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UCLA's Noel Mazzone knows how serious fans are in SEC country

UCLA FOOTBALL FYI

Appointment of an SEC athletic director as chairman of the college football playoff committee gives the Bruins' offensive coordinator a chance to recall his time coaching in the SEC. 'It's important to them down there,' he says.

October 16, 2013|By Chris Foster

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Surprise. An athletic director from a Southeastern Conference school will chair the college football playoff committee.

The appointment of Jeff Long, Arkansas' athletic director, is certain to raise eyebrows everywhere north (east and west) of the South. But to get that down-home-country view you should ask someone who has spent a lot of time there.

So, how does the SEC view the college football world?

"That the Southeastern Conference is the college football world," UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said. "They are. The last seven national champions have come out of the SEC."

Mazzone spent six seasons at Mississippi, 1995-98 and 2004-05, and was at Auburn from 1999 to 2001. Toss in North Carolina State in 2003 and Mazzone is the most qualified on the UCLA staff to give the Southern perspective.

"They get 90,000 people a game at all those places," Mazzone said. "It's important to them down there."

Mazzone sees the new four-team playoff format, which takes effect next season, as good for the rest of college football.

"It's a heck of a deal, almost like Final Four stuff," Mazzone said. "It gives you a chance. All this stuff about strength of schedule, who decides all that? This gives a team that maybe stumbles, or one that is a little slow at the start, a chance. It's who's the best team at the end of the year type of scenario."

Of course, Mazzone said, it works "as long as you are one of the four."

One spot in this season's national-title game is all but assured to go to the SEC. UCLA, ranked ninth, could get in that discussion for the other spot with victories over Stanford and Oregon on Oct. 26. That would leave the Bruins as the only undefeated team in the Pac-12 Conference.

And, in Mazzone's view, the Pac-12 sits eyeball to eyeball with the SEC.

"I think there is parity between us and the SEC," Mazzone said. "The gap has really closed fast. There are a lot of good football coaches in the Pac-12, head coaches and assistants."

Finishing kicks

Stanford's Ty Montgomery averages 37.3 yards on kickoff returns, tops in the nation. He has returned a kickoff for touchdowns in the last two games — 99 yards against Washington and 100 against Utah.

Asked what challenge Montgomery presents, UCLA special-teams coach Jeff Ulbrich said, "what challenge doesn't he present is the better question. He's fast and he's hard to tackle. For some reason, the one-on-one tackle doesn't work with him. You see that time after time. He makes people miss or breaks tackles. He's extraordinary. I would say every time he touches the ball, he's pretty scary."

UCLA is giving up 18.7 yards per kickoff return. But this is a different beast the Bruins will face.

"I saw it in the NFL, when you get a return team really believing in a guy, like with [the Chicago Bears'] Devin Hester, everyone blocks a little harder because they believe he can break it," Ulbrich said. "Stanford is at that place where they think they can break every one and that makes them dangerous."

Montgomery has 31 receptions for 514 yards and five touchdowns.

Quick hits

Defensive end Ellis McCarthy (head injury) dressed for practice Wednesday. Coach Jim Mora expects him to play.

::

Receiver Darius Bell, who is believed to have an ankle injury, did not suit up for practice.

chris.foster@latimes.com

Twitter: @cfosterlatimes

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