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The Sun Bowl: UCLA Bruins vs. Virginia Tech Hokies Pick-Odds-Prediction 12/31/13

Virginia Tech Hokies (8-4) at UCLA Bruins (9-3)

College Football: Tuesday, December 31, 2013 at 2:00 pm (Sun Bowl)

The Line: UCLA Bruins -5.5 -- Over/Under: 50 See the Latest Odds


Storyline: The Sun Bowl pits a 17th-ranked UCLA team looking to keep rising with its first bowl victory in four years against a Virginia Tech team entering its 21st consecutive postseason, the longest active streak under any one coach in the nation.

The Breakdown: UCLA roared to a 5-0 start in 2013, including wins over #23 Nebraska, Utah and Cal before dropping two straight at #13 Stanford and #3 Oregon. The Bruins finished strong, however, rattling off three straight and taking four of their final five, culminating in a 35-14 rout over crosstown rival USC in the season finale.

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The Sun Bowl: UCLA Bruins vs. Virginia Tech Hokies Pick-Odds-Prediction 12/31/13

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

In only his second year, head coach Jim Mora has the Bruin program surging. After last season ended in relative failure with three straight defeats (back to back losses to Stanford), including a poor showing against Baylor in the Holiday Bowl, Mora now has a chance to lead the Bruins to their first 10 win season in 8 years. Key to that end will be sophomore QB Brett Hundley, who completed a Pac-12 best 67.8 percent of his passes for 2,845 yards and 22 touchdowns to 9 interceptions, while also leading the team in rushing with 587 yards and 9 touchdowns. Hundley’s top target is senior WR Shaquelle Evans, who caught 43 balls for 617 yards and 8 touchdowns.. Pac 12 freshman of the year Myles Jack, a LB who burst onto the scene as a RB late in the season with 267 yards and 7 touchdowns, is also likely to make an impact. Defensively, UCLA ranks 37th in the country in scoring defense, allowing 24.1 points per outing and senior LB Anthony Barr (63 Tackles, 10 Sacks) is this unit’s standout.

Virginia Tech, meanwhile, limped to the finish line after going 6-1 in the first half of the season, with impressive wins over Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Pittsburgh. The Hokies would drop three of their last five, losing to Duke, Boston College and Maryland, with the highlight of the season a 42-24 upset of then 11th-ranked Miami.

Virginia Tech brings the country’s 53rd-ranked passing offense, averaging 241.3 yards per game, and its 97th-ranked scoring offense, averaging 23.4 points per contest. Senior QB Logan Thomas (2,861 YDs, 16 TDs, 13 INTs) will be making his third consecutive postseason appearance after splitting the last two, losing to Michigan in the 2011 Sugar Bowl and downing Rugers in last year’s Russell Athletic Bowl. He’ll be joined in the backfield by freshman RB Trey Edmunds (675 YDs, 10 TDs). Jr. WR Willie Byrn (49 REC, 635 YDs) is Thomas’ top target. The Hokies own one of the nation’s best defenses in virtually every statistical category, ranking 7th against the run (103.8 YDS), 3rd against the pass (168.5 YDs) and 4th in total defense (269.6YDs).  Va Tech also ranks 9th in the country in scoring defense, allowing 17.4 points per outing and 5th in INTs with 19. Freshman CB Kendall Fuller (19 INTs), ACC defensive rookie of the year is one of this unit’s standouts.

Rick’s Pick: The line in this one is currently set at -5.5 for UCLA with a 50 point total. This might be one of the only bowl games this season where defense is the headliner. UCLA’s Anthony Barr is maybe the best defensive NFL prospect in the country, while Va Tech fields one of the best 5 overall defenses in the land. The key looks to be how Hundley responds to the maelstrom Bud Foster is sure to unleash on him. On the flipside, Logan Thomas is hard to peg, he’s so up and down. The under looks to be the safest play here.

 Follow me on Twitter @SCPRick

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