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Listen LIVE to the game on the official voice of BYU Football: KSL Newsradio. Pregame coverage begins at 4 p.m. on SaturdayBy DOUG ALDEN
AP Sports Writer
LAS VEGAS (AP) -- A lot has changed in a little time since UCLA last faced BYU.
The Bruins were ranked No. 13 when they beat BYU 27-17 on Sept. 8. Now, they're a .500 team looking for a coach or unsure who will start at quarterback Saturday against the 19th-ranked Cougars in the Las Vegas Bowl.
A season that started with promise is ending in chaos. The Bruins (6-6) are hoping to salvage a winning record and maybe give interim coach DeWayne Walker an edge in UCLA's search for a successor to coach Karl Dorrell, who was fired at the end of the regular season.
"I don't want them really playing for me," Walker said Friday. "We want to win for the Bruin family. To me that's more important."
Walker hopes to get the job that Dorrell lost after the Bruins lost four of their last five, but has been trying not to look at the last three weeks as an audition. His players have been lobbying UCLA administrators to hire Walker, who was Dorrell's defensive coordinator.
"We can put our word in their ear, but there's only so much we can say," said receiver Brandon Breazell, who will be playing his final game for the Bruins. "All we've can do is come out here and win this game. Hopefully that's enough."
UCLA is 7-1 against BYU, but even the most recent victory over the Cougars seems to have come long ago.
Walker said he wasn't sure who would start at quarterback Saturday. Ben Olson, the former BYU player who transferred after a church mission, was still questionable after aggravating his left knee last week. If Olson wasn't healthy enough to play, sophomore Osaar Rasshan would get the start.
It's been a much more stable year for BYU.
About all that has changed for BYU (10-2) since the meeting at the Rose Bowl three months ago is how well the Cougars are playing. Since losing two of the first three, BYU has won nine in a row and is back at the Las Vegas Bowl for the third straight year.
The Cougars have had back-to-back unbeaten seasons in the Mountain West Conference, but again have been relegated to an early game in the bowl season against a Pac-10 team that had much higher expectations.
The early losses to UCLA and Tulsa kept BYU from contending for the Bowl Championship Series berth that went to Western Athletic Conference champion Hawaii.
Getting to the BCS from one of the unaffiliated leagues is tough and beating a .500, injury-riddled team in UCLA wouldn't do much to bolster the Cougars' future claims. Losing, however, would be a definite strike against the MWC.
"We'll earn that right over time. Right now the only way we'll earn it is being undefeated," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "I think all of us understand the implications. We need facts and data to back up our argument that we deserve a chance."
Mendenhall, in his third season, is trying to get BYU back to where it once was as a national contender. He's slowly making progress.
Last year's 38-8 win over Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl was BYU's first postseason victory in 10 years. The Cougars are trying for their first bowl wins in consecutive seasons since winning the Holiday Bowl in 1983 and 1984, BYU's national championship season.
Although the Cougars haven't had the coaching turmoil and injuries UCLA has faced, BYU is different from what it was in the September meeting. Quarterback Max Hall was playing in just his second college game and had to try to rally the Cougars from a 20-0 deficit. He still passed for 391 yards, one of five 300-yard games Hall had this season.
Although Hall learned quickly, there were still some early season adjustments for the Cougars.
"He got hit quite a few times, but he didn't back down. He doesn't scramble when he doesn't need to. He doesn't panic. He's able to sit in there and make plays," BYU receiver Matt Allen said. "We have a lot more confidence now in what we do."
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)