The showdown with ASU looming this afternoon is arguably the biggest game, with the highest stakes, for UCLA's conference title hopes. The Bruins are 2-2 in Pac-12 play, and a third loss would make contention in the South Division a pipe dream.
On the other hand, a victory could put UCLA on track to challenge bitter crosstown rival USC for first place. With a tiebreaker over the Sun Devils in hand, the 3-2 Bruins would have only the Trojans to worry about in the South (assuming USC handles its business in Tucson).
But let's save looking ahead for the next few slides and focus on today's nationally televised, implication-rich matchup.
UCLA is coming off a bye, while Arizona State is beaten and bruised from a date with Oregon in Week 8. The Devils lost their two top D-linemen early in the battle with the Ducks, and the result was a deflating blowout loss. The Bruins have a prolific offensive attack behind the play of QB Brett Hundley and RB Johnathan Franklin and could run wild on a depleted Sun Devil D.
As of this morning, DT Will Sutton is listed as doubtful to play, while DE Junior Onyeali is probable. The beastly D-linemen have combined for a ridiculous 12.5 sacks in 2012 and could really key in on the UCLA rushers should they be healthy.
If Hundley is forced to throw in excess, the Bruins may be stuck in neutral. The receiving corps has been decimated by injury, and the hostile environment at Sun Devil Stadium has the potential to rattle a young offensive line.
Senior WR Jerry Johnson is listed as probable to return from a rib injury, which would provide a major boost in experience if he does take the field in Tempe.
On defense, UCLA will look to pressure emerging star QB Taylor Kelly and contain his stable of productive backs. The Bruin front seven has been aggressive so far under defensive coordinator Lou Spanos, but they may have to dial it back a bit against the Devils.
Kelly is an accurate passer (67 percent on the year) and the UCLA secondary has been consistently suspect, so the linebackers will need to drop back in coverage to help out. If the Bruins can limit the pass and take away big play opportunities, they have a good chance to slow ASU's offensive attack.
This game is the definition of a toss-up, as both teams have been good but not great this season. But a pick must be made, so I'll go with UCLA in a hard-fought offensive affair. With the win, the Bruins will be alive and well in the conference title hunt.
For more information on this game, follow this link.