School records, bowl futures on line for Wazzu, No. 18 UCLA
When Marks returns to California with the Cougars (6-3, 4-2 Pac-12) on Saturday night, he'll have more than a chance to set Washington State's career receiving record with four more catches at the Rose Bowl.
Marks and his teammates also could cement their season-long resurgence with a win over No. 18 UCLA (7-2, 4-2), which is down to the final stages of its Pac-12 South title push.
Marks, the biggest target for Luke Falk in coach Mike Leach's Air Raid offense, is one of 35 Washington State players from California with ample reason to play well in Pasadena. He is also a longtime acquaintance of UCLA receiver Jordan Payton.
''Gabe is from Venice, I'm from Santa Monica, so we grew up around each other,'' Payton said. ''Played a lot of football with each other, same 7-on-7 teams. He is a phenomenal receiver. I see a lot of his games and watch a lot of film specifically on him. It's going to be fun to see him again, watch him play and get after it.''
Both schools won't be surprised to see big offensive numbers in their late-night meeting at the Rose Bowl. The Air Raid has averaged 549.2 yards of total offense in the past five games, while UCLA has scored at least 23 points in every game this season, capped by a 41-0 thrashing of Oregon State last week.
Marks and Falk have turned the Cougars into a contender in Leach's fourth season, while the Bruins have been a Pac-12 power during all four of Jim Mora's years in charge. Despite a staggering number of injuries to key players, UCLA would win its division with season-ending victories over Washington State, Utah and Southern California.
The Bruins appear focused and relatively relaxed despite the enormous challenge presented by the Cougars' high-octane game.
''They pass the ball pretty much every play,'' UCLA linebacker Jayon Brown said. ''We've just got to be tight with our coverage. (Defensive coordinator Tom) Bradley and Mora are going to come up with a great game plan. Get ready to execute it.''
Here are some more things to watch when UCLA plays its home finale:
ON THE DEFENSIVE: UCLA's optimism about facing the Air Raid is rooted in its performance against the Bear Raid. Last month, the Bruins largely stymied California's similar passing game and sacked Jared Goff five times in a comfortable win. UCLA has the Pac-12's top passing defense, and Brown believes the pass rush is the key to slowing down the Cougars.
FOURTH-YEAR COACHES: Mora and Leach were born eight months apart, and they joined the Pac-12 11 days apart in late 2011. The defensive-minded UCLA coach has respect for his offensive-minded counterpart. ''The guy is incredibly bright and has a great feel for what he wants to do on offense,'' Mora said of Leach. ''He seems to be a guy that has answers, and now that he's got an offensive line that's really good, he's got a quarterback that understands the system, he's got a group of veteran receivers, it's kind of working for him now. He's got more pieces in place, and they've been doing the same thing over and over, so you really see tremendous production and tremendous execution.''
HOMECOMINGS: Washington State linebacker Kache Palacio is among the Cougars' 35 Californians, who all have similar stories about watching USC and UCLA as kids. Palacio played at Serra High, the Gardena, California, football hotbed that produced USC receivers Robert Woods, Marqise Lee and George Farmer. ''I always wanted to play in the Rose Bowl growing up, (but) I don't like UCLA,'' Palacio said. ''I used to be kind of a USC fan.''
BIG KICK: UCLA kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn will become the top scorer in Pac-12 history with two more points. It's a remarkable rise for the four-year starter, who has become dependable from all distances this season after struggling with long kicks early in his career.
MILESTONE START: UCLA center Jake Brendel will set a school record with his 49th start, surpassing former linebacker Spencer Havner. Brendel has been a rock of stability on the Bruins' injury-riddled roster this season, helping to keep freshman quarterback Josh Rosen secure.