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September 1, 2007

UCLA ready for Stanford

There are high expectations for the UCLA football team and the 2007 season. There should be. The Bruins enter the season rated as the nation's No. 14 team. They return 20 starters from an inconsistent team a year ago. The Bruins would play great one game, and then let the next one get away. Case in point was UCLA's terrific victory over archrival USC, and then the follow up that game with flop against Florida State.

Finishing games and playing with consistency will major tenets for this UCLA Bruin team if their expectations are going to be met.

Going into the 2006 season there were questions about UCLA's defense and new defensive coordinator Dewayne Walker. It didn't take Bruin fans long to start showering Walker with well-deserved praise.

Now the offense is faces with the same dilemma in 2007 that the defense did a year ago. UCLA head coach Karl Dorrell let offensive coordinator Jim Svoboda and hiredJay Norvell in his place.

Norvell came to the Bruins from Nebraska where he helped develop Husker quarterback Zac Taylor into the Big 12 Offensive Player of Year.

Though Norvell comes to UCLA with an impressive resume, he has yet called plays. Those duties were handled by Cornhusker head coach Bill Callahan.

During the spring Norvell told reporters that he has been preparing for this moment his whole coaching career. If Norvell has half the success that Walker and his defense did a year ago then the lofty expectations that this UCLA team has for itself could be met.

The Bruins hope that Norvell can repeat the success he had with Taylor and develops his new quarterback Ben Olson into the player UCLA fans have hoped for when he committed to them after returning from his LDS mission.

If Olson plays well, and the offense jells, then this team could end up being very good.

Olson will try to get on track against a Stanford team that is coming off a disastrous 1-11 season that saw their head coach Walt Harris lose his job in only his second season. Stanford went out and hired the brash former Michigan and NFL quarterback, Jim Harbaugh.

Harbaugh comes to the Cardinal after a very impressive stint at the University of San Diego where he won two I-AA Mid-Major national titles after posting two consecutive 11-1 seasons. During his three-year stay at USD, Harbaugh had a 29-6 record.

The new Stanford coach has his work cut out for him and one of the first things that Harbaugh did when he took the job was to try and change his team's attitude.

Harbaugh is trying to bring some swagger to his program and he has been quite quotable since taking the job alienating many including USC coach Pete Carroll among others.

There should be improvement by the Cardinal if for no other reason that Harbaugh is changing their attitude and like the Bruins the Cardinal brings back a lot of experience. Stanford returns 17 starters including a trio of very talented receivers in Mark Bradford, Evan Moore and Richard Sherman.

This trio of wide receivers has combined to catch 216 passes for 3,444 yards and 25 touchdowns. Bradford has accounted for 118 of them and Moore with his 6-7 height could present matchup problems. That is why UCLA better put some pressure on the quarterback. There is nothing like quarterback on his butt to equalize offensive advantages.

The Cardinal also have a talented offensive line anchored junior tackle Allen Smith who has started the last 20 games, 19 of them at the all important weakside tackle spot.

Fifth-year senior quarterback T.C. Ostrander is beginning his first season as fulltime starter after backing up Trent Edwards for the last three seasons. He does have starting experience and started the final five games for the Cardinal in 2006.

Stanford's defense is a question mark and the Bruins on paper have the advantage here. That is not to imply that Stanford's defense is without playmakers, but it is never a good indication when starting cornerback Nick Sanchez and his 100 career tackles leads the team.

Sophomore defensive tackle Ekom Udofia could pose problems for the Bruins. He's a playmaker from inside. He named third-team freshman All-American and first-team freshman All-Pac 10 after racking up 43 tackles.

Another advantage the Cardinal has is with the element of surprise. It is always difficult to prepare for a team with a new coach. While it is true you can look at the new coach's past and that may or may not be an indicator.

Many coaches will look at their personnel and coach accordingly until they get the players they need to truly implement their system.

The Bruins will have to make adjustments on the fly until Stanford's tendencies become somewhat known.

While it is true that Stanford has some playmakers, UCLA's defense is the strength of this team at this juncture and should be able to handle what the Cardinal throws at them.

This is very important game for the Bruins. They must make a statement on what kind of a football team they are going to be.

For a solid team with high expectations, a solid win is expected.


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