Now that we are 4 games into the 2011 season, we think it is a good time to set out some baseline expectations for the UCLA football program for rest of this season. Before the season started our frontpagers had discussed expectations for this year in a series of posts exploring the topic from multiple angles. We had set out an "eye test" that gives us a set of criteria to analyze this team going beyond wins and losses.
We set the 2011 expectations for the Bruins to take their place in the top half of the conference, winning between 8 and 10 games, and make a legitimate challenge to the Pac-12 South crown, and end up in a decent bowl game. While the "predictions" (which are different from "expectations") for some of us were in the realistic "6 regular season win" range we did not deviate from our expectation of this program playing well and seriously contending to win the Pac-12 South, translating into 8-4 to 10-2 by the end of Neuheisel's fourth season.
Consider this: even an incompetent coach like Karl Dorrell was able to win 7 regular season games and beat Southern Cal with an unheralded QB (Pat Cowan) leading most of the way in his fourth year. We think Neuheisel has more than enough talent in this team in all key positions to put together a record that is better and that doesn't include embarrassing and humiliating defeats in the schedule. Arguably the Texas massacre at the Rose Bowl is ugly enough to become a non-removable stain in this year's record. However, for the sake of fairness, we think Neuheisel can make a case for coming back for one more year, if he meets our baseline expectations laid out after the jump.
Based on the current (mediocre) state of the Pac-12 here are our bare minimum expectations for the rest of this conference season:
- Undefeated home record (4-0). We expect the Bruins to go undefeated the rest of this season at the Rose Bowl, which features matchups against Washington State, Arizona State, California and Colorado. None of these teams have more talent than UCLA. While ASU may have been a pre-season favorite to win the Pac-12 South and just beat an over-hyped Southern Cal program, it lost on the road to a program coached by ... Ron Zook. Yes, that Ron Zook.
- At least 1 road victory out of the matchups v. Stanford, Arizona, and Utah. We actually expect the Bruins to compete and put themselves in position to win every one of these games. After three straight top-tier recruiting classes, there is more than enough talent for UCLA to compete with these teams on the field. However, in our effort to be reasonable we think the Bruins should be able to get at least 1 road win out of these 3 games, which includes a matchup against a beleaguered Arizona football program.
- Victory against Southern Cal. A moral victory is not going to be good enough. UCLA has beaten Southern Cal only once in last 12 years. Neuheisel has gone 0-3 against Trojans even though the Trojans are no longer boosted by shady tactics on the recruiting trail (nothing that we know of yet). Even Karl Dorrell was able to beat the Trojans by his fourth season at UCLA. This is a must for Neuheisel.
Based on the criteria above we expect UCLA to finish at least with a 7-2 conference record this season with a final regular season record of 8-4. Given the talent Neuheisel compiled in his first three seasons at UCLA (aided by Dorrell and Dewayne Walker's last recruiting class), combined with the weakness of other conference foes that has been evident in the first 4 games of 2011 season, we think these baseline expectations are more than reasonable.
We should also add that we are also going to look at more than just the baseline expectations set out above. For example, we are not going to look kindly on an 8-4 regular season record that includes the type of epic beat downs that the UCLA football program has vomited out in recent years in the form of drubbings courtesy of BYU, Oregon and Southern Cal.
We are going to use the "eye test" as much as possible to track every one of our games. Of course we reserve the right to forgo it if it becomes a pointless exercise in the next 2-3 games, if it becomes clear that Neuheisel is not going to be able to meet the bottom line expectations set by this community.
To date we have gone out of our way to be fair to Rick Neuheisel, who we have a lot of admiration for his contributions as a Rose Bowl winning MVP, a dynamic assistant, recruiter and overall champion of UCLA. When UCLA hired him, this whole community was lit up with excitement with the expectation that Neuheisel's reign would represent a clear break from the conservative Donahuesque mindset that rendered UCLA a lifeless and joyless program under the previous coaching regime.
We are not going to be supportive of Neuheisel coming back if he somehow manages to claw and scrape to 6 wins using a conservative, playing not to lose mindset, eking out unimpressive victories against less talented Pac-12 programs. We want Neuheisel and UCLA to compete rest of this season not with the mindset of saving his job but with the aggressive posture of winning the job and winning back the hearts and minds of the Bruin Nation.
So based on our criteria set out above we are going to expect UCLA to compete hard and meet the eye test against the Tree this weekend. We expect the Bruins to make the four letters proud and put themselves in position to get a win. If the Bruins fail to get it done at the Farm, they will have a must win game against Washington State, which will be followed up with more must win situations against Arizona, the rest of the home schedule and the regular season finale against Southern Cal.
The pressure is only going to get intense with almost every game representing an elimination round for Neuheisel and the Guerrero regime. We don't think we have to spell out in detail, why we think Guerrero will need to go if UCLA is in a position to hire a football coach for the third time during his time in Westwood. You can read through this section to read up on the overwhelming evidence piling up against Guerrero's reign of error.
We wish Neuheisel luck. However, if UCLA fails to meet any of the reasonable bottom lines set out above, it will be grounds for officially triggering call from the frontpage for a new athletic director, who will hire a new head football coach in Westwood.