No. 21 UCLA (0-0) vs. Nevada (0-0)
Location: Rose Bowl, 7 p.m. PT
TV: Pac-12 Networks (Kevin Calabro, Yogi Roth, Jill Savage)
Radio: 570 AM (Chris Roberts, Matt Stevens, Wayne Cook)
Last meeting: This is the first-ever meeting between UCLA and Nevada.
2012 records: Bruins (9-5, 6-3 Pac-12); Wolf Pack (7-6, 4-4 MWC)
Key storylines: Nevada enters life post-Chris Ault, the legendary coach who pioneered the pistol offense. Returning starters and staff members — including offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich — will help maintain continuity, but new head coach Brian Polian must prove that he’s capable of being more than just an assistant. He was, however, a very good assistant at Texas A&M, where he served as both the tight ends coach and special teams coordinator. Before that, he made stops at Stanford, Notre Dame, Central Florida and Buffalo, earning a reputation as a strong recruiter. If the 38-year-old is successful in Reno, he should at least earn himself a Wikipedia entry longer than three sentences.
On the opposite sideline, UCLA must take the first step in showing that last year wasn’t a fluke — that the Bruins are ready to become not only a legitimate Rose Bowl contender, but a national one. Second-year head coach Jim Mora has gotten his players to buy into that vision, and a fast start will help fans and media forget about the three-loss skid that ended 2012. A talented recruiting class plugged many of the team’s holes, but questions still exist, especially in a secondary that returns only one player with any starting experience.
Players to watch: Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo fits perfectly into his school’s trademark pistol offense, and has drawn comparisons to his Wolf Park predecessor Colin Kaepernick. As a sophomore, he passed for 2,786 yards and rushed for 1,121. Only two quarterbacks in the country bested him in both marks, one of whom was Heisman winner Johnny Manziel.
Fajardo also has his starting receivers back, including sixth-year senior Brandon Wimberly. He and fellow wideouts Richy Turner and Aaron Bradley combined for 1,910 receiving yards in 2012. Gone, however, is 6-foot-7 tight end Zach Sudfeld, who led the team with eight touchdown catches.
Just about every UCLA defensive back has something to prove. Randall Goforth started five games as a freshman last season and became the de facto veteran of a unit that has yet to show it can hang with high-powered offenses. He has a good hold on the starting safety position, but those around him don’t have thick resumes: junior safety Anthony Jefferson is entering his first fully healthy season; Ishmael Adams is a good cover corner, but is undersized at 5-foot-7; Fabian Moreau is a converted running back. Nevada’s offense will be a barometer for their potential.
Notes: Nevada was picked to finish fourth in the Mountain West South, behind Fresno State, San Diego State and San Jose State. It received no first-place votes. … Of the 23 underclassmen listed on the Wolf Pack’s two-deep, only one is a starter: true freshman kicker Brent Zuzo. Zuzo was ranked the 13th-best kicker in the 2013 class by Chris Sailer Kicking. … The run-pass play ratio in Nevada’s pistol offense has trended slightly up since 2005.
Did you know?: Former Nevada coach Chris Ault is the father-in-law of UCLA baseball coach John Savage, a Reno native.