EL PASO — Fifth-year senior Brett Basanez has had a remarkable college football career at Northwestern.
He's the Wildcats' winningest quarterback, with 22 victories, and owns 28 school records, including career records for passing yardage, completions and total offense.
"I can't put into words what Baz means to [Northwestern]," freshman running back Tyrell Sutton said. "He brings so much to the table. Whether it is leadership on and off the field, his poise in a game or how he conducts himself in public. He's the total package."
Yet, the one thing Basanez has not been able to do is lead the Wildcats to a bowl-game victory. That's an accomplishment that has eluded Northwestern quarterbacks since the 1949 Rose Bowl.
"This is what you play college football for, and that's to play in a late-season bowl game," Basanez said about playing today against No. 17 UCLA in the Sun Bowl.
"As one of the seniors on the team, I know that we want to go out on top, and winning a bowl game would do that."
Although the Bruins (9-2) are the favorites, Northwestern (7-4) has more than a fighting chance because of Basanez, a four-year starter, and the Wildcats' explosive offense.
During the regular season, Northwestern had the nation's eighth-best attack, gaining 492.7 yards a game and averaging 31.8 points.
"[Basanez] makes that offense go," UCLA Coach Karl Dorrell said. "When you have a quarterback who can operate your offense -- like how [Drew] Olson operates our offense -- that makes everything work, and he's been that for sure for Northwestern."
But Basanez hasn't always been efficient directing Coach Randy Walker's spread offense. In his first two seasons, Basanez had only 11 touchdown passes with 19 interceptions.
The turning point came last year when, despite playing with a dislocated throwing shoulder for part of the season, Basanez passed for nearly 3,000 yards with 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
That set the stage for this season when Basanez broke his own single-season passing mark with 3,206 yards and threw 19 touchdown passes with only six interceptions. He was selected as a finalist for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and a semifinalist for the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award.
"I've been in the program awhile and I kind of know what to expect," said Basanez, who needs 36 yards rushing today to become the first player in Division I-A history to reach 10,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards.
"With our offense, it's been a growing process, and it's really not about who we play. It's about how well we execute our game plan."
In UCLA, Basanez will be facing one of the most porous defenses in the country. The Bruins give up 457.5 yards and 33.8 points a game and suffered lopsided defeats to USC (66-19) and Arizona (52-14).
But UCLA's defense against the pass has been solid, giving up a Pacific 10 Conference-best 218.9 yards. That has caught the attention of Basanez.
"You watch film of UCLA and you can see that if they had made a couple of plays here and there, the games that they lost would not have gotten out of hand like they did," said Basanez, Division I-A's second-leading active passer with 10,164 yards, behind USC's Matt Leinart at 10,328.
"They have a very athletic defense that can make plays when given a chance. Plus, they've had so much time to prepare for our offense. I'm sure that they'll be ready for a lot of the stuff we run."
A major strength for Basanez has been his ability to make adjustments at the line of scrimmage. With the flexibility of the spread offense, he's a master at taking what a defense gives.
"We move guys around a lot in order to get defenses to expose their game plan," Basanez said. "We know that they can't be moving around all of the time when we're adjusting our lineup by putting guys in motion and changing splits and stuff.
"Even when teams have scouted us, they find out that it's a lot different on game days. We just have to take advantage if they get out of position."
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Career statistics for Northwestern quarterback Brett Basanez:
*--* YEAR CMP ATT YDS CMP% YPA LNG TD INT SACK 2002 190 325 2204 58.5 6.78 38 7 7 12 2003 162 302 1916 53.6 6.34 77 4 12 22 2004 247 460 2838 53.7 6.17 69 12 9 11 2005 276 427 3206 64.6 7.51 67 19 6 10