This is the meat of UCLA's schedule. 5 games, and our toughest opponents, at the Rose Bowl. As a refresher, chew on this: Neuheisel was 5-1 at home last year. Home is where the wins are.
As we have been saying throughout the offseason, the schedule this year is really, really favorable to UCLA. It's not that we don't play good teams, it's that we have 7 home games and no really tough road games. Did you hear that? It was the sound of lame excuses flying away.
With that, here are some thoughts on our home slate after the jump.
Oregon State: Saturday September 22, Pasadena CA – time TBA
Mike Riley brings the Beavers to town, looking to improve on a dreadful 3-9 season. The good news for him is that he has found his QB of the future in Sean Mannion, who is emerging as one of the top QBs in the league, and has a couple of good receivers as targets. The bad news is that last year, their running game was beyond awful. That was mostly due to a lackluster offensive line that was overwhelmed most of the time and could not open running holes. Not to be outdone, the defense was horrendous as well, especially when it came to stopping the run. Overall, this will still be a pretty young team but they got a lot of experience last year, more than they would have gotten under normal circumstances. It remains to be seen if the last couple of years were just outliers for Mike Riley, or whether his program has deteriorated significantly. The Beavers also have 7 home games this year, which should help this young team.
Quick Analysis: the talent gap between UCLA and Oregon State is rather big. But with the Beavers, it was never about talent and always about working hard and playing with discipline, something Riley is good at getting his teams to do. With the offensive weapons they have, they can always be a threat. I would be more worried if we played them in Corvallis, but UCLA should overpower this team at home by pounding the ball and pressuring the QB. Of course, we don’t know yet if UCLA will be able to do that, given how awful we were at getting to the QB last year.
BN pick: unanimous win
Utah: Saturday October 13, Pasadena CA – time TBA
What was set up as Norm Chow’s return to Westwood will not happen, as Chow is now head coach at Hawaii (and we wish him luck there, I hope he terrorizes U$C somehow). Replacing him as OC is 25-year old Brian Johnson. Will that pump up the team, or will he be overwhelmed? Hard to say. Under Chow, the Utes were last in the Pac-12 in total offense, even though their running game was pretty good. Their line is always good, but they are losing a couple of key guys in that unit. It is quite likely that this year, they will get better play in the passing game and will have to rely a little less on running the football (still shocking that Chow’s last years in college football were pretty much terrible). But with Utah, many people overlook the defense, which is a mistake. They return nearly the entirety of a unit that finished first in the conference in points allowed (that’s saying a lot in the Pac-12), and third in total defense, and have a solid front line that can stuff the run. Had it not been for a shocking loss to Colorado, Utah would have likely gone to play Oregon in the championship game last year.
Quick Analysis: the game at Utah was one of the worst displays of football put on by UCLA in Neuheisel’s tenure. It was a big game, and it was a total dud. The Bruins got embarrassed as nothing seemed to work for them. I doubt we will see a repeat of that performance this year, but this game certainly worries me. Once again, UCLA outpaces them in terms of recruiting, but Utah has had more players drafted to the NFL than UCLA in that last several years. That’s because Wittingham is a good, solid and consistent coach. The Bruins will have to be on top of their game with focus and discipline to win this matchup.
BN pick: 10 picked a win, 1 picked a loss…that was ME! I don’t feel good about this game…but clearly I stand alone here.
Arizona: Saturday November 3, Pasadena CA – time TBA
Arizona had a horrible season in 2011, but they did one thing right: they fired a coach who had lost control of his program, and went after some big names early. And they got their big name man in Rich Rodriguez. Say what you will about his tenure at Michigan, but he certainly didn’t leave the cupboard bare over there and might have had a successful season if he had stayed. The bottom line is that his system takes a little while to catch on, time that Michigan was not willing to provide given their standards for football, on top of personality issues. I think it was a mistake to hire him in the first place, but I digress. The good news for Rodriguez is that he has a decent QB in Scott (he who tormented UCLA at the Rose Bowl in 2010) who could fit his system well as a stepping stone, and his offensive line has experience. The bad news is, the defense is incredibly thin, particularly at linebacker and in the secondary, and it has to learn a funky new 3-3-5 system. In the Pac-12, that could mean getting scored on…a lot.
Quick Analysis: personally I think the Rodriguez name is leading many to overrate this Arizona team heading into 2012. The defense will likely have too many weaknesses to stop anyone in the Pac-12, save for perhaps a couple of teams. The offense, given that it’s a RichRod offense, will rely heavily on the run, and as we saw with Neuheisel’s Pistol, that’s not such a good thing in this conference. West Virginia was successful, but it was also in the Big East. It will take a couple of years before Rodriguez can get his players and his system in place, at which time they will become much more of a threat. But in 2012, at the Rose Bowl, UCLA should easily take care of business and avenge one of the most embarrassing losses it has ever had. And Taylor Embree won’t be there to start fights.
BN pick: unanimous win
Southern Cal: Saturday November 17, Pasadena CA – time TBA
Summary: the Trogans cheat at football, are arrogant, have a coach with low morals, and have dubious academic standards. This year is no different.
Quick Analysis: who cares. It doesn’t matter. It’s a rivalry game, which means every year it should be a toss-up. I don’t care about their players or their coaches. But any Bruin football player who puts Barkley’s face in the dirt and makes him constantly have a teammate adjust his jersey or take grass off his helmet just may get a scholarship named after him, by me.
BN pick: tossup
Stanford: Saturday November 24, Pasadena CA – time TBA
It really stinks not closing out the season against U$C. It also stinks having to play a tough team like Stanford…whose last trip at the Rose Bowl resulted in a donut for the Bruins. A freaking donut, at home. Pathetic. Gone are Neuheisel and the Pistol, Torero Tresey, and Andrew Luck. For Stanford, the ride probably continues a little while longer. Sure, they’ve lost one of the best QBs in college history and some great linemen, but those were two positions where they had significant depth. Brett Nottingham or Josh Nunes will take over for Luck…but can they replace him? Probably not, but then again…what if they end up being even better? No way to tell. What will likely happen is that, as it has before, despite appearances, Stanford will rely heavily on the run, with the return of Stepfan Taylor. On defense, there are more questions. If standout LB Shane Skov returns (he is recovering from a torn ACL, then got a DUI), that LB unit will be great. If not…they’ll still be good. It’s in the secondary, where they lost two safeties, that Stanford could have a weakness, as the line will still be strong. The talent that Stanford has recruited in the last few years has essentially smoothed these transitions, and should forever shut up all the whiners who bring up academic constraints as an excuse for UCLA’s football failures.
Quick Analysis: tough way to close out the season at home. Stanford should be a solid team, even if they might not quite be a BCS bowl caliber team this year. They have gotten the best of UCLA the last three years by pounding the Bruins in the trenches, and UCLA was unable to hit them on their weak spot, which was their passing defense. This is where Mazzone’s system could be huge and where Mora can prove his mettle, getting his team to beat a tough physical team in your last game of the season. The matchups are not favorable for UCLA however.
BN pick: 4 picked a win, 7 picked a loss
So here is a summary of how we see the season playing for UCLA Football in 2012:
- Out of Conference: 2 wins, 1 tossup
- Pac-12 Away games: 3 wins, 1 tossup
- Pac-12 Home games: 3 wins, 1 loss, 1 tossup
You can see now why we have 8 games in mind as a bare minimum number of wins. Winning even one of what we call tossup games could give Mora a 9-win season in his first year. That game should be against U$C, and based on our predictions, the winner of that game wins the South Division. As it should be. Well, no, we hope Southern Cal always sucks. So, as it used to be.
Fire away with your thoughts my friends. GO BRUINS!