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Breakout stars Josh Rosen, Tanner Mangum set for meeting at Rose Bowl

A year ago at this time, Tanner Mangum was in northern Chile, serving his Mormon mission, while Josh Rosen was a few months shy of high school graduation. For the average college football fan, their mere existence was unknown.

That's no longer the case.

Just two games into the season, both quarterbacks -- Rosen, UCLA's true freshman phenom, and Mangum, BYU's 22-year-old miracle worker -- have played their way into the national spotlight. Rosen's rapid ascent is mostly a result of his historically impressive debut against Virgnia and Mangum's thanks to a pair of improbable end zone heaves which helped BYU beat Nebraska and Boise State in consecutive weeks.

Both players cracked ESPN.com's Heisman Watch poll this week, appearing with 10 of college football's most well known and established players, and on Saturday their paths collide at the Rose Bowl, where No. 10 UCLA (2-0) hosts No. 19 BYU (2-0) in a game with early ramifications in shaping the College Football Playoff discussion.

"I've seen some of [Rosen's] highlights and he's a very good quarterback. It's awesome to see a young guy like that do so well," Mangum said. "I have a lot of respect for that. It'll be good to go out on Saturday and play not only against him but a team like that around him."

Mangum's respect for Rosen is mirrored by UCLA coach Jim Mora's for him. Twice, it seemed, BYU was on its way to a loss, but twice Mangum found the right combination of luck and skill to conjure wins against steep odds.

"He makes plays down the field," Mora said. "He's got kind of those Johnny Manziel qualities -- runs around and slings it and they come up with it. He's a guy who forces you to cover for a long time."

Against Nebraska, Mangum came in for injured starter Taysom Hill, who will miss the rest of the season with a foot injury, and finished 7 of 11 for 111 yards and one touchdown -- the Hail Mary winner. In his first game as a starter, Mangum was just as impressive, finishing 17 of 28 for 309 yards with a pair of touchdowns and interceptions.

Mora said the Cougars' offense doesn't look different with Mangum as opposed to Hill because of Mangum's ability to make plays when the pocket breaks down.

"We have to be really, really disciplined," Mora said. "We have to play the entire play. We can't assume a play is over ever in the secondary."

What Mora sees as a strength, Mangum sees as something he would like to shore up.

"There's a lot I can work on and improve," he said. "Overall, it's getting comfortable in the pocket. [Boise State] brought good pressure, so it's making sure I do my best to stay in the pocket and look down the field.

"Sometimes I was a little antsy, but I feel I did some good things as well."

UCLA has created decent pressure over the first two weeks, but has just a pair of sacks to show for it.

BYU's playoff chances hinge on its opportunity against UCLA. Should the Cougars, a 16-point underdog, get by UCLA, it wouldn't take much creativity to envision an unbeaten rest of the regular season. With games against Michigan, Cincinnati and Missouri remaining, the Cougars would have enough impressive wins to warrant playoff consideration. And if BYU loses, its candidacy would end there.

For UCLA, a win against BYU would likely stand up as its best nonconference win of the season (although Virginia looked better-than-expected against Notre Dame last week) and would serve as a good launching pad into Pac-12 play. The Bruins could theoretically still make the playoff with a loss, but for that loss to come to BYU would make it hard to bounce back.