Bruins enter new season with two simple goals
LOS ANGELES -- Expectations are lower than usual at UCLA -- at least from the outside. That's probably a good thing for first-year coach Karl Dorrell and his young team.
"We are eager to see how we measure up," Dorrell said.
That shouldn't take long. UCLA opens the season Sept. 6 at perennial Big 12 contender Colorado, where Dorrell served as an assistant in 1992-93 and again from 1995-98.
After entertaining Illinois, a team expected to finish in the middle of the Big Ten, the Bruins hit the road again to play Oklahoma, the nation's No. 1 team in The Associated Press preseason poll.
Then comes a home game against San Diego State before the Bruins open Pacific-10 Conference play.
"It's a tough schedule -- I think our kids are looking forward to the challenge," Dorrell said in his typical low-key manner, evident in what is his first head coaching job.
Apparently, he hasn't been low-key with his players.
"The attitude on our team has changed this year. The atmosphere's a lot different," wide receiver Craig Bragg said. "In years past, it's kind of been a laid-back approach."
Bragg is one of 14 returning starters -- seven on offense and seven on defense -- from last year's 8-5 team.
The Bruins were picked to finish sixth in the Pac-10 preseason media poll and didn't receive a single point in the AP preseason poll.
"We know we're better than that," Bragg said. "We know we've got to work hard to earn respect. Was USC picked to win last year? We're capable of having that kind of season ourselves."
The Trojans wound up fourth nationally after winning their last eight games to finish 11-2. One of those wins was a 52-21 victory over UCLA -- USC's fourth straight triumph over UCLA. That was a big reason why Bob Toledo was fired and replaced by Dorrell.
"I don't know how to react," the 39-year-old Dorrell said of the Pac-10 preseason poll. "I don't know the conference all that well. There is always a beginning point and usually that doesn't matter a hill of beans. It's where you finish."
Asked his expectations, Dorrell replied: "I really don't know. Obviously, my expectations are to bring this program to where it's competing for the championship year after year. If you win this conference, I think you're putting yourself in contention for the BCS."
That was certainly the case last year, when Washington State and USC were two of the eight schools that played in BCS games.
The Bruins are especially young on offense, where six sophomores, four juniors and one senior were listed as first stringers entering preseason practice.
"We're all relying on each other," Dorrell said. "The quarterback is not the only one who has the burden of carrying the offense. We're hoping that with the skill position people on offense, they can carry the load, take the pressure off the quarterback.
"We're going to spoon-feed them for a while until we see if they can take more."
Dorrell said only 25 percent of the offense was put in place during spring practice, meaning there's a lot to accomplish leading up to the opener.
Tyler Ebell, another sophomore, is No. 1 at tailback, and understandably so considering he gained 100 or more yards in the first six games in which he played extensively last season.
There's more experience on defense, especially in the front seven where seniors Mat Ball, Rodney Leisle, Ryan Boschetti, Dave Ball and Brandon Chillar lead the way.
For the first time in four years, the Bruins have new specialists -- Justin Medlock will be the place-kicker and Chris Kluwe will punt.
One change from the past involves the media, which won't be allowed to watch practice after the first 30 minutes or so during game weeks.
"It is not a popular decision," Dorrell said. "But my job is not necessarily to be a popular guy. My job is to produce. I can't make everyone happy. This is a philosophical stand. I think it is the best way to prepare a team."
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index
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