Kevin Prince, left, will start at quarterback for UCLA on Saturday against… (Los Angeles Times )
A season that will determine Rick Neuheisel's future as UCLA's coach begins Saturday afternoon against Houston and its record-setting quarterback, Case Keenum. Staff writer Chris Foster examines the game's issues and matchups:
Houston's quarterback situation is settled. With a big season, Keenum could establish NCAA career records for yards passing and touchdowns.
A year ago, he was a Heisman Trophy hopeful after back-to-back seasons in which he passed for more than 5,000 yards. But then Keenum decided to chase after UCLA's Akeem Ayers following an interception, and he tore up his knee. His do-over season makes the Cougars dangerous.
UCLA's quarterback situation is significantly more muddled.
Kevin Prince will start, but Neuheisel has promised playing time to Richard Brehaut. That raises questions: Does Prince get pulled even if he's putting points on the board? Does an intercepted pass result in a quick hook? Does Neuheisel have a two-for-one coupon to scream at quarterbacks?
Odds are none of that will matter. The Bruins have Houston this week and San Jose State next week, a likely two-game trial period.
Keenum has reason to be looking over his shoulder. UCLA defensive end Datone Jones is lurking.
Jones missed last season because of a broken foot. During training camp he has looked prepared for a big season. Jones had four sacks as a sophomore two years ago.
Second on the Keenum watch-out list is Patrick Larimore, UCLA's middle linebacker. He had 12 tackles, including three for losses, against Houston last season, and it was his hit that knocked Cotton Turner, Keenum's replacement, from the game.
A year ago, UCLA rolled up 266 yards rushing against the Cougars. Johnathan Franklin, making his first start, ran for 158 yards and three touchdowns. Prince ran for 60 yards.
Houston, which was ranked 114th out of 120 major-college teams against the run, brought in reinforcements from the junior college ranks in nose tackle Dominic Smith and linebacker Everett Daniels.
Moving beef is a Texas specialty, but the Bruins average 314 pounds along the offensive line.
Don't tread on me
UCLA produced a lot of conference offensive player-of-the-week awards last season.
Mostly for opposing running backs.
The Bruins were ranked 108th against the run, allowing eight teams to gain 200 or more yards. Injuries and the absence of Jones were partly to blame, but there were other issues.
Defensive coordinator Joe Tresey was brought in to fix the situation, and he has more depth and experience up front to work with. Beside Jones, another player to watch is defensive end Damien Holmes.
Expect a wet one
Houston Coach Kevin Sumlin said he expects "a typical Houston day."
The forecast calls for a high of 93 degrees with 40% chance of thunderstorms. To quote Davey Crockett: "You can all go to hell. I'm going to Texas."
Kevin McDermott, UCLA's long snapper, was preparing for the worst this week, having a teammate pour water on the ball while he practiced his snaps.