Aug 29, 2001
By VIN A. CHERWOO
AP MegaSports Writer
With 24 seniors, UCLA has experience.
Alabama has excitement about a new start with a new head coach.
The 17th-ranked Bruins hope to rely on their poise when they open the season against the No. 25 Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday.
"We have a senior-oriented football team, the most seniors I've had since I've been here, so they've been in the big stadiums," UCLA coach Bob Toledo said on Monday. "They've been to the Michigans, the Ohio States, so they've played in some big stadiums."
Toledo will look to that experience since he is still unsure of what to expect from Alabama, which begins its first season under head coach Dennis Franchione.
"They've got a new coach and coaching staff and there will be some new enthusiasm, the crowd and the anticipation of what's going to happen," Toledo said. "There'll be some excitement there that maybe they wouldn't normally have."
The Bruins open the season against the Tide for the second straight time, after stunning then-No. 3 Alabama 35-24 at home last year. UCLA sophomore quarterback Cory Paus separated his shoulder on the first play, then Ryan McCann stepped in to complete 14 of 24 passes for 194 yards and one touchdown.
Paus' big concern this season will be staying healthy, having missed time due to various injuries the past two years. He did start the final seven games last season and UCLA went just 3-4, but Paus still led the Pac-10 Conference in pass-completion percentage and yards per game. Then, he broke his collarbone in the Sun Bowl - two plays before halftime - and UCLA went on to lose 21-20 to Wisconsin.
Also returning on offense are tailback DeShaun Foster and wide receiver Brian Poli-Dixon - both seniors. Foster rushed for 187 yards and three touchdowns in last year's game against Alabama, and Poli-Dixon had a 31-yard touchdown reception.
After UCLA allowed a school-record 368 points last season, Toledo hired Phil Snow as the Bruins' fourth defensive coordinator in five years.
Snow's first test this year is against an Alabama team that is coming off a 3-8 season - its worst mark in 43 years.
Franchione, hired away from TCU last December to replace the fired Mike DuBose, has a 138-65-2 record in 18 seasons at such humble outposts as Pittsburg (Kan.) State and New Mexico. He brings a disciplined and professional approach, and the players seem to have responded well in practice.
The Tide defense should also be more aggressive under new coordinator Carl Torbush, the former North Carolina head coach.
Franchione has not announced who will be the starting quarterback, though he said last week he has decided on a starter between senior Andrew Zow and junior Tyler Watts.
Watts, who has recovered from knee surgery that sidelined him the latter half of last season, is steadier than Zow. While Zow can make more big plays, he also can make more bad ones, and minimizing mistakes will be a premium.
"After a 3-8 season, I don't care who's back there," said Zow, who needs 361 yards passing to pass Jay Barker as Alabama's career leader. "I don't want to go 3-8 again."
While Alabama's quarterback situation is unsettled, the running game is secure with junior tailback Ahmaad Galloway to get most of the carries after leading the team in rushing last season.
The Tide open the season under the shadow of an NCAA investigation into charges of recruiting and academic violations under DuBose from 1996-2000. A strong start could help ease the sting of potential sanctions.