UCLA and Oregon State have played some very close games in the last few years. We barely won at home last year, needing Kai to bail us out at the last minute. The year before that, we barely missed out on winning the game with a near ATV pick-6, instead seeing James Rodgers beat us in the last minute.
Saturday's game against Oregon State is developing into a season-defining game for both programs. I would say however that it is more crucial for UCLA than for Oregon State.
Let's start with the similarities in both teams, going into this game.
First, both teams are coming off a terrible beatdown from college football powerhouses. It is hard to say which beatdown was worse. Wisconsin thoroughly dominated the Beavers at home and held them scoreless. Meanwhile, UCLA completely disintegrated at home against a good but not great Texas team. Everything is relative so I would put those losses in the same bucket.
Second, both teams also have an embarrassing showing against a really weak football team. Oregon State actually did lose to Sacramento State in OT, so that is in fact worse and more worrisome than UCLA's close victory against SJSU, but not much.
Third, each team will be starting a new QB on Saturday, after a poor showing by the previous starter.
That is where the similarities end.
The Beavers are coming off a bye week where they will have had a chance to practice and work out a few details. If there is one thing we know, it is that Coach Riley gets a lot out of his players, without necessarily having the best talent (even though he has benefited from the Rodgers brothers the last few years). There is cause for concern if you're a Bruin, for sure.
But what really strikes me here is how each program approaches its downturn.
While Rick Neuheisel seemingly continues to play favorites, favoring seniority over ability, Mike Riley goes the other route.
OSU's starting QB will be Sean Mannion, a redshirt freshman QB, who is replacing Ryan Katz, a normally decent QB who hasn't had a great year so far. So first off, he only waited two games to make the change, and that's without an injury.
It's not just Mannion though...OSU will have nine true freshmen in its playing rotation. Some of it is by necessity due to attrition, but knowing Riley, it is a movement to set up the future by playing the young talent. I know they might make mistakes, but their energy playing at home will help their team. That is what has been sorely missing at UCLA and could end up dooming this team even if Neuheisel ends up staying.
It is the difference between a coach taking the right risks to ensure his program's future, versus a coach going the safe and conservative route to ensure saving his job. Zone-read anyone?