If UCLA really is more than two touchdowns better than Arizona State, as oddsmakers would have us believe, the most interesting aspect of tonight's game at the Rose Bowl might be the punting of Arizona State's Brad Williams.
Maybe it will be, anyway.
Williams, a native of Perth, Australia, is probably the most unorthodox punter in college football.
He grew up playing Australian rules football--described by a Mesa (Ariz.) columnist as the "kill-the-man-with-the-ball sport"--and while so doing mastered several types of kicks.
Williams sometimes punts on the run while rolling out and he often puts unusual spin on the ball, making it difficult to catch.
"The dude was kicking them end over end," Houston's Chuck Weatherspoon told the Arizona Republic last month. "It was scary. You look up at the ball and feel 21 people coming down around you. It happens so quick."
But Williams' punts, of course, won't be the only things worth keeping an eye on tonight.
Also of interest will be UCLA's attempt to get its running attack ungrounded against a Sun Devil rushing defense that ranks eighth in the nation. Arizona State has given up an average of only 80.3 yards a game on the ground.
UCLA, expected to have a strong running attack, has averaged only 2.9 yards a carry.
But will Arizona State (3-1) provide an accurate barometer for the Bruins, who are 2-2?
"We're a better defensive team than we were last year," said Arizona State Coach Larry Marmie, whose team has beaten Kansas State, San Jose State and Missouri. "But we haven't been tested by anybody other than Houston, and certainly we didn't pass that test."
Houston's run-and-shoot offense didn't run all that much against the Sun Devils--118 yards in 18 carries--but its passing attack had the impact of a bazooka.
The Cougars passed for a staggering 626 yards in a 36-7 rout.
"A lot of questions still have to be answered about our team," Marmie said. "First of all, I don't think we've played the type of competition that some of the other teams in the conference have.
"We certainly have played well on a couple of occasions, but the people we played well against--I'm not sure how good they were."
Offensively, the Sun Devils are led by quarterback Paul Justin, a 6-foot-5 junior who caught the eye of National Football League scouts last season when he completed 56% of his passes while throwing only two interceptions in 150 attempts.
Justin, who didn't start until the seventh game of a 6-5 season, missed the Houston game two weeks ago because of a badly bruised left shoulder, but returned last week to complete 12 of 20 passes for 125 yards in a 19-3 victory over Missouri.
Tailback David Winsley leads a rushing attack that ranks second in the Pacific 10 Conference. Winsley, who made his first start of the season against Missouri and responded by gaining 134 yards in 25 carries, is averaging 79.8 yards a game and 5.3 yards a carry.
But at ASU this season, the excitement sometimes starts when the Sun Devil offense bogs down.
Against San Jose State, Williams drew a thunderous response when he took a pitchout from Justin in the end zone and quick-kicked a line drive that finally rolled dead 61 yards from the line of scrimmage.
"It was the first time 60,000 fans stood to cheer a punt," said Mark Brand, ASU's sports information director. "And every time he came out on the field after that, he was given a standing ovation."
Williams, 23, took a circuitous route to Arizona State. He left Australia when he was 17 to join the European satellite tennis tour, but became tired of the grind and returned home. On the advice of a friend, he then accepted a tennis scholarship to Arkansas.
While there, he impressed some football players with his kicking ability and was asked to try out for the team. While a teammate explained the rules, he watched his first college football game from the sidelines.
Williams' popularity increased with the release of "Crocodile Dundee."
"It all happened so fast," he told the Mesa Tribune. "It was, 'G'day mate,' everywhere I went. It got way out of control. I would tell people in Arkansas that growing up I rode a kangaroo to school every day, and the people there would actually believe me."
Williams told the truth when he said that two of his uncles played professional football in Australia and that, although he was a little undersized for the American version of the game at 5-11 and 170 pounds, he wouldn't be afraid to run the ball.
In Australian rules football, he said, he had even been knocked out a couple of times. The second knockout prompted him to direct more energy toward tennis.
Williams punted in four games for the Razorbacks in the 1986 season until school officials realized that he had never completed the 11th grade. (In Australia, Williams explained, everything after the 10th grade is optional.)
He later passed a high school equivalency test and a college-entrance exam, but Arkansas turned him loose. He transferred to Oklahoma but was uncomfortable with the lack of discipline in the Sooner program, he said.
He went searching again. Last fall, he enrolled at ASU.
Lou Belken, the Arizona State tennis coach, told a reporter last spring that Williams could be among the Sun Devils' top three players next season.
He has averaged 38.7 yards a punt, which ranks only seventh in the Pac-10, but Williams says: "Numbers are a misrepresentation of how good a kicker is."
Or how entertaining.
A crowd of about 55,000 is expected. . . . Arizona State, which has yet to play on the road, is also the only team in the Pac-10 that has yet to play a conference game. . . . UCLA opened its Pac-10 schedule last week with a 24-6 victory over California. . . . The UCLA-ASU series started in 1976, when Terry Donahue won his first game as the Bruins' coach, 28-10. UCLA leads the series, 7-1-1. . . . UCLA is listed as a 15-point favorite.
Sophomore tailback Shawn Wills will make his first start for UCLA, replacing junior Brian Brown, who is suffering from deep thigh bruises but is still expected to play. . . . Three defensive starters are doubtful for UCLA: Cornerback Randy Beverly, still hobbled by a broken toe, is again expected to be replaced by freshman Carlton Gray; strong safety Matt Darby, who pinched a nerve in his neck last week, probably will be replaced by senior Mark McGill, and tackle Bryan Wilcox, who has a concussion, probably will defer to Brad Bryson.
Noting that the Sun Devils will play eight home night games this season, Donahue said: "I wish we were playing Arizona State at 1 o'clock in 108-degree (weather) with smog all over the place." The 7:30 p.m. start was agreed upon to accommodate ESPN, which will televise the game. . . . UCLA and ASU did not play one another last season and won't meet next season.