The Texas A&M-UCLA game is one of the best Week 1 matchups, and fittingly it will be featured in a prime-time slot on Sunday, September 3.
The Aggies won at home over the Bruins in last season’s opener; this time, the teams will meet at the Rose Bowl, which is UCLA’s home field.
“The opening game of the season will give UCLA a chance to avenge the season-opening defeat at the hands of Texas A&M. Unlike last season, Texas A&M will be making a long trip to L.A, and having to face the Bruins in their house does not favor the Aggies in the online betting odds for Week 1,” says MyBookie.ag line manager David Strauss.
Each team would seem to have an advantage at a key position: Texas A&M has a talented rushing attack, while UCLA features one of the best quarterbacks in the nation in Josh Rosen.
Here’s a closer look at the positions where each team will work to press its advantage September 3.
Position: Running back
Why the Aggies have the edge: Trayveon Williams was outstanding as a true freshman last season, providing the Aggies with a breakaway threat that had been lacking for a decade. The former four-star prospect rushed for 1,057 yards and eight touchdowns in 2016, and should be even better in Year Two.
Keith Ford, a former five-star prospect who began his career at Oklahoma before transferring, is a solid No. 2 back who rushed for 669 yards and six TDs last season.
A&M also returns star wide receiver Christian Kirk, who is important to the rushing attack for two reasons. One is that he can be a weapon on jet sweeps. More important, though, is that he can make teams pay for putting a safety in the box. Kirk can get deep, especially if there is no safety help over the top.
Texas A&M averaged 211.9 rushing yards per game last season and returns its top two rushers. UCLA, on the other hand, was horrid on the ground last season. The Bruins managed just 1,011 rushing yards as a team, and the per-game average of 84.3 yards was 127th nationally.
Why the Bruins have the edge: UCLA’s offense struggled last season because the rushing attack was embarrassingly bad. Quarterback Josh Rosen was a preseason Heisman favorite, but missed the final six games with a shoulder injury. He wasn’t all that sharp before the injury, either, because of the inept rushing attack. But with Rosen entering his third season healthy, expectations are once again high.
Let’s not forget Rosen’s breakout true freshman season, in which he threw for 3,669 yards, 23 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Also, UCLA’s line is expected to be improved, if only because it can’t really be worse and leading receiver Darren Andrews is back in the fold.
Plus, there’s reason for optimism with new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, a former Michigan assistant with NFL experience. The biggest priority is fixing the running game, which should open up opportunities for Rosen.
Texas A&M, meanwhile, will have a new starting quarterback; it seems likely to be strong-armed redshirt freshman Nick Starkel. Starkel has a big arm and a nice upside, but making your first start in front of a hostile crowd at the Rose Bowl certainly is not ideal.
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