UCLA football 2017 schedule preview: USC

USC celebrates after winning the Rose Bowl over Penn State. (Photo by Stephen Carr / Daily News / SCNG)

UCLA at USC
Saturday, Nov. 18 | L.A. Coliseum

USC returned to the national stage with an epic record-setting Rose Bowl shootout. The Trojans aren’t willing to stop there.

“Of course (the College Football Playoff) is something we want to get to,” receiver Deontay Burnett said on the first day of spring practice.

With Sam Darnold at quarterback, the Trojans (10-3, 7-2 Pac-12 last year) are the favorite to win the Pac-12 Championship Game. Darnold is a frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy after leading the Trojans to their first Rose Bowl victory since the 2008 season and is eager to build on his success.

“I’m past the Rose Bowl,” said Darnold, who passed Vince Young for the Rose Bowl record for total offense with 473 total yards. “People know me from the Rose Bowl, but I feel I have a lot more to prove as a player and person.”

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UCLA football 2017 schedule preview: Arizona State

Arizona State’s Kalen Ballage, right, runs with the ball as UCLA’s Adarius Pickett (6) moves in for the tackle during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Arizona State at UCLA
Saturday, Nov. 11 | Rose Bowl

Arizona State answered its first major question for the 2017 season last week: Manny Wilkins is its starting quarterback. Now to address its defense, which gave up the most points per game over a full season in school history last year, the rest of its offense, which is led by its third coordinator in as many years, and the special teams unit that lost one of the best field goal kickers in FBS history.

Like UCLA, the Sun Devils (5-7, 2-7 Pac-12 last year) have struggled mightily in the past two years. Head coach Todd Graham didn’t get his usual one-year contract extension this year, seemingly leaving the head coach on the hot seat with new coordinators on both offense and defense heading into his sixth year in Tempe.

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UCLA football 2017 schedule preview: Utah

Utah quarterback Troy Williams (3) tries to slip away from UCLA linebacker Kenny Young (42) last year at the Rose Bowl. Williams returns to the Utes with a new offensive coordinator in 2017. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova // Press-Telegram/SCNG)

UCLA at Utah
Friday, Nov. 3, 6:30 p.m. PT, FS1/FOX Deportes | Rice-Eccles Stadium

Despite 28 wins over the past three seasons and three straight bowl wins, Utah is the last school without an outright Pac-12 South championship.

“We’re not going to apologize for winning nine-plus games the last three years, but we want to win a championship,” head coach Kyle Whittingham told Athlon Sports. “We’ve got to find a way to break through.”

The Utes tied for the title division title in 2015, but watched USC play in the championship game due to the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Whittingham hopes new offensive coordinator Troy Taylor can be the difference. Taylor was the quarterbacks coach at Eastern Washington last year and called plays for the Eagles as they set FCS records in passing yards (5,160) and total offense (5,766). The Utes (9-4, 5-4 Pac-12 last year) have ranked in the bottom half of the conference in passing offense in each of the past three years.

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UCLA football 2017 schedule preview: Washington

Chris Petersen led Washington to the College Football Playoff in his third year as the program’s head coach. (Ted S. Warren AP)

UCLA at Washington
Saturday, Oct. 28 | Husky Stadium

Jim Mora once said the head coaching job at Washington was his “dream job.” In 2014, the UCLA head coach passed on the chance to return to his alma mater, which cleared the way for Chris Petersen to take the job. Three years later, Petersen’s Huskies are coming off a College Football Playoff berth and their first conference title in 16 years.

The Huskies (12-2, 8-1 Pac-12 last year) reached the Pac-12’s pinnacle and now are fighting to stay there. UW’s success cost the team four early entrants in the 2017 NFL Draft, including star wide receiver John Ross (ninth overall pick) and second-round defensive backs Budda Baker and Sidney Jones, and two assistant coaches, who were hired by NFL teams.

“To me, it is much harder to stay up near the top than get there,” Petersen told the Seattle Times. “These guys don’t know that, but I do. So that’ll be the next step.

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UCLA football 2017 schedule preview: Oregon

First-year Oregon head coach Willie Taggart greets fans at a men’s basketball game. (Photo: Chris Pietsch, AP Photo)

Oregon at UCLA
Saturday, Oct. 21 | Rose Bowl

Willie Taggart is the first Oregon head coach hired from outside the program since 1976. The transition was a tough one.

In the first three months of the former South Florida head coach’s Oregon tenure, one of his new assistants resigned, another jumped ship for a different Pac-12 school and a strength coach was suspended after several players were hospitalized after intense offseason workouts.

When spring practice finally opened April, Taggart started the process of resurrecting the Ducks (4-8, 2-7 Pac-12 last year) after the team’s sudden fall from grace. In remaking a program only three years removed from a College Football Playoff berth, the 40-year-old head coach and his staff quickly gained the trust of his players.

“They all click on the same page,” sophomore linebacker Bryson Young told The Oregonian of said of the new staff. “I can compare it to last year where it just seemed like everybody was in their separate worlds. (Now) when we go into our individual meetings and then go into our group (meeting), everybody is saying the same thing. They’re all on the same page, which is really good for us as a defense because then we’re all on the same page.”

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