While the national championship chase heats up elsewhere Friday, UCLA and Arizona State will be fighting to stay in the hunt for a second-tier bowl game. UCLA can, at worst, secure a third consecutive eighth-place finish in the Pacific 10 Conference with a victory over the Sun Devils. Staff writer Chris Foster looks at the game's matchups and issues:
UCLA is No. 117 out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in passing yardage. The only teams below them are Georgia Tech, Army and Navy, which all run triple-option offenses. Directly above is Air Force, another triple-option team. Even the Marines do more through the air than UCLA.
The Bruins rank last in the nation in passing efficiency, not at all the results expected from a Rick Neuheisel-Norm Chow partnership considering their pass-happy resumes.
As a result, opponents have been able to disarm the "pistol" offense's running component. Washington all but sat up and begged the Bruins to pass after the first quarter in a 24-7 Huskies victory last week.
Neuheisel said the Bruins need to start getting "huge chunks of yardage" from their offense.
Arizona State is a contrast to UCLA. The Sun Devils' offense needs more from its running attack, and is starting to get it. Cameron Marshall has averaged 7.2 and 6.2 yards per carry the last two games. He had 94 yards rushing in a 17-13 loss to Stanford two weeks ago.
UCLA quarterback Richard Brehaut needs to remain upright.
Granted, Brehaut is struggling to grow into the job after Kevin Prince was lost for the season, but the other options were not a pretty sight for the Bruins against Washington.
When Brehaut left with a concussion, junior college transfer Darius Bell demonstrated he was not yet ready for the level of competition. That resulted in walk-on Clayton Tunney being tossed to the Huskies.
A good day for Brehaut means no headaches caused by hits on the field or from Neuheisel's screaming on the sideline.
Here, you take it
UCLA ranks 117th nationally in turnover margin at minus-10. Arizona State is No. 109 at minus-seven.
The Bruins' mistakes were catastrophic in the loss to Washington last week. The Huskies intercepted a Brehaut pass, turning the momentum their way in the second quarter. The Huskies intercepted a Bell pass and returned it for a touchdown, clinching the victory.
Meanwhile, Arizona State quarterback Steven Threet has been the gift that keeps on giving, averaging 1.8 turnovers a game by himself — 16 interceptions, two fumbles.
Arizona State's Vontaze Burfict is as talented a linebacker as there is in college football. He also has major composure problems.
He had 10 tackles against Stanford as the Sun Devils nearly pulled off an upset. He also had three major penalties for 45 yards the Cardinal didn't have to earn.
One never knows which team gets the boost when Burfict impacts a game.
The loser of this game does not go to a bowl game.
UCLA is already guaranteed a losing record in conference play for a third consecutive season, something that has not happened to the Bruins since 1943-45. But much will be forgiven by fans and boosters if the Bruins close with victories over Arizona State and USC.
Arizona State has spiraled since Coach Dennis Erickson arrived, from a 10-3 record in 2007 to 5-7 in 2008 to 4-8 last season. A couple of victories and a waiver from the NCAA to accept two victories over non-FBS teams would make the Sun Devils bowl eligible and turn down the heat in Tempe.