Don't tell anyone at UCLA, but the Bruins' game against No. 19 Arizona State on Saturday at the Rose Bowl is for first place in the Pac-12 South.
UCLA isn't discussing the implications of the game because they got caught looking ahead two weeks ago when they had a chance to get into first place and then laid a mighty egg during a 48-12 loss at Arizona.
In order to compete against the Sun Devils and forge that tie atop the standings, the Bruins will have to stop one of the nation's top quarterbacks -- again.
Arizona State's Brock Osweiler is No. 16 in the nation with 2,275 yards passing. He will be the seventh quarterback UCLA has faced this season who ranks among the top 25 in the nation in passing yards. Case Keenum (Houston, No. 1), Nick Foles (Arizona, 3), Andrew Luck (Stanford, 18), Sean Mannion (Oregon State, 19), Marshall Lobbestael (Washington State, 24) and Zach Maynard (California, 25) are the others.
Osweiler leads a no-huddle spread attack that is averaging 294 yards passing per game and 35.88 points per game. He has passed for 250 yards or more in all but one game this season and has 17 touchdown passes. Last year, in a 55-34 victory over UCLA, Osweiler had 380 yards passing and four touchdowns -- both career highs.
But that game is something else UCLA isn't talking about this week. The Bruins raced to a 17-0 lead in that Thanksgiving weekend game, but couldn't keep pace with the high-powered Arizona State offense.
The Sun Devils' attack isn't all Osweiler. Running back Cameron Marshall is averaging 79 yards rushing to rank seventh in the Pac-12. He has two 100-yard games this season and rushed for three touchdowns last week against Colorado. He had 147 yards rushing last year against UCLA.
And Osweiler has several weapons in the passing game: Four receivers have 24 or more receptions and six players have caught touchdown passes. Gerrell Robinson is the big-play threat averaging 17 yards per catch, but possession receiver Jamal Miles might be more dangerous.
Miles is tied with Robinson for the team lead in receptions with 36, leads the team in receiving touchdowns with five and is the only player in the nation to have scored a touchdown on a reception, kickoff return and punt return as well as throw a touchdown pass.
And the Sun Devils are plenty talented on the other side of the ball with Vontaze Burfict, one of the most feared linebackers in the country, leading the way. Burfict (6-3, 252) has the kind of speed that allows him to make plays all over the field and intimidates with his physical style of play. He has 45 tackles this season, including a team-leading four sacks.
With many teams scheming around Burfict, outside linebacker Colin Parker has emerged as the team tackles leader with 49. Where the Sun Devils have shown some vulnerability, however, is in pass defense. They are giving up 240.25 yards per game through the air with a secondary that has played without top cover man Omar Bolden all season because of a knee injury.
That pass defense is No. 80 in the nation, though the Sun Devils lead the Pac-12 with 13 interceptions. Clint Floyd and Alden Darby each have three picks for the ball-hawking Sun Devils, who lead the conference and are fourth in the nation with 25 turnovers forced.
Also of note, defensive end Junior Onyeali, the Pac-10 freshman defensive player of the year last year after recording 11.5 tackles for a loss, returned last week from a knee injury that held him out since Sept. 17. He did not have a tackle in limited action against Colorado, but should get an increased role as he gets back into game shape.