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UCLA Bruins vs. Stanford Cardinal Preview and Prediction

Christian McCaffrey

Christian McCaffrey

The allure of this match has waned over the past two weeks. First, UCLA lost at home by 15 points to unranked Arizona State two Saturdays ago. Then, Stanford's sole loss at Northwestern to open the season looks much less forgivable after Michigan steamrolled the Wildcats 38-0 last Saturday.

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Despite the lost glimmer of this game, both teams still remain in serious contention for their respective divisions within the Pac-12. They might even have an outside shot at advancing to the College Football Playoff if most of the undefeated teams drop a game over the next several weeks. However, a second loss would end all hope of sneaking into the final four.

UCLA leads the overall series 45-38-3. However, Stanford holds the advantage 23-19-2 in the games played in Palo Alto. The Cardinal have won the seven most recent matches between these programs.

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UCLA at Stanford

Kickoff: 10:30 p.m. ET (Thursday)

TV Channel: ESPN

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Spread: Stanford -6.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Stanford's running attack keeps steamrolling?

UCLA has allowed an average of 197 yards and a touchdown in rushing per game to opponents. Stanford's running game has gained 209.8 yards and 2.4 touchdowns on average. However, in Pac-12 contests, the Cardinal's rushing average jumped to 278 yards and 3.67 touchdowns. If that latter trend continues, the Cardinal could trample the Bruins en route to victory.

2. Can Bruins relocate their running game against a stout Cardinal run defense?

UCLA struggled on the ground in its most recent game, only gaining 62 yards and one touchdown. In the first four, the Bruins averaged 233.5 yards of rushing and 2.75 touchdowns per game. In contrast, Stanford has only allowed an average of 127.8 yards. Northwestern was the only team to have gained more than 155 yards. The question is whether UCLA's one-game struggle was an anomaly or Stanford's defense can continue to hold down foes' rushing attacks.

3. Urgency vs. Complacency

UCLA has little room for error. In the South Division, the Bruins trail Arizona State (against whom they have already lost) and Utah (whom they still have to play). A second defeat in-conference would cripple the Bruins' shot at winning the Pac-12. Plus, they would certainly want to redeem themselves for the embarrassing performance against Arizona State.

A loss to UCLA would not devastate the Cardinal's quest to win the Pac-12 North. Stanford would still control its path to Santa Clara for the conference championship game. The Cardinal have smashed the last two Pac-12 opponents by double-digit point totals. However, Oregon State and Arizona without Anu Solomon are not on par with UCLA.

Final Analysis

With longer than a week to prepare for this game for both teams, viewers should expect a few novelties on both sides of the ball. UCLA will try some new strategies to blunt the Cardinal's running assault. The Bruins' offense will also continue to hammer away on the ground. Those efforts will keep the score close through the third quarter. No team will lead by more than seven during the first three quarters as they will trade scores. However, Stanford's determined "ground and pound" will eventually bleed the game clock and put away the Bruins.

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Prediction: Stanford 41, UCLA 30 

— Written by John La Fleur, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network. A graduate of Michigan State and LSU, La Fleur also has been a Saints fan since he was old enough to understand football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur.