Countdown to Kickoff: UCLA at Rice, 4:30 p.m.

The Jim Mora era officially begins today at 4:30 when UCLA visits Rice in the season opener. Our Jill Painter is live from Houston and will have your recap. Be sure to follow her on Twitter @jillpainter … I’m still not sure where I’ll be watching the game since there’s zero chance I’ll ever subscribe to CBS Sports Network. This means I’ll have to find some place in Pasadena. We’ll see. Either way, feel free to follow me on Twitter @MelendezSports and I’ll be happy to chat along while we watch together via cyber space. Mora will have a conference call with reporters Friday evening, so I’ll be sure to have a post on the blog later that night with his thoughts about the game’s result. I gotta say, this day seemed like it would never come with all the long and hot drives to San Bernardino and two-a-days there and in Westwood. It’s pretty amazing how time flies. Just a few days ago we were all wiped on what to write. And now, Game Day.

UCLA vs. RICE AT A GLANCE
WHEN: 4:30 p.m., Rice Stadium, Houston
TV: CBS Sports Network
RADIO: KTLK-1150 AM

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

UCLA WINS IF …
… quarterback Brett Hundley and the slew of young playmakers can overcome nerves and execute the new spread offense.

… the offensive line builds cohesion with a consistent unit.

… the defense can apply pressure up front and build from last year’s woeful sack totals.

TOP RETURNING PERFORMERS
RUSHING

Johnathan Franklin (976 yards, 5.9 Avg., 5 TDs)

RECEIVING
Joseph Fauria (481 yards, 12.3 Avg., 6 TDs)

DEFENSE
DE Datone Jones (41 tackles, 6.5 TFL, three sacks)
DE Donovan Carter (36 tackles)
SS Andrew Abbott (four interceptions)

INJURY UPDATE
Out: TE Ian Taubler (ankle)
Doubtful: None
Questionable: TE Jordan Barrett (knee)

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

RICE WINS IF …

… quarterback Taylor McHargue connects with new set of receivers.

… the young and inexperienced offensive line doesn’t get pummeled early and often.

… the secondary can provide solid cover protection.

TOP RETURNING PERFORMERS
PASSING

Tyler McHargue (1,072 yards, 8 TDs, 5 INT)

RUSHING
Turner Petersen (485 yards, 4.8 Avg., 5 TDs)

RECEIVING
Vance McDonald (541 yards, 12.3 Avg., 5 TDs)

DEFENSE
LBCameron Nwosu (108 tackles, 58 unassisted, 6 TFL)
CB Bryce Callahan (6 INTs, 34 tackles, 9 BrkUpPasses)

PREDICTION
UCLA 31, Rice 13

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Eli Ankou in the process to shed greyshirt, join UCLA

Eli Ankou, a 6-foot-3, 245-pound defensive end, was supposed to greyshirt this season but has since been called by UCLA coach Jim Mora and is expected to join the team soon.

“We’re calling on reinforcements,” Mora said. “He’s ready to go, he’s excited to go. He just got to get the paperwork done, and since he’s an international student, that’s a little bit different. Gosh, I hope we see him next week. We’re a little bit thin on the defensive line, so yeah, he’ll be in.”

Ankou is Canadian and was expected to enroll at UCLA in time for the spring quarter. But depth on the defensive line puts Ankou, a three-star recruit, on the fast track. The Bruins suffered a hit at defensive end when Sam Tai was lost for the season with a torn ACL. Iuta Tepa transferred to Hawaii.

“We’ll see where he is,” Mora said. “It’s interesting, because it started out as he was going to greyshirt. And then we called him a week or so ago and said, ‘Hey, you know what, we need you.’ I was really interested to see if he was resistant, and he was like, ‘Great, here I come.’ So it’s good.”

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Tuesday Report: Jim Mora loosens up …

*UCLA coach Jim Mora loosened his grip when speaking to reporters after Tuesday’s practice. As you can see in the video above, Mora gave us a few updates on a few players. WR Javon Williams has not been cleared yet by the NCAA Clearinghouse and Mora said Williams won’t be traveling to Houston if he’s not cleared by the end of the day. Mora also said that Y receiver Ian Taubler won’t be making the trip. “His ankle is just not quite right yet,” Mora said. “Being that he’s a freshman we want to make sure he’s right and has practice before we take him to one of these games.”

**Mora also said Kevin McReynolds’ move to the offensive line is now official. McReynolds, who was a nose tackle and wore No. 77, will now wear No. 50. “He’ll be a guard but he’s still an emergency defensive lineman as well,” Mora said.

***UCLA will come out to Spaulding Field on Wednesday morning and get some field preparation work done before flying out to Houston. “We have a number of meetings to go but most of the heavy duty lifting is done,” Mora said. “Tomorrow we’ll just come out here, brush up on some things and then get on a plane and go to Houston.” UCLA will not have a walk-through at Rice upon arrival. Mora said the team will, however, walk through it. “You know what, it’s a stadium none of these guys have ever been to before,” he said. “(We’ll) get a feel for the locker room, how it’s laid out, walk the tunnel out to the field, walk around the field so the first time we see it isn’t when we get there on Thursday.”

****It’s supposed to be 95 degrees Thursday in Houston with 57 percent humidity and a 50 percent chance of rain with a forecast calling for scattered thunderstorms. As you know UCLA spent two weeks in San Bernardino where temperatures reached triple digits for almost the entire stay. “You can prepare for the heat but the humidity is a different story,” Mora said. “That humidity is a different animal. But once again it’s like we talked about the rain, we can’t control the environment so we’re not going to worry about it. We’ll plan for it and prepare for it but we’re not going to worry about it. It’s just a matter of hydrating and not waiting too long to hydrate.”

*****Thursday’s game will be a first for Mora as a college coach. Mora said he’ll be fine but elaborated, saying “I’m anxious like i’m always anxious. It’s going to be my firs time going out there in a UCLA shirt and hat in a competitive environment. These guys guys haven’t been in a competitive environment in over eight months since the bowl game. I’m more than anything excited watching our guys do what they do, which play football.”

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ICYMI: The Daily News’ college football preview

In case you missed it, on Sunday the Daily News published its college football preview. The UCLA preview includes five burning questions, a depth chart and schedule with tidbits for starters and a comment for each game. You can always visit the Daily News’ UCLA page for notebooks, features and previews that are not on the blog.

Here’s what else we have with links:

Jill Painter on UCLA: Jim Mora has grand plans

Meet the new Pac-12 … Same as the old Pac-12?

Tale of the Tape, Pac-12 vs. SEC

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USA Today: Rose Bowl 10th among Pac-12 stadiums

USA Today ranked Pac-12 stadiums and lists the Rose Bowl at No. 10. That’s gotta be a little low, right? If it’s based on attendance then it’s a fair argument, and that’s the beef USA Today has with the Rose Bowl, that there are pockets of empty seats. But if you’re talking prestige and tradition the Rose Bowl has to be higher on the list. And the Rose Bowl has way more to offer than most Pac-12 stadiums in terms of providing great fan experience for all fans. Whether it’s a 12:30, 4:30 or even a 7:30 start, the Rose Bowl’s close proximity to Old Town offers fans before or after the game a slew of fun options on the world famous stretch of Colorado Boulevard, including restaurants, bars, coffee shops, movie theaters, lounges, and even the Apple Store. For the record I live in Pasadena, so I’ve seen this with my own eyes: USC fans grabbing breakfast/brunch at Old Town before USC games, and the same goes for fans from the visiting teams playing at the Coliseum. Interesting, right? For what it’s worth, the Coliseum is No. 3 on the USA Today list. Your thoughts …

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