Stanford at UCLA game line, pick: Christian McCaffrey gets Week 4 Heisman spotlight

Christian McCaffrey doesn't get many stages during the regular season like the one. There are only about three or four games per year where Stanford gets the 8 p.m. ET kickoff on national television, a spot that, for better or worse, informs much of casual conversation around college football. When McCaffrey puts up 330 all-purpose yards in the late game against a Pac-12 foe, many fans -- and Heisman Trophy voters on the East Coast -- find out about the performance in the morning.

It stinks that the Heisman conversation can be so impacted by performances on national stages, but that's the way these things seem to go. If McCaffrey goes off against UCLA, he becomes the top challenger for Lamar Jackson in the Heisman odds and is on the fast track for another trip to New York City as a finalist. If he's shut down by the Bruins, the conversation changes.

The game actually has far more impact on the Pac-12 title race than the Heisman race, so let's turn our focus to the on-field storylines.

Stanford storyline: While the (deserved) hype around McCaffrey dominates the conversation, this 2016 defense is starting to take shape as another dominant unit. It did a great job keeping USC's Juju Smith-Schuster in check, came up with key stops in the red zone and made life miserable by dominating the line of scrimmage in that game.

Josh Rosen is a unique talent that can be a real difference maker if he gets comfortable in the pocket. It'll be up to Solomon Thomas and the rest of that feisty Cardinal front to make sure that doesn't happen.

UCLA storyline: Stanford and UCLA were both teams picked to contend for the Pac-12 title in the preseason, considered peers in contention, but on the field this age-old California rivalry has been all Cardinal. Stanford has won eight straight in the series, including all six with David Shaw as coach. If UCLA is going to break through with Rosen in 2016, beating a top-10 Stanford team would be a great start.

Analysis: Stanford is the better team here, but that doesn't mean you should expect an easy win against the spread. The Cardinal have established an identity on offense already, as opposed to having an offensive identity crisis about this time a year ago. David Shaw's coaching (he's 16-2 against UCLA, USC and Cal) and the maturation of top recruits are why Stanford is the favorite in the Pac-12, and I think that shows on Saturday night. Pick: Stanford -2.5

Stanford at UCLA, Thursday, 7:30 p.m. ET
Line
UCLA +2.5

For full Week 4 picks against the spread, check out our Expert Picks page.

CBS Sports Writer

Chip Patterson has spent his young career covering college sports from the Old North State. He's been writing and talking about football and basketball for CBS Sports since 2010. You may have heard him... Full Bio

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