2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl Illinois vs UCLA Odds, Free Picks and Predictions on ESPN 12/31/11

Free College Football Bowl Picks and Spreads: Illinois vs UCLA 2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl Vegas Odds, Free Picks, and Expert Predictions on ESPN 12/31/11: If they gave out an award for the worst bowl game, Saturday’s Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl would have a good shot at winning. The Illinois Fighting Illini (6-6) limps into the matchup having lost six straight games, while the UCLA Bruins (6-7) made a postseason appearance despite having a losing record. Neither side will have its head coach after Ron Zook and Rick Neuheisel were both fired after the regular season, leaving a pair of interim coaches to prepare the teams. If there is a more uninteresting bowl on paper, it’s tough to find. Since somebody has to be the favorite, the Illini is giving three points in the matchup.

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The sad thing is that UCLA actually played in the PAC-12 Championship because of USC’s NCAA probation, and had the Bruins upset Oregon, they would have gone to a BCS bowl. Of course, Illinois’ story is equally stunning. The Illini opened the year with six straight wins, climbing inside the top 20 in the rankings. Zook’s team somehow managed to follow the winning streak with a six-game losing streak, going from Big Ten contender to irrelevant in a matter of weeks. Needless to say, neither side is likely to have much confidence entering the game. Throw in the fact that interim coaches are running the show for both sides, and it is tough to know what to expect on the field.

On paper, both teams have similar offensive numbers in terms of points scored. However, the Bruins have a significant edge in yardage thanks to an effective running game. Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman formed a potent rushing duo for UCLA this year, combining for more than 1,600 yards and 16 scores. More importantly, both backs averaged more than five yards per carry. Facing a stingy Illini defense that is giving up just 20.1 points per game, the Bruins will need their backs to play well if they are going to score points.

For Illinois, scoring points was a serious issue during the losing streak. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase embodied the streaky play of the Illini, throwing just two of his 12 touchdowns in the final six games. However, Illinois gets a chance to face a UCLA defense that has been gashed numerous times this season. The Bruins are allowing more than 32 points per game to opponents, and even the sputtering Illini offense may be able to put some points on the board.

A pair of receivers could be the X-factors in this one. Illinois’ A.J. Jenkins had nearly 1,200 receiving yards this season, along with seven touchdowns. When Illinois was playing well, Jenkins was making big plays in the passing game and stretching the field. He has to get back to doing that Saturday if the Illini are going to exploit the UCLA defense. Meanwhile, Bruins’ receiver Nelson Rosario finished with more than 1,100 receiving yards, averaging an impressive 18.1 yards per catch. UCLA didn’t have much of a passing attack, but Rosario has to make an impact in order to keep the stout Illinois defense from sitting on the run. Rosario is going to have chances to make big plays, and he has to capitalize if UCLA is going to win.

Despite entering with a six-game losing streak, the Illini has to like this matchup. The Bruins’ offense is mediocre at best, and Illinois’ defense should be able to control the UCLA offense. Given their issues putting points on the board, a low-scoring game favors the Fighting Illini. The Bruins’ defense has been bad enough to allow Scheelhaase to find some scoring opportunities, and the Illinois defense should do the rest.

Prediction: Illinois Fighting Illini (-3) Cover the Spread

Free College Football Picks and NCAAF Predictions: Illinois -3 to cover the spread

2011 Fight Hunger Bowl: Illinois vs UCLA
Date: 12/31/11
Time: 3:30 PM EST on ESPN
Vegas Odds Favorite: Illinois -3 Total: Over/Under 46.5

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