Sun Bowl Sucker Bet: Take UCLA ATS Over Pittsburgh

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The UCLA Bruins (9-3) are trying to win their first bowl in the Chip Kelly era (est. 2018) when they play the Pittsburgh Panthers (8-4) in the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas Friday.

Pitt has been decimated by the offseason (opt-outs and the transfer portal). While UCLA enters the Sun Bowl almost fully intact. This most certainly explains the line movement.

However, we are behind the sharps in the transfer portal and opt-out news so we are getting the worst of the number. Another strategy would be to in-game bet UCLA if they get down early.

Pittsburgh Panthers head coach Pat Narduzzi reacts during the 2nd half of their game against the North Carolina Tar Heels at Kenan Memorial Stadium in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Pittsburgh Panthers head coach Pat Narduzzi reacts during the 2nd half of their game against the North Carolina Tar Heels at Kenan Memorial Stadium in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

But, maybe Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi tries to shake things up with a new quarterback under center. The Panthers kinda need to do something different in bowl games.

That could backfire on the Panthers though since they are the more undisciplined team. Pitt has a -17 net in first downs by penalty and a -2 turnover margin. 

More importantly, the Panthers are 1-5 overall (-6.0 margin of victory) and ATS (-7.4 spread differential) since Narduzzi took over Pitt’s football program in 2015. 

Betting Details (DraftKings)

  • Moneyline: Pittsburgh (+185), UCLA (-215)
  • Against the spread (ATS): Pittsburgh +6.5 (-115), UCLA -6.5 (-105)
  • Total — 53 — Over: -110, Under: -110

The Sun Bowl opened with UCLA laying 3 points. The Bruins have steamed up the current number since several Panthers left the program after the regular season.

Pitt opt-outs include All-American DT Calijah Kancey, first-team All-ACC RB Israel Abanikanda, and first-team All-ACC LB SirVocea Dennis.

As well as Panthers All-ACC honorable mentions DE Deslin Alexandre and S Brandon Hill. Also, now-former starting QB Kedon Slovis transferred to BYU. 

UCLA on the other hand has reported no opt-outs for the Sun Bowl. Fifth-year senior QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson and First-Team All-Pac-12 RB Zach Charbonnet

PASADENA, CA - OCTOBER 02: UCLA Bruins QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson hands off to RB Zach Charbonnet for a run against the Arizona State Sun Devils at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.
PASADENA, CA – OCTOBER 02: UCLA Bruins QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson hands off to RB Zach Charbonnet for a run against the Arizona State Sun Devils at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. (Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

DTR took over the starting job in Kelly’s first season with the Bruins. He could have FOMO of never playing in a bowl game. UCLA’s scheduled 2021 Holiday Bowl game with NC State was cancelled due to COVID.

A win in the Sun Bowl would give this Bruins team 10 wins. Tying the program-high that nine other UCLA teams have accomplished. My read is DTR wants to end his college career on a win and leave the Bruins in a better spot than when he got there. 

Also, the strength of Pitt’s team is the run defense. But, that side of the ball has been decimated by Panthers opt-outs. Plus they’ve only faced three opponents inside the top-50 in yards per rush.

UCLA leads the country in yards per rush (6.1) and line yards per snap, according to Football Outsiders. I don’t trust Pitt’s defense to stop UCLA on the ground given the opt-outs. 

Pittsburgh Panthers DT Calijah Kancey celebrates with S Brandon Hill after sacking Rhode Island Rams QB Kasim Hill at Acrisure Stadium in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Pittsburgh Panthers DT Calijah Kancey celebrates with S Brandon Hill after sacking Rhode Island Rams QB Kasim Hill at Acrisure Stadium in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

Finally, a Pac-12 team has played a team from the ACC in nine of the last 10 Sun Bowls. The Pac-12 is 7-2 overall in those meetings. These weird bowl-game trends and conference histories are woven into the fabric of college football.

When handicapping Wednesday’s Texas Bowl, I overlooked the Big XII’s six-game (and now seven) winning streak in the Texas Bowl. That bit me in the ass when Texas Tech handled Ole Miss 42-25.

Well, the Pac-12 has dominated the Sun Bowl recently, let’s lay the points with the Bruins Friday. 

Sun Bowl Best Bet: UCLA -6.5 (-105) at DraftKings Sportsbook

The UCLA Bruins' odds vs. the Pittsburgh Panthers in the Sun Bowl from DraftKings Sportsbook as of Thursday, December 29th at 9:30 a.m. ET.
The UCLA Bruins’ odds vs. the Pittsburgh Panthers in the Sun Bowl from DraftKings Sportsbook as of Thursday, December 29th at 9:30 a.m. ET.

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Written by Geoff Clark

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