UCLA vs Utah Odds, Picks, and Predictions: Utes Force a Grind in Mountains

Cam Rising's injury status has sent this spread in flux all week, but our college football picks have found an alternate market with enticing value for this Utah-UCLA Pac-12 showdown.

Douglas Farmer - Betting Analyst at Covers
Douglas Farmer • Betting Analyst
Sep 23, 2023 • 11:56 ET • 4 min read
Cam Rising NCAAF
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The Utah Utes may finally have their star QB healthy enough to return, just in time for conference action. And in the Pac 12’s final season, Utah doesn't get to ease into the conference schedule. The UCLA Bruins don't have the proven track record of the Utes, but they do have a promising young quarterback who could turn the conference on its head.

Is Cam Rising's convalescence enough to side with Utah, even as the college football odds ticked back in its direction with subtle confirmation of his health?

Here are our free college football picks and predictions for UCLA vs. Utah on September 23, with kickoff set for 3:30 p.m. ET.

UCLA vs Utah best odds

UCLA vs Utah picks and predictions

This handicapper is a long-time believer in, “Sell on bad news, buy on good.” That default method of fading public overreactions is a long-term winning strategy and one seemingly quite applicable to this massive Pac-12 game.

It’s not.

The earliest lines this week opened with Utah favored by seven points, fitting with the late-week lookahead lines from a week ago, which tended toward -6.5 heading into Sunday. But within minutes of the market open on Sunday, the Bruins took action until the number was down to -4.5.

The books began the week thinking Cam Rising would play. Bettors disagreed.

Now that he is back in the lineup — there may not be official word until a bit before kickoff, but Rising was described as a full participant in practice last week and this Thursday’s line move back to -4.5 from -6.5 is a rather loud tell — this spread landing back near where it was when the books expected Rising to play is not an overreaction.

This is where the number would have been all week if not for some sharps’ doubts in Rising’s ACL.

Rising will have a better command on Utah’s offense than his backups did, playing with only portions of the playbook at their disposal, though he may also be lacking some chemistry with his receivers. Logic says Rising is healthy enough to play — the ACL recovery timeline has shortened to 9-10 months ever since Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson returned to action in that short a span back in 2012, a superhuman feat at the time that then became the norm — but he may not be dialed all the way in mentally. Some hesitancy would be only human nature.

Thus, Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham could be well-served to ease Rising into the game, and shorten it as much as possible, something Utah has already excelled at in short-handed wins against Florida and at Baylor.

Rice-Eccles Stadium is universally considered one of the toughest places to play in college football, filled with 51,444 fans accustomed to the 4,265 feet of elevation. UCLA’s lone road game thus far, a 35-10 win at San Diego State, featured about 19,000 fewer fans and was more than 4,000 feet closer to sea level.

Bruins freshman quarterback Dante Moore looks like the real deal. He could single-handedly raise UCLA’s ceiling this season. But making a mistake in his first action in this environment would be only natural. Bruins head coach Chip Kelly has more than 30 years of coaching experience, including 17 at these highest levels of football. He should know how to ease Moore into the atmosphere, lessen his load early, and let his confidence gradually build.

If human nature suggests both quarterbacks may build their way into a rhythm on Saturday afternoon, does much else need to be said to justify taking a first-half Under?

My best bet: First-half Under 26.5 points (-108 at FanDuel)
Picks made at time of writing may not reflect live odds.

Not intended for use in MA.
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UCLA vs Utah same-game parlay

First-half Under 24.5 points
Utah ML
Carson Steele anytime touchdown

Exclude the 2020 season for rather obvious reasons. The Pac-12 season was even more fraught than the rest of the country’s, and thus Utah played only five games, unable to have fans in attendance for the three home games.

So, excluding that year, the Utes have won 25 straight games at home, including 20 straight against FBS opponents. Whittingham has found enough success to engender a raucous atmosphere, and that combination has become a house of horrors for opponents. Utah winning at home is not a guarantee, but it may be the closest thing to a guarantee in the chaos of the Pac-12’s top half.

That does not mean some Bruins will not find success. Moore may get the headlines and be the catapult toward greater things for UCLA, but Ball State transfer running back Carson Steele is the most dynamic piece of Kelly’s 2023 offense. Steele has a touchdown in each game this season, two on the ground and his first through the air, averaging 15 touches per game against FBS opponents.

No matter how much this game may grind down, no matter how tense it may be, no matter how many mistakes Moore may or may not make, the ball will end up in Steele’s hands. The Carson Steele odds of a touchdown do not properly take into consideration that he is the only sure thing to have those opportunities.

Learn how to bet a same-game parlay with these helpful tips and strategies.

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UCLA vs Utah spread and Over/Under analysis

As mentioned, this spread bounced around depending on the most recent vibes around Rising’s return. With him, -6.5 or -7 in Utah’s favor has been the standard on the market. If he were to suddenly be ruled out, books would quickly adjust back to -4.5.

That aspect may make this a hesitant trend to act upon, but it is worth nothing that in those 20 straight FBS wins at home, the Utes are 15-5 ATS. In the 17 straight wins against Pac-12 opponents at home, Utah is 14-3 ATS.

The total opened at 54.5 before getting quickly knocked down to 52.5 on Sunday and even 51.5 on Tuesday before rebounding back to 52.5.

Whittingham’s recipe in Rice-Eccles has leaned a bit on Under tendencies, hitting the Under in 11 of those FBS matchups since the winning streak began in 2018 (still excluding 2020) with one of the exceptions a push. Against conference foes, that has been nine out of 17 games to the Under, again with one of the remaining eight being a push.

Colorado vs Oregon betting trend to know

The Utes went 5-1 ATS at home last season. Find more college football betting trends for UCLA vs Utah.

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UCLA vs Utah game info

Location: Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City, UT
Date: Saturday, September 23, 2023
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET

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