Okay, now that I have your attention, and have lost all credibility in your eyes, let me withdraw that previous statement. No, they will not win the championship THIS year, but they won't be nearly as bad as most prognosticators project. Of course, as a Bruin, my viewpoint may be a little skewed, but just for kicks and giggles, humor me for a second.
Let me also add that most are reviewing this upcoming UCLA football season from a worst case scenario (of course, I understand everyone's reason for being cautiously optimistic, but caution was one of the numerous undoings of Dorrell), which I am not. Definitely, best case scenario here! Afterall, look at the circumstances surrounding last season - a new coaching staff, a gimpy running back, a Junior transfer at QB with a month of experience in the system, working with a patchwork O-line constructed from converted tight ends, defensive tackles, bubble gum, and left over scrap metal from the set of Robocop 3! Wasn't winning 4 games (with 3 of those coming at home) a best-case scenario? Here is a peek at the upcoming schedule:
vs. Kansas State
@ Oregon State
@ Washington State
vs. Arizona State
Follow me after the jump for a season breakdown, game by game...
Overview: UCLA looks to have a better season this year, with many predicting anywhere from a 5-7 to a 7-5 mark. Looking at the favorable schedule that we have this season (5 of the 6 home contests are winnable games), the team having an offseason to digest Norm Chow's scheme, and a rigorous offseason of hitting the weights, and its difficult not to me a bit more optimistic coming into this season. Two of UCLA's eight losses last year came against bowl teams that will not be on the upcoming schedule (BYU-10-2 & Fresno St.7-5). These opponents have been replaced by non-bowlers Kansas State (5-7 last season) & San Diego State (2-10, 1-7 in the Mountain West). We head into Knoxville against a weak Tennessee team that we defeated last season, and many of the teams in the Pac-10 are replacing their all-world QBs with unproven backups. This all proves to be an unpredictable mixture, but here goes anyways.
W vs. SDSU - last year, this was 10-2 BYU (technically, Tennessee was the season opener, but SDSU replaced BYU on our schedule) in this slot. Not much else needs to be said about the 59-0 beatdown that we suffered at the hands of BYUin Provo last year. For fans, coaches, God, etc., it is a breath of fresh air to see SDSU on the schedule. No game is truly a gimme for us this year, but look for us to take care of business at home in our season opener.
L @Tennessee- While we did win this matchup last season, it is asking a lot of our gutty Bruins to go into raucous Neyland Stadium in September (when the 100,000+ fans still have hope for the season) and come out with a victory. This will definitely be a game that we have a chance to win, and them losing two of their top wideouts to injury helps, but I just don't think that we get it done.
W vs. Kansas State- 5-7 Kansas State heads into Westwood looking to take down the Bruins. They bring with them a sub-par rushing attack and an attrocious defense that allowed 30 or more points 9 times last season, giving up chunks of yards by both ground and air. This bodes well for a UCLA team with a top notch defense (that NCAA 2010 completely overlooked-another story, another day), and an offense that could find its way against the "Mildcat" d.
W@ Stanford- Both teams come into the season much improved. This game could go either way against Harbaugh's up and coming Stanford team. Our cast of running backs, in conjunction with our fortified o-line, should best the 2.3 yards per carry output from last year's 23-20 victory. Our main problem in that game though was not our rushing attack, but rather, the 250 yards rushing that we allowed. With Gerhart back for his senior season, this could spell trouble for our guys. Fortunately for us, Tavita Pritchard had 51 yards passing in the game, allowing us to hold off the Cardinal for a victory. If we can find a way to slow the running game just a bit, we should be able to take this one. Our upgrade at defensive end (Datone Jones), and our stronger (Reggie Carter going from 220 to 240 lbs- hey, he got past testing!) and more athletic (upgrade from John Hale to Akeem Ayers) linebacking corps says that we are up to the task.
W vs. Oregon- Another game that could go either way. Last year, we came into Eugene 2-3, gave it everything that we had, and came up just short, 24-31. Once again, our lackluster rushing attack and defense against the run spelled doom for the Bruins. Craft had an admirable 288 yards, 1TD, & 1 Int on 43 attempts, but you cannot win when your QB has to put the ball in the air 43 times...and his last name is Craft (cheapshot, this loss wasn't his fault)! With a more balanced offensive attack and the hopes that their QB Masoli doesn't put up 200 yards rushing on us again (he can't do that again, right?), I like our chances (SEE strong, athletic LB Corp).
L vs. Cal- Two words. Jahvid Best!
W @ Arizona- Tuitama(3000+yards passing, 23 TDs) is gone. So to is his go to WR Mike Thomas (74-826-4). Unfortunately, Nic Grigsby will be returning, looking to best a 1153 yard, 13 touchdown performance last season. But without Tuitama, Grigsby could be seeing 8 men in the box to stop the run, forcing sophomore Matt Scott to beat them with the pass...and that is where Al Verner and his brethren come into play! At home, we take this game.
L @ Oregon State- Two more words. Jacquizz Rodgers! 144 yards on us last year makes me a believer that it could happen again. Add to this the fact that this is a road game against a team that should have been the Pac-10 champs last year if not for the game that they mailed in last year against a strong but beatable Ducks squad, and it doesn't look good for us.
W vs. Washington- Nuff Said!
W @ Washington State- Ditto!
W vs. Arizona State- ASU's MVP in last season's matchup was a QB who threw 3 touchdowns to ASU " receivers", leading them to a 34-9 victory (I was at that game. A sad day indeed.). Drumroll please...that QB was none other than UCLA's own, Kevin Craft who threw 3 interceptions, all returned for touchdowns by ASU's defense! Unlucky for them, he will be on the bench for the rematch. If it were up to me, he'd be in street clothes in the student section!
L @ USC- I still think that we are a year away in this game. The only thing that helps us is the fact that they are starting a brand new QB as well. Unfortunately, he would have an entire season under his belt by this time. It is not impossible, and stranger things have happened (does 9-13 ring a bell to anyone?), but realistically, it probably won't happen this time. Add to this, the fact that we could be potentially riding a 3-game streak into this game, takes away the "caught 'em by surprise" factor.
Is all of this based on a best-case scenario? Yes! But I hold that the best case will happen because of the circumstances and motivation surrounding our team. We have a huge chip on our shoulders because of our crosstown rivals, leaving us with a lot to prove. Our O-line play was horrible last year because of the poor recruiting efforts of Dorrell (didn't bring in an offensive lineman in his last two years at UCLA) and injury, and should be much improved this year. Neu & Chow are tuned in because they want to prove the critics wrong, and more importantly, we are on the cusp of being perennial players in the recruiting game once again. In addition, the improvements on offense spell relief for our defense. Anyone watching last year knows that the bulk of the ugly numbers allowed by our defense were the result of a host of 3 & outs and ints that put our defense in sticky situations time and time again (save for the ASU game where Craft & the Offense was gracious enough to give our defense a break by allowing the d to score on all 3 picks). All of this spells a dream season for UCLA! Now that I have you all riled up, the line is open for comments!