The Houston Cougars don't care that the UCLA Bruins are ranked in the AP and Coaches Poll for the first time since 2007. When they travel to Pasadena, all they'll be looking to do is win a game after starting the season 0-2.
If that spoils UCLA's fantastic start to the season, well, so be it.
But don't expect Jim Mora and company to be welcoming. With a favorable schedule, the Bruins look good enough to go 8-0 to start the season before a brutal finish that includes games against Arizona, USC and Stanford.
Don't expect them to get ahead of themselves, either. Underestimating this Houston team—rough start and all—would be a mistake. Let's take a closer look at one of Week 3's most intriguing tilts.
Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.
When: Saturday, September 15 at 10:30 p.m. ET
Watch: Pac-12 Network
Listen: 790 AM (Houston), AM570 Fox Sports LA (Los Angeles)
Stream: Different cable providers will have varied access. Ted Miller of ESPN has a pretty good viewing guide with streaming information for you here.
Betting Line: UCLA (-17.5), according to Bet Online.
Houston Injury Report
No injuries to report.
UCLA Injury Report
TE Ian Taubler, Ankle, Questionable
Two teams moving in opposite directions clash in this one. UCLA has looked good enough in its first two games to make some noise in the Pac-12 and head to a bowl this season. The Bruins will hope to avenge last year's 38-34 loss to the Cougars.
Houston is 0-2 for the first time since 2004 and offensive coordinator Mike Nesbitt resigned after the team lost its opening game 30-13 to Texas State.
Top 25 Implications
It's pretty simple—with a win, UCLA will remain ranked. With a loss, they'll drop out of the rankings. I wouldn't expect Houston to make any noise in the polls this year given the start they've had.
What They're Saying
But UCLA (2-0) has been here before. The "we're back" cries were answered with seltzer bottles and cream pies.
The Bruins defeated No. 20 Arizona State last season, then lost four of their last five games. UCLA defeated No. 23 Houston and No. 7 Texas on consecutive weekends in 2010, then lost six of its last seven games. UCLA defeated No. 18 Tennessee to open the 2008 season and finished 4-8.
So is UCLA really back? Or will history repeat itself?
Houston Player to Watch: David Piland, Quarterback
The Cougars have been disappointing to open the season, but it hasn't been because of their sophomore signal-caller.
Piland is 70-for-121 on the season with 791 yards, five touchdowns and just one interception. He was especially fantastic against Louisiana Tech, throwing for 580 yards and four touchdowns. After scoring just 13 points against Rice, Houston exploded for 49 points this weekend.
If UCLA underestimates Piland and this Houston offense, it could find itself on the wrong end of a shootout on Saturday night.
UCLA Player to Watch: Johnathan Franklin, Running Back
One way to limit Piland's effectiveness is too simply limit his touches by controlling time of possession. That's where Franklin steps in.
Franklin currently leads the nation with a whopping 431 rushing yards after consecutive 200-yard games to open the season. Amazingly, he's done so on just 41 carries, averaging 10.5 yards per carry. Of course, when two of your three touchdown runs go for 74 and 78 yards, that always helps the old average.
Given that Houston has given up 493 rushing yards in its first two games, Franklin should be in line for another big afternoon. UCLA is going to run, run and run some more against the Cougars.
Key Matchup: Houston Front 7 Against UCLA's Rushing Attack
As noted above, Houston hasn't exactly been stout against the run. UCLA has been pretty darn good at running the ball, however, and the team's 343.5 rushing yards per game is second in the nation.
If Houston's can at least slow down the Bruins rushing attack a little bit and not spend two-thirds of this game on the field, the Cougars will stand a chance. It's a tall task for Houston, no doubt, but if UCLA can run at will, this game won't be pretty for the Cougars.
On the Hot Seat: Tony Levine, Houston Head Coach
Levine became the interim coach last December after Kevin Sumlin left for Texas A&M. He led the Cougars to a win over Penn State in the TicketCity Bowl, but surely he's feeling uneasy after Houston's disappointing 0-2 start.
For a team making a big move to the Big East next season, a poor 2012 campaign isn't going to sit well. I'm all for patience, but if Levine doesn't lead Houston to a winning record and bowl appearance this season then his job will surely be in jeopardy.
I'm not crazy about UCLA laying 17.5 points, but I do think the Bruins will win this one. Houston's passing attack will keep them close, but the team's inability to stop UCLA's ground attack or come anywhere close to an even time of possession will kill them in the end. UCLA gets the win, 41-28.
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