PASADENA CA - SEPTEMBER 18: Linebacker Jordan Zumwalt #35 of the UCLA Bruins sacks quarterback Cotton Turner #12 of the Houston Cougars at the Rose Bowl on September 18 2010 in Pasadena California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
The season beckons! Less than three weeks until the Bruins hit the gridiron. We have waited, discussed, argued, rehashed, unhashed, debunked, obsessed and reviewed enough, after yet another tumultuous offseason for our beloved UCLA Bruins.
You saw here how we see UCLA's Pac-12 season play out. In the next few posts on this topic, we will break down the season game by game, starting today with our out of conference slate (3). Tomorrow, we will go over the Pac-12 away games (4), and Tuesday we will cover the Pac-12 home games (5).
We should note again, UCLA only has 5 away games and 7 home games this season. Even Rick Neuheisel won 6 games last year, including a 5-1 record at home. Matching that record would really be an underachievement, without even looking at the schedule. No need to rehash our expectations here, everyone should know what they are. This is a little different, as it includes some predictions (which, for those of you who haven't heard it for the 50th time, are different than expectations)...but in the end, you see how in fact they are not very far apart this year.
With that, follow me after the jump for our OOC breakdown.
@ Rice: Thursday August 30, 4:30pm PST, Houston TX – TV CBS Sports Network
The first game of Coach Mora’s college coaching career will be at Rice on a Thursday night…and maybe it’s a sign of changing times that it is not a big trap game like we had against Washington. It’s always tough having your first game be an away game, but it could have been much worse. One benefit is that it might be just a tad less hot at 6:30pm in Houston…but probably not much. At least the boys are practicing in the heat and it should help.
Rice seemed on the upswing after 2008, but is just 10-26 since then. They could be improved this year, with more experience, however they are quite susceptible to the run and are somewhat one-dimensional on offense (mostly running, relying on Michigan transfer Sam McGuffie), given their QB’s propensity to turn the ball over. The Owls’ biggest issue is upfront where they have to replace several linemen.
Quick analysis: I expect this game to be a little bit like UCLA’s game against SJSU last year, at least in the first half. Not quite firing on all cylinders, and eventually relying on the running game and superior talent to pull out a win. The defense does have a chance to gain some confidence here. Rice may not seem like a difficult opponent, but they do have the benefit of playing at home and of having some coaching continuity. That shouldn’t be enough to beat UCLA, but this game could be closer than people think.
BN pick: unanimous win
Nebraska: Saturday September 8, 4:30pm PST, Pasadena CA – TV Fox
Mora’s first game in the Rose Bowl is a doozy. The Cornhuskers are coming to town having won 9 games each of the past 4 seasons, all under Bo Pelini. Maybe not a great record, but solid, consistent, and one of which any UCLA fan would be envious at this point. Back are Taylor Martinez, a mobile yet inconsistent QB who is a hero in victories and a goat in losses. More importantly, Rex Burkhead returns, their workhorse of a running back. With a solid offensive line, Nebraska’s strength remains their run offense, as Martinez is far from a good passer. Despite the "black shirts" reputation and tradition, the defense got torched at times last year, unable to stop the run and to generate much pressure on the QB. When Nebraska lost last year, they lost big. This year they seem a bit thin at the linebacker position, and they have a new defensive coordinator after Carl Pelini (coach’s brother) left. That can be a good or bad thing: good if Bo couldn’t keep his brother accountable, bad if the new guy isn’t any better or if it takes the team some time to adjust. Even Nebraska fans don't quite know what to make of the defense, and while they think it will be improved they don't seem too impressed (read more in Ryan's preview). Any way you cut it, this is a huge game for UCLA and for Coach Mora.
Quick analysis: with a few extra days of practice following a Thursday night game, UCLA will have had a chance to work out some kinks and will enjoy playing at home. The key to stopping Nebraska will likely be to stop the run, and there is no way to know right now what the Bruin defense will be good at (the past few years they were good at giving up 3rd and longs). The wild card will be Martinez’s legs. Ironically, that will be the case for UCLA as well, with Hundley likely catching the Cornhuskers off guard at times. One thing to note here is that UCLA has done a better job of recruiting in the last few years than Nebraska. However there has been too much turmoil in the program, compared to some stability and consistency at Nebraska. This should be a competitive game.
BN pick: tossup – 5 picked a win, 6 picked a loss
Houston: Saturday September 15, 7:30pm PST, Pasadena CA – TV Pac 12 Networks
The last time Houston played a night game at the Rose Bowl in 2010, things got very ugly for them. Aside from getting beat soundly, the Cougars lost their starting QB Case Keenum as well as his backup and had to play a 3rd stringer, who still managed to have a TD drive. As we all know, Keenum has finally graduated after 14 years in college, and Kevin Sumlin is now the coach at Texas A&M. The Cougars’ 2011 season was almost magical, had they not lost the C-USA championship at home to Southern Miss (who, by the way, will be playing Nebraska the week before UCLA does). That cost them a spot in a BCS bowl game (and instead they beat Penn State in a bowl game), and no one knows when their next chance will come. It will likely not be 2012, but Houston won’t be a pushover either and will likely still put points on the board.
Quick analysis: UCLA almost beat Houston last year, in Houston, after Kevin Prince went down yet again with an injury, with Keenum playing out of his mind and UCLA playing without a mind. Losing a top-notch college QB is tough on any team, but it’s even harder when the coach and the top receivers also leave. The game is at the Rose Bowl, and most cylinders should be clicking by now, preparing for Pac-12 play. UCLA should absolutely dominate this game. I do expect the Cougars to score a few, as our coaches will still be getting used to the college spread offense, but the Bruins should win comfortably.
BN pick: unanimous win
Fire away with your own thoughts, and come back tomorrow for a breakdown of the Pac-12 away games!