There will be more than a share of the Pacific 10 Conference lead on the line when UCLA travels to 12th-ranked Washington State on Saturday.
For many Bruins, still stinging from Saturday's 21-14 loss to Stanford, it will be more than a football game; it will be a true test of character.
"This will show what kind of men we are," Bruin quarterback Matt Moore said.
Moore added that offensive coordinator Steve Axman "made a good point this week. He said this season is like a big fight. You got knocked down, you've got to get back up. That's the mentality we have to have."
UCLA suffered a similar blow in 2001 when the fourth-ranked Bruins, with a 6-0 record and national championship hopes, lost at Stanford, 38-28, in late October. UCLA did not get up.
The Bruins that year were staggered by scandals involving star running back DeShaun Foster and the unauthorized use of a sports utility vehicle and quarterback Cory Paus, who had two drunken-driving arrests.
"It was just a debacle," UCLA senior flanker Ryan Smith recalled. "But we definitely don't have the off-field distractions now that we had two years ago."
True, but there have been plenty of on-field distractions -- most notably the eight sacks the Bruins allowed to Stanford.
If UCLA is to have any chance of avoiding history -- the Bruins are 5-8 from November on in the last three seasons -- it will have to do a much better job of protecting Moore on Saturday.
"What Matt said was very well put -- he's right," junior guard Eyoseph Efseaff said.
"We hate to focus on the past, but in the past, this is when we've bottomed out. Let's see if this year is different. Let's see what we've got inside."
An MRI test revealed that defensive end Mat Ball has two bulging disks in his lower back, but Ball, who did not practice Tuesday or Wednesday, said he felt "a lot better" Wednesday and that he is hoping to play Saturday.
"I'm trying to make a herculean comeback," said Ball, who sat out the second half of the Stanford game. "I definitely have a chance of playing. It could be two plays, it could be all of the plays."
Coach Karl Dorrell also said defensive tackle Rodney Leisle, who missed the Stanford game because of a high-ankle sprain, will travel to Washington State, "and there's an outside shot he could play." Leisle, though, remains very doubtful.
Cornerback Matt Ware, who has been sidelined three games because of a high-ankle sprain, practiced for the second straight day Wednesday and appeared to make progress.
He will wear a heavy brace on his ankle Saturday but doesn't believe it will affect his mobility.
"He took some [repetitions] with the first team and looked better today; there were no setbacks," Dorrell said. "I'm very optimistic he's going to help us Saturday."
Tailback Tyler Ebell sat out his second straight practice because of flu-like symptoms, but he is expected to return to practice today and to play Saturday.