(AP) — Although UCLA receiver Ricky Marvray went to high school with Vontaze Burfict, he doesn't have to tell the Bruins what they'll face when they go over the middle against Arizona State's star linebacker.
"Everybody with a TV already knows about him," Marvray said of his Centennial High buddy.
Nobody has to remind the Bruins (4-4, 3-2 Pac-12) what's at stake in a season-defining game against the 20th-ranked Sun Devils (6-2, 4-1), either. After alternating wins and losses every week this year, UCLA could win back-to-back games for the first time since early last season — and the Bruins also could take an improbable lead in the Pac-12 South with three games to go.
UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince isn't thinking about all that. After the oft-injured passer's fearless 163-yard rushing performance in last week's win over California, he's more worried about keeping himself safe from Burfict and his teammates if he's able to run that much again out of the pistol offense.
"When we played Arizona (in a 48-12 loss two weeks ago), we were looking too far ahead, playing too many scenarios, and I think it got us off track," said Prince, who had the biggest rushing game by a UCLA quarterback since 1974. "We're just worried about executing the game plan now, not the standings. We know what's at stake, but we're not putting too much in that bag."
Two weeks after UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel touted the first-place stakes in a matchup with Arizona only to watch his Bruins fall apart, Neuheisel is keeping quiet about the long-term effects of a win over Arizona State. But he isn't abandoning his trademark optimism as the Bruins go after a win that would boost his chances of keeping his job after the season.
Neuheisel isn't done battling for a consistent effort out of his wildly inconsistent team, and a win over Arizona State would be the biggest victory against an elite conference opponent in his four-year tenure. He was thrilled when the Bruins responded to that Arizona defeat last week with a solid victory over Cal.
"There's good news and better news," Neuheisel said. "The good news is we responded. The better news is we now know what we are capable of, and to accept anything less than that would be absolutely ridiculous on every one of our parts."
Yet a few stark realities face the Bruins, whose injury-depleted secondary will have a tough time keeping up with Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler's spread offense. The Sun Devils are cruising toward the Pac-12 title game with a very manageable November schedule in which their toughest opponent might be complacency.
Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson cautions his players against taking UCLA lightly, even with memories of overcoming an early 17-point deficit for a blowout win over the Bruins last season.
"They're sitting there in a situation, like us, where they have a chance to win our division," Erickson said. "They have to beat us to do it. On the road, it's a real important game for all of us."
The 6-foot-8 Osweiler seriously considered attending UCLA before choosing the Sun Devils. He emerged at Arizona State last season while leading the comeback against UCLA, coming on in relief of Steven Threet and passing for 380 yards and four touchdowns while rushing for a fifth score.
A year later, Osweiler is even more prepared to pick on a patchwork UCLA defense that will be missing injured safeties Tony Dye and Dietrich Riley.
"I understand things at a higher and quicker level," Osweiler said. "I'm seeing coverages, little things that I might not have seen a year ago, maybe even three weeks ago, but now I'm making little checks, and it turns out to be a touchdown or something. With every game that I'm playing, I'm getting more comfortable."
UCLA is a bit better equipped to compete in a shootout after getting four receivers back from suspension, providing more targets for Prince. But UCLA hasn't scored more than 34 points in a game this season, while Arizona State has done it six times.
At least the UCLA offense doesn't sound scared of Burfict, with receiver Shaq Evans and tight end Joseph Fauria providing bulletin-board fodder with dismissals of his fearsomeness. Bruins offensive coordinator Mike Johnson also has insight into Erickson, his boss for a season at Oregon State a few years ago.
While the Bruins try to avoid thinking about the possibilities created by a win over Arizona State, the Sun Devils aren't shying away from the formidable position they can take with another Pac-12 win.
"Now the mood shifts to finish — finish what we got started and secure the South," Osweiler said. "Everything is in our hands. We control our own destiny, and as a football team starting November, you can't ask for a better situation. We understand what is on the table for us to achieve, and now we just have to go out there stay focused and take care of business."