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UCLA downplays Goliath role against New Mexico State

Bruins are 42 1/2-point favorites over Aggies but wary that shockers, such as Stanford's upset of USC in 2007, happen.

September 20, 2013|By Chris Foster
  • UCLA's Jordan Zumwalt, left, and Anthony Barr, center, tackle Nevada's Kolby Arendse on Aug. 31, 2013.
UCLA's Jordan Zumwalt, left, and Anthony Barr, center, tackle Nevada's… (Harry How / Getty Images )

Everyone appears to know his role.

Back story: UCLA and New Mexico State go into Saturday night's game at the Rose Bowl heading in different directions. The Bruins, ranked 13th, are coming off a 41-21 thumping of Nebraska at Lincoln. The Aggies, who have not had a winning season since 2002, are on 14-game losing streak.

Action …

New Mexico State Coach Doug Martin: "We are probably playing the hottest team in college football right now. They are probably going to be national title contenders. They definitely have a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback. It is an elite, talented football team."

UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr: "There are no guarantees in college football. I have seen Division II schools beat Division I schools. They are a Division I football team. They have athletes just like we do."

Aaaaand scene.

OK, it's not "Hamlet," but these games usually follow a script, and those were the required soliloquies.

UCLA (2-0) is a 421/2-point favorite. Quarterback Brett Hundley may well become a serious Heisman contender. New Mexico State (0-3) has a 1-20 record against teams from Bowl Championship Series conferences since 2000, losing those 20 games by an average of 30.1 points.

Sure, there was a 28-21 victory over Minnesota in 2011. The Gophers won three games that season and paid the Aggies back with a 44-21 beating two weeks ago. These are cha-ching games for New Mexico State, and UCLA will write a $550,000 check for this one.

All signs point to the Bruins wiping their feet on a doormat before going through the Pac-12 Conference doorway. UCLA opens conference play at Utah on Oct. 3.

The opponent this week was focus. The Bruins are fresh off rallying from an 18-point deficit to beat Nebraska. They are still dealing with the death of receiver Nick Pasquale, who was struck by a car on Sept. 8.

"It could be a tough week," Coach Jim Mora said. "Certainly, what we went through last week, going on the road and everything that led up to that, could make it tough. Now we have an opponent that hasn't had a chance to win a game yet. That's sometimes a really bad recipe.

"I think if you don't address it, don't look out for it, don't try to head it off, you're making a mistake," Mora added. "Human nature is, 'I got this,' and let down a little bit. You've got to keep prodding them."

Like any good defense attorney, Mora can tap into reasonable doubt, and losing to a team like the Aggies would be criminal — worse than Oregon State's season-opening loss to Eastern Washington.

"We approach this game like any other game," UCLA safety Anthony Jefferson said. "The opponent is nameless and faceless."

It would be easy to dangle Stanford's upset of USC in 2007 as a stark reminder about point spreads. The Cardinal, 41-point underdogs, pulled off a 24-23 victory, reportedly the largest point-spread upset in college football history.

New Mexico State in 2013 is not Stanford of 2007. The Cardinal, under first-year Coach Jim Harbaugh, was a good program going through a rough patch.

New Mexico State has had four winning seasons since 1967: 7-5 in 2002, 6-5 in 1999, 6-5 in 1992 and 6-5 in 1978.

There are those who tie the Aggies' struggles to Coach Warren Woodson's forced retirement after the 1967 season.

Woodson had a 63-36-3 record in 10 seasons, including a 20-13 victory over Utah State in the 1960 Sun Bowl — the Aggies' last bowl game. But he scrapped with the administration and was pushed out. University officials used the state's mandatory retirement age of 65. The Woodson Curse was born.

Martin, in his first season as coach, has a more logical explanation.

"I have been showing our team a little bit of New Mexico State football history, and when you go back to 2000 we have averaged 26-27 turnovers a year here," Martin said. "That's why the program hasn't won in quite a long time. That's the biggest issue we face and it has been a historical issue."

The last thing UCLA wants to do is alter history.

"We want to be a team that takes care of business," Jefferson said. "The main thing is to not get complacent and to stay focused on the task at hand."

Aaaaand cut.

chris.foster@latimes.com

Twitter: @cfosterlatimes

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