last week.

Watching the tape of that game, you see the UCLA offensive line, which starts three freshmen, getting pushed around. The Bruins' line ranks near the bottom in sacks allowed, but that hasn't really hurt the team since QB Brett Hundley is such a crafty scrambler, he's still able to find time to pass. The Stanford front seven, though, was just too good, cutting off all his escape routes. They also limited the Bruins' exceptional RB Jonathan Franklin to 65 yards in 20 carries.

For UCLA to win last week, Hundley and Franklin, aided by home field advantage, needed to have super games. Also Stanford's redshirt freshman QB Kevin Hogan had to screw up. Well, the Bruins' offensive stars didn't shine and Hogan managed the game nicely. All he had to do was hand off to RB Stepfan Taylor, who piled up 140 yards in 20 carries, burning up clock in the process..The Bruins' defense couldn't stop that Stanford O line, which has blossomed into one of the best in the country

If you're betting, taking UCLA, a nine-point underdog, is a little risky. According to handicappers, if these teams played 20 times, Stanford would win 15. Also, Stanford hardly ever loses in November. Since late in that month in 2009, the Cardinal has won 12 of 13 November games. Here's another stat in the Cardinal's favor: since 2010 it's 22-9 against the spread.

Look for Stanford to win against UCLA, dominating in the trenches.

But if Hundley and Franklin soar, the Bruins might even beat the spread or, against a superior veteran team, eke out a victory. Smart money is on Stanford. But not having learned my lesson last week, I might just go out on a limb and take the Bruins.