UCLA Bruins vs. NC State Pick – NCAA Holiday Bowl December 28, 2021

The UCLA Bruins and North Carolina State Wolfpack clash in the Holiday Bowl at Petco Park in San Diego. UCLA has the home state advantage, but the Wolfpack are the No. 18 team in the country while the Bruins are unranked.

The Holiday Bowl and all of the other bowl games are all tentative at this point. We know that UCLA has some Covid issues, though the extent of their infections is not known.

If UCLA pulls out and forfeits, the Holiday Bowl will not happen, naturally. The Hawaii Bowl, Military Bowl, Fenway Bowl, and Sun Bowl have been cancelled.

The Washington State Cougars are still attempting to find a team to play in the Sun Bowl after Miami dropped out, so maybe that works out, but I wouldn’t be too confident. This did happen with the Gator Bowl, though.

The Rutgers Scarlet Knights are replacing the Texas A&M Aggies who don’t have enough players to field a team. That’s great for the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.

If UCLA drops out of the Holiday Bowl, NC State doesn’t have ample time to find a replacement. UCLA came on late this season with three straight wins to finish the regular season at 8-4.

Chip Kelly needed that stretch badly after a 44-24 loss to the Utah Utes. He was on the hot seat before getting the season back on track. A 62-33 win over the USC Trojans on November 20 put Kelly back in decent standing.

UCLA didn’t hire Kelly to beat up on mediocre teams, though. They want the Kelly that went to the College Football Playoff at Oregon.

Dorian Thompson-Robinson looked the part of being his next Marcus Mariota, they play a similar style, but he’s been unable to elevate UCLA to that level. It’d be nice if the defense would make a play or two.

Covid hasn’t been as a problem for the Wolfpack as the Bruins leading up to game day.

NC State goes into the Holiday Bowl off back-to-back wins versus Syracuse, 41-17, and North Carolina, 34-30. They can get into the double digits at 10-3, which might motivate them to play well.

Quarterback Devin Leary could have opted for the NFL after three years of college football, though he is scheduled to return after a breakout campaign. Leary will look to build on this season and put together a great resume for the NFL in 2022.

Leary hopes to be the next Wolfpack quarterback drafted in the first round since Philip Rivers in 2004. Head below for our free UCLA vs. NC State pick on December 28, 2021.

UCLA Bruins vs. North Carolina State Wolfpack Betting Odds and Team Statistics:

The following odds are courtesy of BetOnline:

Teams Spread Moneyline Total
UCLA Bruins +1.5 (-110) +110 Over 60 (-110)
NC State Wolfpack -1.5 (-110) -130 Under 60 (-110)
Team Data UCLA Bruins NC State Wolfpack
Overall Record 8-4 9-3
ATS Record 8-4-0 7-5-0
Points Per Game 36.5 33.1
Points Against Per Game 26.8 19.7
Passing Yards Per Game 226.2 288.4
Rushing Yards Per Game 219.7 126.6

UCLA vs. NC State Prediction:

The UCLA Bruins will have to generate a pass rush to get home against Devin Leary. If they can’t, Leary will pick the UCLA secondary to pieces in this one.

Throughout the season, UCLA has struggled to get to quarterbacks, and I can’t see it getting any better in the Holiday Bowl with Covid issues.

The Bruins have struggled against the pass with 260.2 yards allowed through the air. They were 111th in the FBS against the pass, with a total of 387 yards conceded per game for 74th.

NC State isn’t going to bother to run it much in this one, especially with defensive back Qwuantrezz Knight unable to play because of Covid protocols.

At the same time, Knight declared for the NFL Draft, so he will not be playing even if he could clear the Covid list in time. Knight is a solid talent and a leader for the Bruins’ defense.

His absence against a quarterback like Leary is going to hurt. Leary has passed for 3,433 yards, 35 touchdowns, and 5 touchdowns on 65.7% completions.

The pocket passer can’t run, but he stands tall and delivers a nice ball. NC State is 19th in the FBS with an average of 288.4 passing yards through the air.

UCLA Bruins vs. NC State Wolfpack Betting Trends:


  • 5-2 ATS in their previous seven games
  • 5-2 ATS in their previous seven games as an underdog
  • 1-6 ATS in their previous seven games versus a team with a winning record
  • 4-14 ATS in their previous 18 games versus a non-conference team
  • 1-4 ATS in their previous five games in December

NC State

  • 5-0 ATS in their previous five games as a betting favorite
  • 8-3-1 ATS in thier previous 12 bowl games
  • 6-1 ATS in their previous seven games as a favorite at a neutral field
  • 5-0 ATS in their previous five games after failing to cover the spread
  • 4-1 ATS in their previous five games in December

The Wolfpack has a sizable advantage defensively in this one. While UCLA hasn’t been able to get into the backfield consistently, NC State will come at Dorian Thompson-Robinson often in this one.

NC State is 23rd in the FBS, with 331.7 yards conceded per game. Attacking a weak point of their defense is difficult.

The Wolfpack are solid versus the pass and the run. They play both kinds of offenses well. Against the pass, NC State has allowed 207.6 passing yards per game for 33rd.

It’s important to be fundamentally sound against the run versus UCLA, which the Wolfpack can do as well. NC State is 25th in the nation with 124.1 yards against on the ground per game.

They’ve given up less than 20 points per game and should contain UCLA well enough in the Holiday Bowl. Neutralizing them completely will be tough; DTR will go off for a long run or two, but NC State likely won’t break.

This season, UCLA hasn’t beaten a ranked team, and they’ve gone just 1-6 ATS in their previous seven outings versus a team with a winning record.

The Bruins are dealing with Covid and have to deal with a competent quarterback in Leary in the Holiday Bowl. I like the Wolfpack to win and wrap up the year at 10-3.


UCLA vs. NC State Pick
Kyle E / Author

Kyle is a veteran of TheSportsGeek and has spent nearly a decade providing accurate sports picks and writeups here. He has been a sports handicapper for 10+ years and started sharing his picks and thoughts in 2011 at TheSportsGeek. His expertise spans across multiple sports, including the NFL, NCAAF, MLB, NHL, and horse racing. Prior to writing for TheSportsGeek, Kyle was a fantasy football expert, who ultimately parlayed it into a successful sports betting career. You can find his picks daily only at TheSportsGeek.

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