If you haven't noticed by now, the UCLA Bruins have a painfully easy schedule. Some may gripe at Oregon's non-conference slate, but even they have to hit up USC, Cal and Arizona State on the road before hitting up a Pac-12 title game. Other than a road trip to Tempe, the Bruins seem to have all the luck with their schedule--the three top-25 teams they face are all at home, and their three remaining road games might be against the three worst teams in the conference.
But UCLA still hasn't quite yet proven they can handle conference play. They had an impressive win against Nebraska, but they've struggled in many of their contests to put together a full four quarter effort. That might have to change against Oregon State, a defense that figures to test the Noel Mazzone offense as far as it's been tested. The Beaver defense front mauled the famous Wisconsin offensive line in their upset victory, and they'll be looking to take the fight to the Bruins.
UCLA's offense has proven they can rack up the yards, but the defense has also shown they are capable of giving it back, and Sean Mannion will be the toughest foe they've faced yet in conference play with his prototypical size and ability to spread the wealth with the football. The good news is the Beaver run game is still struggling to gain any traction, which should ease the burden on UCLA's back-line.
All in all, this is a fascinatingly underrated game that could mean a lot more to the Pac-12 than the more heralded Cal vs. USC contest. The Beavers and Bruins could very well be the sleepers to challenge the Ducks and the Trojans in their respective divisions. Whoever can pull off a win will really take a positive step forward in the Pac-12 race, while the loser might be left redrawing their expectations for the season.
SB Nation Snippets
AndyPanda of Building the Dam answered some questions for UCLA fans in a Bruins Nation Q&A; this little excerpt discusses Mannion:
Mannion appears to have made the progress he needed to as far as improving his accuracy and decision making since last season. His arm strength was never in question, which is why he got the job to begin with. By his own admission, he realized that he needed to really refine his command of the field, and his consistency/accuracy, and seems (based on 1 game) to have done so. We'll know more after a couple more games, especially against an "active" defense that shows him a lot of different looks, but all signs are encouraging so far.
Likewise, our own Ryan Rosenblatt (for Bruins Nation) did similar things for Oregon State fans in a Building the Dam Q&A; here he's talking about UCLA's own Brett Hundley.
You're right that Brett Hundley has been everything that we hoped he would be. He has been composed and accurate, throwing short and long. He has had unbelievable pocket presence for a freshman and has made plays with his legs. UCLA fans are ecstatic about having a real quarterback for a change and his game against Nebraska, while somewhat a product of match-ups, was also a showcase of his versatility. The Huskers didn't know what to take away because he could do so much.
That said, he still shows flashes of being the freshman that he is. Last week against Houston they played with smaller, quick linebackers that moved all over the place and it gave him some trouble. Oregon St.'s dime defense with a rover could do the same.
Still, the most impressive thing about Hundley has been his maturity. He has complete control of the huddle, is a true leader and rarely makes the same mistake twice. That is what makes some of his problems, like the ones he had against Houston, so easy to swallow. Odds are he'll learn from it and be better for it.
Indeed, the battle of the quarterbacks will be an important situation to monitor, as both of them will be going up against physical defensive fronts that have the potential to take over a football game.