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College Football Odds & Pick For Utah vs. UCLA: Bet the Utes Despite COVID-19 Issues

College Football Odds & Pick For Utah vs. UCLA: Bet the Utes Despite COVID-19 Issues article feature image

Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson.

Editor’s Note: As of Friday, Nov. 13 around 3:30 p.m. ET, Utah vs. UCLA game has been canceled due to COVID-19 concerns within the Utes program. The following analysis remains largely unadulterated in order to best serve your long-term betting needs.

Breaking: Utah-UCLA has been canceled due to a high number of COVID-19 cases in the Utah program.

Cal-Arizona State was also canceled on Friday and the Pac-12 is looking into the possibility of Cal playing UCLA at the Rose Bowl on Sunday, sources told ESPN.

— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) November 13, 2020

Utah vs. UCLA Odds

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After Utah’s season opener was canceled last Saturday, COVID-19 protocols are forcing the Utes to dig themselves out of a hole just to face UCLA at the Rose Bowl.

Utah must overcome missed practices and likely player absences, along with the departure of most of its impact players from a team that was a victory over Oregon away from making the College Football Playoff.

This sets up for a potentially new level of uncertainty in #PAC12AfterDark, but find out why you should pounce on this chance to buy low and back the Utes in Pasadena.

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Utah Utes

Utah hopes to open its season at the Rose Bowl after two position groups were “decimated,” according to coach Kyle Whittingham, leading to the school being unable to field a team against Arizona. The question isn’t whether the Utes will have players ruled out due to virus protocol this week, but rather how many will be out and how crippling are the losses to key position groups?

The Utes have been preparing as much as possible for absences to key players in practice. Whittingham has noted that some scout team players and walk-ons have been getting reps normally limited to first- and second-team players. Utah has not disclosed any of the players in virus protocol, and it is unlikely that the program shares any information on player availability until around kickoff — if there is a kickoff (fingers crossed).

Overall, this roster should be able to survive some absences if a starter and/or backup are absent at most positions. Utah’s key position unit to monitor is the secondary. The Utes lost every starter from last season there, with two of those starters (Jaylon Johnson and Julian Blackmon) impressing in their first NFL seasons.

Utah was already planning on starting a young secondary without much experience, and virus protocols may force this young group to play together with even less cohesion than expected.

A position group where Utah is surprisingly deep is quarterback. Despite losing Tyler Huntley to graduation, Utah will likely start either sophomore Cam Rising or South Carolina graduate transfer Jake Bentley. The Utes may be able to survive even with the absence of the top two quarterbacks on the depth chart, as Whittingham recently referred to Drew Lisk as the best third-string quarterback in the country.

Utah should have difference-makers on the offensive and defensive lines. Nick Ford (who moves from guard to left tackle) and right tackle Simi Moala return from last year’s young offensive line that should be much improved with better depth. Despite losing Leki Fotu, John Pensini and Bradley Anae to the NFL, Utah still has plenty of talent on the defensive front, as end Mika Tafua and tackle Viane Moala were named to preseason Pac-12 teams.

The Utes also bring back a promising group of pass-catchers led by preseason first-team, all-Pac-12 tight end Brant Kuithe. Fellow tight end Cole Fotheringham will also be a valuable contributor as a blocker and receiver. Bryan Thompson, Solomon Ennis, Samson Nacua and the versatile Britain Covey highlight what should be a deep receiving group.

UCLA Bruins

Despite being favored by a touchdown,  UCLA lost its opener, 48-42, at Colorado. The Bruins dug a quick 35-7 hole after turning the ball over four times (three fumbles and an interception) in the first half. UCLA gave Colorado three turnovers inside its own 25-yard line, which led to three quick Buffaloes touchdowns.

Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson made some big plays, like his 65-yard rushing touchdown, but he also had a fumble and interception, as well as at least two potential interceptions that were dropped. He threw for 303 yards and four touchdowns but only completed 50% of his passes.

If UCLA wants to end its four-game losing streak to Utah, Thompson-Robinson will need to deliver a much more consistent performance, especially with UCLA’s porous defense.

That Bruins defense was pushed over by Colorado’s 264 rushing yards on 59 carries. The Buffaloes didn’t bust big plays to gash UCLA, but instead consistently won their matchups on the line of scrimmage en route to first down after first down. Their longest rush was 37 yards.

While Colorado’s running back Jarek Broussard impressed in his college debut, UCLA’s defense equally disappointed with missed tackle after missed tackle gifting Colorado bigger gains than warranted.

This UCLA team looks very similar to last year’s team. The offense has the potential to make big plays and score, but it consistently shoots itself in the foot and the defense is a collective turnstile.

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Betting Analysis & Pick

Utah’s precarious COVID-19 situation is obviously not ideal, but if there was an ideal Pac-12 team to play in this scenario for Utah, this seemingly undisciplined UCLA team would be at or near the top of the list.

While UCLA has flashy big-play potential with Dorian Thompson and versatile running back Demetric Felton, I expect Utah to win in the trenches and limit the big plays that Colorado surrendered last week.

While we don’t know how Utah’s roster will be affected by COVID-19 protocols, there is value to buy low on the Utes to cover just 2.5 points. As of Thursday, Utah’s athletic director Mark Harlan has noted the last few days of testing have been encouraging and the game is on track to be played.

Keep an eye on updates for Utah, and be wary if the secondary has multiple absences. The Utes should be able to survive some losses at most position groups outside of that one. In last week’s first #Pac12AfterDark matchup, Washington State played without 32 players and still won on the road at Oregon State.

Utah has so much roster turnover that missing Week 1 could give them a slight advantage. The Utes have tape on UCLA, but the Bruins have none on them.

I trust Utah to be strong on both lines of scrimmage. I give Whittingham the coaching edge over Chip Kelly, and I just don’t trust this UCLA team. Utah has won four consecutive games against UCLA, including a 49-3 rout last season.

I love Utah -2.5 and up to -6.5 against a deeply-flawed foe. Utah should move the ball on the ground, with a somewhat intact offensive line against a poor Bruins defensive front. That should set up opportunities for big plays with its deep group of tight ends and receivers.

UCLA doesn’t have the ability to adequately stretch the field to attack weak spots in the Utah secondary consistently to make up for its leaky defense.

If Utah weathers the storm and only loses a few starters, yet retains most depth in its secondary, back Utah up to -9.5 on Saturday after confirming who is available.

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