UT braces for Bruin brain trust

Tennessee may out-hustle UCLA in the Sept. 1 opener. The Big Orange may out-execute the Bruins. The Vols may even outplay their West Coast host.

But don't look for Tennessee to out-coach UCLA. At least, that seems to be the word from Jon Wilner.

SportingNews.com ranks the Bruins preseason No. 43 in a piece entitled "SN's college football top 50 countdown." The accompanying UCLA profile is written by Wilner, who suggests that first-year head coach Rick Neuheisel may have the smartest pair of coordinators in major-college football.

Here's a brief excerpt from Wilner's report:

"Neuheisel's initial decisions were certainly shrewd. He retained defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker, then swallowed his play-calling pride and hired mastermind Norm Chow to run the offense. In Walker and Chow, UCLA has the best set of coordinators in the Pac-10, if not the country.

"Chow alone is probably worth an extra victory or two. With that "Chow premium," the Bruins stand a decent chance of challenging Oregon and Arizona State for the right to finish behind USC in the league race."

Chow's first challenge is to stabilize the quarterback situation. The Bruins lost their top two QBs, Ben Olson and Patrick Cowan, on back-to-back snaps last spring. Olson broke a metatarsal bone in his foot but was cleared last week to resume football-related activities. Cowan, who had won the starting job, is sidelined for all of 2008 due to a torn ACL, however.

Quarterback isn't the only offensive position affected by injury, though. Here's more from Wilner:

"The backfield is also unsettled, mostly because Kahlil Bell is recovering from a knee injury suffered last season. He was averaging more than 100 yards per game at the time. He'd give the Bruins one of the most dependable tailbacks in the conference, if he's healthy. Behind Bell are juniors Chane Moline, Christian Ramirez and Craig Sheppard.

"The Bruins are in better shape at running back than wideout. They must replace their top receivers from 2007: Brandon Breazell and Joe Cowan, who combined for 80 catches and seven touchdowns."

Wilner goes on to note that UCLA also is looking to replace three starters from its 2007 offensive line and two more from its '07 defensive front, including end Bruce Davis, who recorded 12 sacks a year ago.

Tennessee, of course, has some holes to fill, as well. The Vols must replace four-year starting quarterback Erik Ainge, tight ends Brad Cottam and Chris Brown, offensive tackle Eric Young, defensive ends Xavier Mitchell and Antonio Reynolds, safety Jonathan Hefney, outside linebacker Ryan Karl and first-round NFL Draft pick Jerod Mayo, who led the SEC with 140 tackles as a junior middle linebacker last fall.

Given that both the Vols and Bruins will feature a lot of new faces, perhaps their Labor Day clash in Pasadena will come down to a coordinator competition – UT offensive coordinator Dave Clawson vs. UCLA's Walker and UT defensive coordinator John Chavis vs. UCLA's Chow.

If Wilner's assessment of the Bruin brain trust is correct, that should make for an interesting evening.

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