UCLA picked to win Pac-12 title

Two years after falling to depths almost unheard of at UCLA, the Bruins are right back atop the mountain. At least the media says so.

UCLA was chosen to be the inaugural Pac-12 champion in the preseason media poll, released on Friday at the conference’s Media Day at L.A. Live.

The Bruins don’t have much hypothetical breathing room, however, receiving 421 points, including 14 first-place votes, while the Cal Bears were tabbed for second at 405 points (13 first-place), one point ahead of 2011 Pac-10 regular-season champion Arizona (404, 11).

“Our team always has high expectations,” said Howland, a year after the Bruins were picked 3rd in the preseason media poll coming off a 14-18 season. “It’s the expectations we put on ourselves that matter most. It’s always nice to be picked high, but that doesn’t guarantee anything. It’s where you finish. I don’t know who was picked for first last year, but I don’t know how many times you guys get it right.”

After the disappointing 2009-10 campaign, UCLA rallied to win 23 games last season, finishing second in the conference race, before falling to Florida in the third round of the NCAA Tournament.

With a powerful front line led by junior leading scorer and rebounder Reeves Nelson (13.9 points per game, 9.1 rebounds), sophomore center Joshua Smith and North Carolina transfers David and Travis Wear, the Bruins are the pick to emerge from a conference that loses extensive firepower.

Gone are Arizona’s Derrick Williams and Momo Jones, Washington’s Isaiah Thomas and Matthew Bryan-Amaning, USC’s Nikola Vucevic, Washington State’s Klay Thompson and Stanford’s Jeremy Green.

UCLA was not immune to the mass exit, though, with small forward Tyler Honeycutt and guard Malcolm Lee gone.

“I like our squad,” Howland said. “Obviously, it would be great if we still had Malcolm and Tyler Honeycutt. Then we would really be good. But that being said, we are where we are, and I’m still optimistic about our team.”

Stover Out
Howland said that sophomore backup center and key defensive stopper Anthony Stover has a small cartilage tear in his left shoulder after having tests done on Thursday before the team’s scrimmage against Cal State Fullerton. Howland said Stover is expected to miss a few weeks.

Whereto Wear?
Howland added that David Wear, who averaged 2.9 points in 10.4 minutes for the Tar Heels in 2009-10 and redshirted last season after transferring, played all of his minutes at the small forward position for the Bruins in their scrimmage against the Titans at the Sports Arena.

Wear, at 6-foot-10, 225 pounds, played sound defense, Howland said, and he should give the Bruins a sizable option at the position, along with De’End Parker, who is still sidelined with a concussion.

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Westwood Bruin Touchdown Club

Breakfast with the Bruins
Coach Wayne Moses, running backs
Coach Tim Hundley, defensive backs
Cory Harkey, TE
Jeff Locke, Punter
Tyler Gonzalez, PK
UCLA Spirit Squad
Friday Oct 28th–7 am
Olympic Collection at Olympic and Sawtelle
Price: $25 includes breakfast buffet, speakers, and free parking
For more information contact Claudia Hart @ 310-348-UCLA or claudia4ucla@yahoo.com

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Some practice notes

Rick Neuheisel could barely hold in his excitement.

The UCLA head coach made it barely halfway through his introductory statement to the media on Wednesday night before mentioning the return of sophomore F-back Anthony Barr from a knee injury.

“It was great to have Anthony Barr back out there,” Neuheisel said quickly. “Hopefully we can have him in some small role for the weekend.”

How much UCLA is to use him is to be decided, although he appeared healthy and able during Wednesday’s practice, seemingly cutting with ease.

How much the Bruins will need him? That is without question.

Down four receivers, UCLA is low on weapons, though the possible return of Barr and junior wide receiver Jerry Johnson from a broken ankle suffered last season would be a boon.

“We’ll try to see how many (plays) we can get out of him,” Neuheisel said. “He’s certainly a guy who has played, like Jerry, a guy who can help us. He gives us lot of flexibility. That was one of the great values we had when he was with us, so it was nice to have him running round today.”

With seniors Nelson Rosario and Josh Smith expected to see much of the reps at wide receiver and F-back Jordon James and tight end Joseph Fauria able to contribute as well, the hope among coaches is that they won’t have to rely too heavily on Barr and Johnson as they work their ways back from injury.

The Bruins found out the flip side of the hurry-back equation on Thursday against Arizona, as cornerback Sheldon Price returned quickly from a sprained knee suffered Week 4 against Oregon State and was punished for it, the Wildcats picking on him often.

“The answer is yeah you wish you would have them all 100 percent,” Neuheisel said. “But sometimes in the course of a football season, you don’t have that luxury. Certainly in the situation we find ourselves offensively this week, we certainly don’t have that luxury. If (Barr) is able to go, and I know he’s champing at the bit to go and it’s not as if it’s unsafe, we’ll continue to explore it.”

Line Call
With Chris Ward out for practice the previous two days with a knee injury and Alberto Cid suspended for the first half against Cal for his role in the brawl at Arizona, UCLA is expected to go with redshirt freshman Wade Yandall at guard opposite sophomore Greg Capella. Yandall, who has been practicing extensively with the first unit with Cid mainly working the twos, saw extensive time during spring and fall camp with the ones.

Bumps and Bruises
Redshirt freshman kicker Kip Smith (hip) has not practiced this week after practicing more than he has in weeks last week, despite being listed as questionable.
“He’s got a more-significant injury that first thought,” Neuheisel said. “We’ve just got to let it heal.”

* Other notes – Saw some really good catch-and-runs today, particularly by Barr and Fauria. … James looks a go for punter this week with Taylor Embree suspended. … Nate Chandler and Justin Edison got extensive time with the ones as UCLA also has to replace Cassius Marsh, not just for one but two games.

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Neuheisel says Dye to miss rest of the season

UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel said after practice that he expects senior safety Tony Dye to miss the rest of the season with what has been described as stingers. When asked to clarify a diagnosis, Neuheisel was non-committal, but he says he expects Dye to be able to request – and be granted – a medical redshirt.

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