The coming week is all about staying focused for the UCLA Bruins (7-2, 4-2) as they prepare to travel to Pullman to battle the Washington State Cougars (2-7, 0-6) in a nationally televised prime-time matchup.
UCLA is fresh off a stunning 66-10 bludgeoning of Arizona, while WSU is limping into the date with the Bruins after being routed by Utah, 49-6.
With the win, UCLA obtained sole possession of first-place in the Pac-12 South, and the Bruins control their own destiny to get to the Pac-12 Conference Championship.
First-year head coach Jim Mora clearly has his team on an upswing, as UCLA is ranked in the BCS standings (No. 18), the AP poll (No. 17) and the Coaches' poll (No. 19).
All signs point to a walkaway victory for UCLA, which is exactly what has the Bruin faithful worried.
In the not-so-distant past, UCLA has made a bad habit of flopping when favored, so Saturday's showdown with Wazzu has the look of a prototypical trap game.
If the Bruins can keep up their "one-game-at-a-time" mentality, they should roll WSU and improve to 8-2. But if they come out cocky, peeking past the Cougs to the Nov. 17 Battle for Los Angeles, UCLA could be in for a rude awakening on the Palouse.
When: Saturday, Nov. 10 at 10:30 p.m. ET
Where: Martin Stadium, Pullman, WA
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Listen: Free Football Radio
Betting Line: UCLA -16.5 (via OddsShark.com)
With the opening line, UCLA was favored by two touchdowns, a surprisingly small spread given the two teams' divergent paths. But the line jumped to -16.5 on Thursday, making the Bruins three-possession favorites. The line could certainly change as kickoff approaches, but as of now, UCLA looks like a pretty good pick to win and cover the spread.
Injury Report (via USA Today)
WR Devin Lucien, QST (Collarbone)
OT Brett Downey, QST (Undisclosed)
C Greg Capella, OUT (Concussion)
RB Theron West, Day-to-Day (Undisclosed)
RB Leon Brooks, Day-to-Day (Foot)
WR Isiah Myers, Day-to-Day (Undisclosed)
RB Teondray Caldwell, Day-to-Day (Head)
BCS/Top 25 Implications
Washington State hasn't come close to the Top 25 in any manner this season, so we can brush that aside right off the bat.
For UCLA, on the other hand, this game has the potential to be a huge boost or a major setback on the road to BCS and media poll supremacy.
If the Bruins hit the road and handle the Cougs with ease, they are likely to climb even higher in the rankings. But if Wazzu comes out hot and UCLA struggles to dominate their 2-7 opponents, the Bruins could drop back in the polls, or even out entirely.
As of Week 11, UCLA sits at No. 18 in the BCS Standings, leaving the Bruins just four spots out of the Top 14, a required milestone to be considered for a BCS bowl. Look for UCLA to capitalize on a backloaded schedule to play its way into a premiere postseason position.
Key Storylines for UCLA
The main storylines to keep an eye on for UCLA include the focus of the team, issues with discipline and the matchup of the Bruins' offense and the Wazzu defense.
First, let's take a look at the mental side of things, where UCLA will need to fight through a proverbial "trap game."
As two-touchdown favorites on the road, a ranked Bruins squad will need to maintain complete and undivided attention on the task at hand, which is to dismantle the reeling Washington State Cougars.
The last time UCLA entered a game against a major underdog in 2012 ended poorly, as the lowly California Golden Bears took the unprepared Bruins to the woodshed, 43-17. Here are some grades from that bad loss.
If UCLA hopes to keep up their forward progress, all thoughts must be on Nov. 10 and the Cougs, not the USC Trojans.
Another issue the Bruins need to overcome in the upcoming weeks will be a frustratingly consistent lack of discipline. UCLA currently ranks dead last in the Pac-12 in penalties, having drawn 80 flags for 773 total yards.
The Bruins can not afford to give up free yards, especially in a game that could get ugly offensively due to the weather on the Palouse.
For this week's weather forecast in Pullman, follow this link.
After seeing what the Bruins did to an equally porous Arizona defense, UCLA figures to have a monster advantage in this matchup. But Jim Mora & Co. need to downplay their advantage in order to have the team ready to go on Saturday.
Key Storylines for Washington State
For the Cougars, the keys to victory will be channeling their emotions, avoiding turnovers and limiting sacks. And, needless to say, they will have to play well on defense too.
Recent comments from Mike Leach have left his team in an uneasy state, as the first-year head coach was extremely critical after Wazzu's loss to Utah.
Per a report from The Spokesman-Review, Leach had this to say of his team's effort:
"We’ll get something figured out. I don’t know. If you figure it out, give me a call. Because I can’t fathom on any level how you work at anything and then come out and just not even try. It doesn’t matter what physical condition a person’s in, how old, how young, anybody is capable of great effort. Anybody is capable of it. The fact of the matter is, today we refused to give it."
And to add insult to injury, star WR and leading pass-catcher Marquess Wilson was suspended on Monday for a violation of team rules. According to the Moscow-Pullman Daily News (via ESPN), Wilson stormed out of practice on Sunday, likely frustrated from having his starting spot stripped away the last two games.
If Washington State can't separate itself from the many distractions swirling around the program, this game could get nasty very quickly.
In terms of the Xs and Os, the Cougs will need to plug up the holes in their offensive line, which is currently tied for last in the conference in sacks allowed.
If they can't find an answer, a resurgent UCLA D-line, which ranks third in the Pac-12 in sacks, will be licking their chops on Saturday.
Finally, in a matchup that figures to see the Bruins score plenty, the WSU QB carousel will need to find some stability and keep up.
Wazzu currently ranks No. 2 in the conference in passing yards, but previous numbers didn't prove to mean much for Arizona last week. The Wildcats are No. 1 in the Pac-12, but only managed 136 yards passing with no TDs against the Bruins.
The Cougars will struggle heavily if they can't secure a steady source of production, as well as protect the ball. This is especially true against a UCLA defense that's been peaking in recent weeks.
Prediction: UCLA 42, Washington State 16
Based on the Bruins' recent trend upwards, it appears that UCLA has learned from its mistakes in Berkeley and will come out with guns blazing in Pullman.
With the Pac-12 South title hanging above the Bruins like a tantalizing piece of meat, it seems unlikely that Jim Mora won't have his team fired up and ready to go.
UCLA will roll on offense, gashing the unintimidating Wazzu defense on the ground and through the air to score a lot of points.
Defensively, the Bruins will be able to key-in on the Cougs' passing game since WSU has the worst rushing offense in the nation. This should provide plenty of opportunities for UCLA to create turnovers, especially if Marquess Wilson is suspended for the contest.