Bruins thinking title heading into Pac-12 play
It's an upside-down football world in Los Angeles these days as the Trojans are unranked and looking for a new head coach, and the Bruins are ranked No. 12 and favored to win the Pac-12 South.
UCLA began ts quest to defend the division beginning last Thursday at Utah. The schedule is anything but forgiving, and with both bye weeks already gone, it will be a grueling stretch to the end. Here's what to look for in UCLA's eight remaining Pac-12 games.
Saturday, October 12 vs. California (1-3, 0-1 Pac-12)
Sonny Dykes' first season in the Pac-12 is significantly rockier than Jim Mora's first season.
Cal's defense has been atrocious, ranking 121st out of 123 FBS teams. The Golden Bears give up big first quarter leads and have been unable to recover. Sunday night, defensive end Chris McCain was released from the team and it's unclear who the starting quarterback is at this point, showing how disjointed the team is during rebuilding.
UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley had his worst game against the Golden Bears last season, and that dismal performance in a 43-17 loss at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley hasn't been forgotten.
Saturday, Oct. 19 at No. 5 Stanford (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12)
The last UCLA saw of Stanford was the Cardinal celebrating their Pac-12 Championship in the pouring rain at Stanford Stadium last season.
Much like the Cal game, this one is also one the Bruins haven't forgotten about.
Stanford is still as formidable as ever, with quarterback Kevin Hogan having progressed into a refined signal caller. The Cardinal is still the physical, smash mouth team the Bruins didn't match up well against in the last go-around. Expect nothing less than a gritty, physical battle.
Saturday, Oct. 26 at No. 2 Oregon (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12)
This is a particularly tough stretch for UCLA. Right in the middle of the season and coming off what could potentially be a draining road game at Stanford, the Bruins and their vaunted spread offense will take on the spread that began all spreads in Eugene. The Ducks have convincingly blown out every opponent they've faced this season in what seemed like the blink of an eye.
But this isn't the matchup nightmare that Stanford is. UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone comes from the Chip Kelly school of offense and this game has all the makings for a shootout.
Saturday, Nov. 2 vs. Colorado (2-1,0-1, Pac-12)
The Buffs boast a new head coach, their third in four years, but the perennial rebuilders still have a lot of work to do. A surprising bright spot for CU has been its red zone play. The defense has managed four stops and the offensive boasts a 100 percent figure. But that's if the Buffs get in the red zone – five chances doesn't suggest it's a place they spend too much time in.
Saturday, Nov. 9 at Arizona (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12)
The Wildcats looked good until they finally faced a tough opponent. Washington never trailed in last weekend's contest, winning easily 31-13. Last season, the Bruins "embarrassed" Arizona, according to head coach Rich Rodriguez, in a 66-10 loss. One of the conference's leading rushers, Ka'deem Carey, was limited to only 54 yards on 16 carries.
But Carey is back to his old ways, second in the Pac-12 in rushing yards and the Bruins have had problems containing the run this season.
Friday, Nov. 15 vs. No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12)
In what should be an exciting Friday night matchup under the lights at the Rose Bowl, the black-clad Bruins will face the Huskies' lightning-quick new offense. It's an offense that is run somewhat similar to Oregon's, so UCLA will have had some practice, but comparisons have also been drawn to Mazzone's offense as well.
This game will undoubtedly have some emotional ties, with the most obvious being the ties to Mora. It's the first time Mora will face his alma mater as a head coach. Washington is also laden with local products like quarterback Keith Price, a senior out of Compton (St. John Bosco).
Saturday, Nov. 23 vs. No. 22 Arizona State (3-2, 1-1 Pac-12)
The Sun Devils' best win on their record was a puzzling one. A loss to Stanford showed Arizona State still isn't ready to rise to the top of the Pac-12, but is still going in that direction. Last year, the Bruins needed a field goal to beat the Sun Devils in the final seconds of the game and it wouldn't be far fetched to think they might need a similar performance in this year's game.
Saturday, Nov. 30 at USC (3-2, 0-2 Pac-12)
UCLA currently owns the Victory Bell, and this will be the first year in many that the Bruins go into this game favored to win it again. Last season's game is still talked about and lived up to its billing as a rivalry match in every sense of the word.
But this season, USC is searching. First the Trojans were searching for a quarterback – they have yet to find one – which resulted in a search for an offensive identity. Now, the Trojans are searching for the biggest piece possible: A new head coach.
What they do have in Troy is running backs. The Bruins have nine weeks to find a way to stop the run and the Victory Bell will remain True Blue for another year.