UCLA looks for big season from quarterback Olson

UCLA looks for big season from quarterback Olson

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By KEN PETERS AP Sports Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The 14th-ranked UCLA Bruins have 10 starters returning on each side of the ball, and if quarterback Ben Olson can finally live up to his promise, they should be a strong contender in the Pac-10 race this season.

The Bruins, 7-6 last year, open their campaign Sept. 1 with a conference game at Stanford.

Karl Dorrell, heading into his fifth year as the Bruins' coach, has high hopes for Olson and backup Pat Cowan.

"We're going to really emphasize for that guy (quarterback) to handle a lot of information. We're very fortunate that we feel we can do that, given that Ben Olson is the returning starter and Pat Cowan is the returning starter in the backup position," Dorrell said.

"Both of those guys have extensive playing experience, can handle game plans, can handle the process. We feel those guys are ready for that kind of challenge."

Cowan, who played well in UCLA's 13-9 regular season-ending upset of then-No. 1 Southern California last fall, has had his camp interrupted by a hamstring injury that's expected to keep him on the sidelines for several weeks.

Olson, now a fourth-year junior, started the first five games last season, then was sidelined after tearing the medial collateral ligament in his left knee in the fifth game, a 27-7 win over Arizona on Oct. 7. He returned to practice on Nov. 7, but Cowan remained the starter.

Olson was one of the nation's most highly regarded quarterbacks when he came out of high school in Thousand Oaks, Calif., in 2002. He redshirted at Brigham Young that fall, then went on a two-year church mission. When he returned, he transferred to UCLA.

The 6-foot-4, 231-pound Olson, who completed 64 percent of his throws for 822 yards and five touchdowns and was intercepted five times before being hurt last year, believes he's ready to make his mark.

"I am a lot more comfortable this year. I have all the confidence in the world we're going to have a stronger offense," the 24-year-old quarterback said. "We have a lot of experience now. The players we believe can do some big things. That's why the expectations are big. We just have to turn that potential into results."

Tailback Chris Markey, the Bruins' most productive offensive player last year, also is back.

"He returns with the most receptions on our team, and he's our leading rusher," Dorrell said. "I think those are big, big attributes. We have some good experience and guys that can perform on that side of the ball."

Markey gained 1,107 yards on 227 carries and had 35 receptions for 261 yards last season.

The receiving corps looks solid, with tight end Logan Paulsen (29 catches for 364 yards) and wide receivers Marcus Everett (31 receptions for 450 yards) and Brandon Breazell (21 for 389) returning.

A wild card for the Bruins might be Osaar Rasshan, a third-year sophomore converted from quarterback to wide receiver. During camp, the 6-4, 212-pound Rasshan has been particularly impressive with his open-field moves after catching the ball.

Defensively, the Bruins figure to be led by defensive end Bruce Davis, a fifth-year senior who had 12.5 sacks last season; linebacker Christian Taylor, who had 11 tackles in the win over USC; and a strong secondary featuring cornerbacks Trey Brown and Rodney Van and safeties Dennis Keyes and Chris Horton.

Davis said the Bruins' experience should be a big plus.

"We have 25 seniors now. For some of us, we've been together going on five years, so we fit together well," he said. "It's definitely a different atmosphere in the locker room. We're just more mature.

"We know what it takes to win games and we obviously know that we've lost games, and we don't want to go out there this year and do that again."

Dorrell said having a so many starters back on both sides of the ball is a huge advantage from a paper standpoint, with a challenge involved.

"Since it's on paper, that's an expectation," he said. "That's the pressure side of it. I believe the team is mature enough to handle that."

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) APTV-08-24-07 1749MDT

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