Week 6 CFN Fearless Prediction – UCLA at California
UCLA (4-1) at Cal (1-4) Oct. 6, 10:00, Pac-12 Network
Here's The Deal: Two programs going down very different paths meet with very different agendas: UCLA wants to keep rolling. Cal wants to stop the bleeding. The Bears are off to a decade-worst 1-4 start, the kind that makes athletic directors wonder if a change in command is necessary. Sure, the schedule has certainly been rugged over the last three weeks, all losses, but the program is running out of time if it plans to salvage something positive in 2012. If Cal can't hold serve at home this week, any hopes for the postseason will essentially be obliterated. To the contrary, the Bruins are still flying high after starting with an unexpected four wins in their first five games. They rebounded from their lone loss of the year, to unbeaten Oregon State, disposing of Colorado in Boulder, 42-14. Back in the AP poll at No. 25, UCLA can exorcise some recent demons with a win in Berkeley, where it's dropped six consecutive games.
Why UCLA Might Win: Not a lot is going right for Cal on either side of the ball at this stage of the season. The O-line is as protective as a swinging gate, and the secondary has already been beaten for 13 touchdown passes. Bears QB Zach Maynard was sacked seven times last week, a big problem since the Bruins rank No. 10 nationally at bringing down the quarterback. They'll unleash DE Datone Jones and outside linebackers Anthony Barr and Damien Holmes on a unit that's just not quick enough to keep the pocket clean. On offense, the running of Johnathan Franklin and deep balls of Brett Hundley will keep the Cal D reeling.
Why Cal Might Win: Obviously, the Bears offense isn't going anywhere unless the line gets its act together. But if the front wall can get a hat on someone, the program harbors a lot of playmakers at the skill positions. Maynard is now a veteran, with the versatility and the partner in the passing game, WR Keenan Allen, to move the ball downfield. The backfield features an eclectic mix of talent, including steady Isi Sofele, powerful C.J. Anderson and game-breaker Brendan Bigelow. When UCLA lost to Oregon State, the defense suffered breakdowns and allowed almost 500 yards of offense.
What To Watch Out For: Cal ranks last in the Pac-12 in run defense, rarely making the kinds of stops near the line of scrimmage that take some heat off the linebackers. A visit from Franklin could be the Bears' toughest test so far this season. The senior leads the conference in rushing, and is No. 4 nationally, running and catching his way into the consciousness of fans and NFL scouts. Pass protection has been a bit of a bugaboo in Westwood, but as long as the Bruins line keeps opening up gaping holes on the ground, the offense ought to be just fine.
What Will Happen: Cal has shown nothing in the first half of the season that indicates it's ready to beat a quality opponent. And last week, Arizona State snapped a five-game losing streak in Strawberry Canyon, so history means little with this Bears team. UCLA stumbled two weeks ago, but popped right back up in Boulder a week ago, an encouraging sign for Jim Mora's squad. The Bruins will win the battles in the trenches, turning loose Franklin on offense, and harassing Maynard when Cal has the ball. Although it's never easy winning conference road games, the gap between these two schools is getting increasingly wider.
CFN Prediction: UCLA 31 … Cal 26
ATS Consultants Line UCLA -2.5 O/U: 54
Must Watch Rating (5 – Master, 1 – Trouble with the Curve): 2.5