Texas A&M (0-0) vs. (0-0)
Sunday, 4:30 p.m., , TV: Channel 11. Radio: 570
Christian Kirk was a recruit UCLA badly wanted, and the Bruins are going to get him … trying to run them off the Rose Bowl turf. The Texas A&M receiver and punt returner was held in check last season during the Aggies’ 31-24 overtime victory over the Bruins in College Station, Texas, finishing with eight catches for 58 yards. The preseason All-American likely will be his team’s top target Sunday.
Texas A&M (467.0 ypg/34.8 ppg in 2016): Redshirt freshman Nick Starkel reportedly will start the game at quarterback, but he could be replaced quickly by senior Jake Hubenak or true freshman Kellen Mond if the Aggies struggle to move the ball. Tailback Trayveon Williams will try to pound his way to a repeat of last season, when he became the first true freshman in school history to surpass 1,000 yards rushing.
UCLA (379.8 ypg/24.9 ppg in 2016): Production from quarterback Josh Rosen is almost a given, but there are unknowns everywhere else. Can the Bruins generate a ground game after averaging only 84.2 yards rushing per game last season? Can the receivers hold onto the ball after repeatedly dropping passes? Can the offensive line open holes and protect Rosen?
Texas A&M (441.8 ypg/24.5 ppg in 2016): Star defensive ends Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall are gone, but the Aggies return playmakers in tackle Zaycoven Henderson (10 tackles for loss in 2016) and end Jarrett Johnson (4.5 sacks).
UCLA (382.0 ypg/27.5 ppg in 2016): The Bruins’ two deepest positions are on the defensive line and at defensive back, allowing them to get a bit more aggressive in coordinator Tom Bradley’s third season.
UCLA is going with a walk-on at punter in Stefan Flintoft, whose consistency in the spring and fall training camp helped him edge Austin Kent in the battle for the starting job. Flintoft might want to aim every punt out of bounds if it means keeping the ball out of the hands of Kirk, who led the nation last season with three punt returns for touchdowns.
End Jaelan Phillips could be the first UCLA true freshman defensive lineman to start a season opener since at least 1983, the last year for which records are available. … Texas A&M has made 200 consecutive extra points since 2013, approaching the NCAA record of 262 set by from 1978-89.
Texas A&M offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, graduate assistant Jerry Neuheisel and cornerback Priest Willis could all probably duck into a UCLA tailgate and not be turned away. Mazzone worked under Bruins coach Jim Mora for four years; Neuheisel served as the backup quarterback to Brett Hundley and Josh Rosen; and Willis played at UCLA for two seasons before transferring to Texas A&M. Bruins left guard Najee Toran and defensive back Will Lockett are Houston natives whose families escaped the wrath of Hurricane Harvey.
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