PASADENA, Calif. — Coach Brian Polian already knew Chris Ault would be a tough act to follow at UNR this fall.
With a season opener at the Rose Bowl against No. 21 UCLA, the task is even tougher.
Ault won 233 games in 28 seasons and two stints with the Wolf Pack while making the College Football Hall of Fame. He retired in December and handed the program to Polian, a 38-year-old former assistant at Stanford and Notre Dame who will make his head coaching debut today.
Ault didn’t exactly do Polian any favors with the first game on the schedule, although nobody anticipated UCLA’s revitalization under coach Jim Mora.
“Yeah, I can think of a bunch of different ways I’d rather start it,” Polian said. “It’s a top-25 team that’s got four or five legitimate first- and second-round (NFL) draft picks on the team. We’re going to get a pretty good idea right away of where we’re at.”
Mora and the preseason Pac-12 South favorites are also big favorites in their return to Pasadena, Calif., after a breakthrough 2012, but the Wolf Pack’s new coaching staff is keeping UCLA anxious about the first game in a difficult schedule for the two-time division champions.
Specifically, the Bruins aren’t quite sure how much of Ault’s legacy will be on display. UNR pioneered the pistol offense under Ault, but is expected to use elements of a spread offense this season, as well, with talented quarterback Cody Fajardo, an Orange County native.
“We’re not sure how much pistol they’re going to be in, how much spread they’re going to be,” Mora said. “So that offers another interesting dilemma for us: What do we practice against? We don’t have any preseason game film to go off of. They weren’t nice enough to send us any practice film, so to some extent we’re guessing a little bit on what they’re going to be offensively.”
Mora had plenty of time to get his defense in shape during training camp in San Bernardino, where they worked on a suitable follow-up to last season’s 9-5 record and Holiday Bowl appearance. UCLA lost its final three games of last season, but returned with an impressive mix of veteran leaders and young talent from another strong recruiting class.