What to watch: No. 25 UCLA vs. No. 14 Arizona

I have no idea what’s going to happen to UCLA tonight. The No. 25 Bruins kick off at 7:30 p.m. and could find their groove again against 14th-ranked Arizona — romping out to their most convincing win of the season. They could completely implode in a turnover-filled blowout. They could fall just short, or squeak by in yet another close effort.

Anything is possible!

What to watch at the Rose Bowl as UCLA tries to fix its own recent foot-shooting habits:

UCLA offense vs. Arizona defense: Brett Hundley has lost a fumble in three straight games now, and can’t afford another one in a game that could knock the Bruins out of the race for the Pac-12 South. Tasked with trying to pop the ball out from Hundley’s grip is linebacker Scooby Wright III, who has turned himself into college football’s resident expert in this particular field.

Wright has turned himself from a two-star recruit into one of the conference’s hardest hitters. He leads the country with five forced fumbles, his biggest one coming against Marcus Mariota to clinch the Wildcats’ upset of Oregon. He is also third in the Pac-12 in sacks (8) and second in tackles for loss (14), and is the key to the front of a 3-3-5 scheme that is only giving up 3.88 yards per carry.

Establishing the run will be key for UCLA, which is good given the roll that Paul Perkins has been on recently. Continue reading

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Five questions: Arizona Daily Star’s Daniel Berk talks Wildcats

Sitting near the top of the Pac-12 South, Arizona has quickly become the conference’s biggest surprise. On the other side of the Rose Bowl this Saturday is UCLA, arguably the conference’s biggest disappointment. Both have six wins, but the former has earned its record in far more convincing fashion than the latter. Daniel Berk from the Arizona Daily Star answered five questions about the No. 14 Wildcats.

Nearly three years in now, how has Rich Rodriguez measured up to what most Arizona fans initially expected? How much did the upset of Oregon earlier this month feel like a turning point for the program?

I think two-plus years in, he’s ahead of where most people thought he’d be. The cupboard was pretty bare when he got here other than Ka’Deem Carey, and he managed to win 16 games in two seasons and win back-to-back bowl games. I think fans were willing to be patient and let him build something, but the expectations changed and were raised going into this season after having some success the first two seasons. I think the win over Oregon was significant, but I’m not sure if it was viewed as a turning point, because Arizona has gotten some big wins like that before, but hasn’t backed them up the following weeks. So I think some fans have been waiting for a letdown game. I think a win Saturday would be more of a turning point with some of the recent struggles UA has had with UCLA. A win Saturday would also set Arizona up pretty nicely with the remainder of its schedule.

How has Rodriguez kept the Wildcats’ offense firing despite cycling through a different quarterback each year?

He’s a quarterback guru and knows how to get more out of guys at that position than most coaches in the country. Few, if any, thought B.J. Denker was a Pac-12 quarterback and he turned him into one in less than two seasons. Anu Solomon certainly had some talent coming out of Bishop Gorman High School and had other options, but the fact that he’s playing as well as he is so early in his career is both a surprise and a credit to Rodriguez and quarterbacks coach Rod Smith. Continue reading

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First look: No. 14 Arizona Wildcats

No. 25 UCLA Bruins (6-2, 3-2) vs. No. 14 Arizona Wildcats (6-1, 4-1)
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 1, 7:30 p.m., Rose Bowl
TV: ESPN (Mark Jones, Rod Gilmore, Jessica Mendoza)
Radio: AM 570 (Chris Roberts, Matt Stevens, Wayne Cook)

Coach: After lasting just three seasons at Michigan with a 15-22 record, Rich Rodriguez has found Arizona to be a friendler home for his spread offense.

Despite starting a different quarterback each season, the 51-year-old has guided the Wildcats to back-to-back 8-5 seasons and made them one of the country’s top-10 offenses twice in three years. Now, he has them on the cusp of their best campaign in over a decade. After upsetting then-No. 2 Oregon earlier this month, they went from unranked to No. 10 in the country — the largest jump by any team since the Associated Press poll expanded to a top 25.

Arizona hasn’t appeared in a final AP poll since 1998, when its 12-1 run made it the No. 4 team in the country.

Key players:

QB Anu Solomon, RFr., 6-2, 205 — 200/316, 2,430 yards, 20 TD, 4 INT
– Didn’t win the quarterback competition until late August, but he’s been entrusted to throw 45.1 passes per game. Third in the Pac-12 in yards per game (347.1), but eighth in completion percentage (63.3).

RB Nick Wilson, Fr., 5-10, 199 — 100 carries, 592 yards, 7 TD, 10 catches, 1 rec TD
– He’s splitting the workload with redshirt senior Terris Jones-Grigsby (70 carries, 406 yards), but Wilson is the one responsible for seven of the team’s 13 rushing touchdowns. Continue reading

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VIDEO: Quarterback Brett Hundley preaches focus on Arizona

UCLA has not played good football as of late, but it nevertheless remains in position to claim a Pac-12 South title with four games left.

To keep those hopes alive, the Bruins (6-2, 3-2 Pac-12) will need to beat No. 14 Arizona on Saturday. The Wildcats are one of three teams in the division who have lost just one conference game. The others are Utah and Arizona State, who play each other this weekend.

“This is one of those weeks where, you have to understand that this is a big game for us,” UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley said. “This is a huge game.”

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UCLA picked to finish fourth in Pac-12 media poll

After losing four starters from last year’s Sweet 16 squad, UCLA men’s basketball was picked to finish fourth in the Pac-12.

A preseason media poll slotted the Bruins behind Arizona, Utah and Colorado — but did give them one first-place vote. All 31 other first-place votes went to the Wildcats, widely considered a national title contender.

They lost guard Nick Johnson and forward Aaron Gordon — the Pac-12 Player and Freshman of the Year, respectively — but return point guard T.J. McConnell and adds five-star recruit Stanley Johnson.

“There’s no better team than Arizona,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle told USA Today last week. Continue reading

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After Oregon’s loss, is UCLA the new Pac-12 favorite?

Nearly four months ago, UCLA was listed as an early favorite almost through its entire 2014 schedule. The exception? Mighty Oregon, just a year removed from four straight BCS bowls, and an early three-point favorite.

My, how things have changed.

UCLA stumbled out of the gate, collecting three uneven wins before stomping on then-No. 15 Arizona State last Thursday. The Bruins still have question marks, but they’re on the upswing, and back in the hearts and minds of at least a few national pundits. One ESPN analyst has them in the San Francisco Bowl, but another picked the Fiesta Bowl. CBS Sports has slotted UCLA back into the Sugar Bowl, as the No. 4 seed in a national semifinal against Alabama.

The No. 2 Ducks, meanwhile, might have cost themselves national title hopes with their 31-24 loss at home last night to Arizona — the most surprising undefeated team left in the country. (Earlier this week, Yahoo! Sports’ Pat Forde wrote this of the Wildcats: “Chances of being unbeaten by Halloween: zero.”) Continue reading

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