If recent history is any indication, UCLA's Pac-12 opener against Oregon State should be quite a nail biter.
The Bruins will travel to Corvallis, Ore., for a Saturday matchup between teams that have gone down to the wire the last two times they met. Last year, Kai Forbath made a game winning field goal as time expired for a 17-14 UCLA victory. In 2009, James Rodgers scored on a 17-yard run with 44 seconds remaining to give Oregon State a 26-19 victory.
"These have been great games over the years," UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said. "We have the utmost respect for their program and coach Riley and his staff. We know it’s going to be a very tough environment, but if we’re going to be who we want to be, we’ve got to win on the road in the Pac-12."
The Bruins haven't had much success in conference road games since Neuheisel took over, having gone 2-11 in such games, but they have won three of the last four games played at Oregon State.
And this year is as good as any to win another because while the Bruins may be off to a rocky start tot he season, if there is a team in the Pac-12 Conference going through a tough time, it's Oregon State.
The Beavers are coming off of a bye week and they have had two weeks to stew over an 0-2 start that included an embarrassing home loss to Sacramento State and a blowout loss at Wisconsin.
Getting routed on the road against a top-10 team is one thing, but losing to a Football Championship Subdivision team at home is another. And the combination of those two is what gives Neuheisel some concern heading into the Bruins' first conference game in the newly-aligned Pac-12.
"They’re a team that has not started well like us, so they’re going to have an unbelievable energy playing in front of their home crowd this weekend and we have to match that and try to surpass it," he said.
Redshirt freshman Sean Mannion will try and change Oregon State's fortunes when he makes his first career start on Saturday. He had been splitting time with Ryan Katz, last year's starter, but will get the No. 1 nod against the Bruins. Mannion has completed 33 of 50 passes without a touchdown or an interception for the Beavers, who have yet to throw a touchdown pass this season.
Mannion's ascension is part of a youth movement at Oregon State, which has nine true freshmen in its playing rotation. Leading rusher Malcolm Agnew (233 yards and three touchdowns in 33 carries) is one of those freshmen, and with his sprinter's speed, he's the one that should cause most concern for the porous UCLA run defense.
Another concern will be receiver Markus Wheaton, another speedster who is a deep threat and also gets carries on end-arounds and sweeps. He had a 22-yard touchdown run against UCLA last season. Rodgers, out for almost a year with a knee injury, is expected to return Saturday and if he does, that gives Oregon State's offense another weapon.
Rodgers, the brother of Jacquizz Rodgers, was an All-conference selection in 2009 and holds the Oregon State school record for all purpose yards with 5,784. If he plays, it's not certain if he'll go 100 percent or if the Beavers will work him into the mix little by little.
Defensively, linebacker Feti Unga and end Scott Chricton lead a unit that has been respectable against the run in giving up 139.5 yards rushing per game. The Beavers have shown weakness against the pass, however, allowing opponents to complete nearly 70 percent of their passes while giving up seven touchdown passes in two games.