Arizona-UCLA games have had strange significance in recent years. The Wildcats' visit to the Rose Bowl in 2010 was the team's last win of the season; when UCLA came to Arizona Stadium a year ago, it snapped Arizona's 10-game losing streak to FBS opponents.
Once more there are unusual implications when the Wildcats and Bruins square off, though of a less dubious nature. The winner of Saturday night's game in Pasadena could control its fate in the Pac-12 championship hunt. Not a bad proposition for two first year head coaches, is it?
Arizona would need USC to lose its game against Oregon a few hours earlier, but if the Trojans do, a clean November sheet gives the Wildcats the Pac-12 South title. UCLA doesn't even need to scoreboard-watch -- if the Bruins win out, they're headed to a second Pac-12 championship game. And this time, an asterisk would not accompany the appearance.
Both Jim Mora and Rich Rodriguez are ahead of schedule on their rebuilding projects, each using an inherited senior as their cornerstone. Bruin running back Johnathan Franklin's Heisman candidacy may have gone by the wayside, but he's been no less prolific. Three of his six touchdowns this season have come in the Bruins' last two games, conference wins over Utah and Arizona State.
Franklin has already eclipsed the 1000-yard mark, and is less than his per game average from surpassing the single season career mark of 1127 yards he set in 2010.
There's no question the UCLA offense is at its best when Franklin is getting carries, and holes to exploit via the offensive line -- much like Arizona State last season when then-Sun Devil offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone was scheming for Cameron Marshall. Mazzone's game plan relies on a heavy dose of the pass, but is set up from a dangerous ground game. And Franklin has been one of the most dangerous ball carriers, his 130.3 yards per game ranking him No. 7 among all FBS rushers.
The Bruins' losses coincided with two of Franklin's three least productive outings. Against Oregon State, Franklin rushed for 45 yards; against Cal, he had 102 yards but just 15 carries. The blueprint for Arizona's sixth straight win over UCLA is pretty clear: take the ball out of Franklin's hand, and put the onus on Brett Hundley.
Hundley is quite similar to Arizona quarterback Matt Scott -- who, coincidentally, made his final career start before this season at the Rose Bowl. The redshirt freshman Hundley was recruited by previous Bruin head coach Rick Neuheisel to run the Pistol offense installed midway through his tenure.
Instead, Hundley is operating in Mazzone's system with varying results. He's thrown 18 touchdowns, nearly 2200 yards and is completing 66 percent of his passes. And yet, Arizona needs him to throw. Against Cal: 47 pass attempts. Against Oregon State: 42 attempts.
Those are Hundley's two highest attempt outings, yet yielded just three scores. Cal exploited his high number of throws into a high interception total, picking him off four times. Coincidentally, Arizona's defense has been at its best when creating turnovers.
Last week against USC, the Wildcats intercepted Matt Barkley twice. UA garnered three takeaways off interceptions against Oklahoma State. Arizona's lack of depth lends itself to big yields in yards and points, so creating opportunities via turnovers is paramount to the Wildcats' chances.