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Pasadena, Calif. • Against the best teams. On the biggest stages. In front of as many people as possible.
Football coach Bronco Mendenhall has stated BYU's scheduling philosophy hundreds of times since the Cougars became an independent in 2011, with mixed results.
Well, throw in "with a freshman quarterback, against a highly touted freshman quarterback," and Saturday's game against No. 10 UCLA at the historic Rose Bowl takes on even more significance than even Mendenhall could have asked for.
Dubbed the "Rookie Bowl" in some quarters, the nationally televised (Fox Sports 1) game pits BYU's 22-year-old Tanner Mangum and UCLA's 18-year-old Josh Rosen, along with undefeated teams.
Rosen, ranked as the No. 1 prep quarterback in the country out of St. John Bosco High last fall, has been as good as advertised in wins over Virginia and UNLV, throwing for 574 yards and four touchdowns. Relieving Taysom Hill after BYU's opening-day starter suffered a season-ending foot injury against Nebraska, Mangum has emerged as a national media darling after delivering last-second wins over the Huskers and Boise State.
"Really skilled and poised for a younger player. I have been really impressed," Mendenhall said of Rosen, ranked by Rivals.com as the best overall recruit of the 2015 signing class.
The coach won't acknowledge it, but this has got to be the program's most important game since it went rogue and slowly tumbled out of consciousness of the college football world before opening this season with the Mangum-powered upset wins.
At one of the sport's most venerable venues, "America's Team," as dubbed by an ESPN reporter, will face the red-hot Rose Bowl and a confident Bruins team thoroughly capable of crushing that dream.
It's a golden opportunity against almost insurmountable odds. Homestanding UCLA (2-0) is a 17-point favorite.
"An opportunity to beat a great team at a great place, to really show who we are," said BYU receiver Mitch Mathews. "We could be one of the most talked-about teams in the country right now. … All eyes are going to be on us, so if we go and sit on our hands, then I guess we will just squander what we have already built."
Most national experts are saying this is the week that playing without Hill school record-bound rusher Jamaal Williams, who withdrew from school a few days before preseason camp began, will catch up to BYU. They say Mangum will run out of magic against a superior team with a better supporting cast.
"They are a very good team," Mathews said. "It is at their place. This will probably be the biggest game I have played in, or one of the most important that I have been a part of."
For UCLA, it is just another game against a ranked opponent. The Bruins are 9-6 against ranked teams since Jim Mora became their coach in 2012.
"Real great opportunity this week to play a very, very good team in BYU, and measure where we are at as a team at this point in the season," Mora said. "So we are looking forward to the challenge."
Under the contract terms for the two-game series, BYU will host UCLA on Sept. 17 next year in Provo and the visiting team to receive $300,000 within 90 days of playing the game. It will be officiated by Pac-12 officials.
A win could mean incredible national exposure for the Cougars, and throw the spotlight on them even more heading into next week's game against Michigan and the other headline-grabbing story of the young season, Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh.
"I am sure what our players, or I, will hear is this is the biggest game of independence, or the biggest game of the season," said Mendenhall. "[But] Nebraska was pretty big. And Boise was pretty big. And UCLA now is pretty big. My guess is Michigan after that will be pretty big. So we will just keep playing, and that's all I am telling my team. To think about it any more than that is a distraction, and the more we think about something else besides our assignments, and getting ready for our opponent, the more of a mistake it will be. And that's been my message to them."
Mathews said a win "will solidify those two wins that we had, and they won't be lucky anymore."
It will be BYU's first game in the Rose Bowl since the Bruins edged them 27-17 in 2007 in UCLA's seventh straight win in the series. BYU has won the last two matchups, 17-16 in the 2007 Las Vegas Bowl and 59-0 in Provo in 2008.
BYU received 500 complimentary tickets, per the contract, and was able sell up to 4,500 through its website; officials are expecting about 7,000 BYU fans.
Battle of rookie quarterbacks
Freshman QB Comp-Att. Yards TDs Ints.
UCLA's Josh Rosen 50-77 574 4 1
BYU's Tanner Mangum 24-39 420 3 2
No. 19 BYU at No. 10 UCLA
At Pasadena, Calif.
Kickoff • Saturday, 8:30 p.m. MDT
TV • Fox Sports 1
Radio • 1160 AM, 102.7 FM and Sirius XM 143
2014 records • BYU (2-0), UCLA (2-0)
Series history • UCLA leads, 7-3
Last meeting • BYU 59, UCLA 0 (Sept. 13, 2008)
About the Cougars • They haven't defeated a top-10 team since a 14-13 win over No. 3 Oklahoma in 2009. .. They are 1-5 against top-10 teams in Bronco Mendenhall's 11 seasons. … DB Jordan Preator will not play due to a suspension for a violation of team rules. … DB Kai Nacua was named National Defensive Player of the Year after recording three interceptions in last week's 35-24 win over Boise State.
About the Bruins • This is the third-straight season in which the No. 10-ranked Bruins have made an appearance in the top 10 of the Associated Press Top 25 poll. … They have a 9-6 record against ranked opponents in coach Jim Mora's four seasons in Westwood. … This is the 34th year that the historic Rose Bowl is serving as the home of the Bruins. It has a regular season capacity of 80,616.
BYU's future games against the Pac-12
2015 • at UCLA
2016 • Arizona at Glendale, Ariz.; at Utah, UCLA
2017 • Utah
2018 • California, at Washington, at Utah
2019 - Utah, USC, Washington, at Washington State
2020 • at Utah, at Arizona State, at Stanford
No. 19 BYU at No. 10 UCLA
Saturday, 8:30 p.m.
TV • Fox Sports 1