Pregame Guesses: Fall Camp 2013 Edition

Jim Mora worked hard last year to change the football culture at UCLA. - Kirby Lee-US PRESSWIRE

With a week to go before the first kick-off, the author reflects on how being relevant changes the rituals and rhythms of a season.

The Doors - Roadhouse Blues, BEST version (live in N.Y. 1970) [music video] (via JimJohnRayRobby)

(This week’s video is a live performance of "Roadhouse Blues" by The Doors. The band is live in New York in this performance. I picked it to honor the late great Ray Manzarek, who we lost during the off season. When UCLA alumni recount some of the great Bruins, the Doors charismatic lead singer Jim Morrison always makes the list. But Manzarek also attended UCLA – it’s where he and Morrison first met, at the film school. It’s not going to be my habit to drive down Nostalgia Street every week in the Guesses column, but I did want to pay tribute to Manzarek before we got too far into the season. Note to UCLA marketing types who might be reading this: Ray Manzarek should be part of the Optimists campaign.)

This is one of the tougher Pregame Guesses of the year to write.

There’s no game from last week to review, no game tomorrow to preview and the minutia of fall practice and even the off season has been picked over by the daily posts and comments. So, what to write about?

With a week to go, I started thinking about the rhythms and rituals of the season, how somehow the whole week starts to revolve around the next game.

I’ll spare you all the details, but I’ll start by noting that this blog has seasonal rhythms and rituals of its own. You won’t consciously notice or keep track of it, but if you did you’d see the game previews and reviews, the Power Polls, along with the other features will publish basically on the same days at the same times throughout the season. Every year there is an email and I’m asked "Achilles, you got the guesses?" and I reply "Yep, I got Guesses."

And that becomes part of my week. I know I’ve got a column to write every Thursday so that Pregame Guesses goes up 7 am Pacific. And that’s a real thing for me – got to start thinking about it a few days earlier, got to make time on Thursday to write the post because otherwise I’m stuck doing it late Thursday night. So, my Thursday lunch hours during season are generally spent at my desk writing. (At the moment I’m having peanut butter on really good sourdough that I buy at my local farmer’s market with a tastier-than-it-deserves-to-be iced tea I picked up at the cafeteria downstairs.)

I find the rituals of the season differ sometimes, depending on how well our season is going or is expected to go. For example, during most of the Dorrell/Neuheisel years, I paid very little attention to college football in general. Sure, I watched all of our games and followed the team on BruinsNation, BRO and in the local MSM. But I didn’t spend much time watching other games, save for the occasional SC or Pac 10/12 game that happened to be televised on any given Saturday. But I didn’t really pay much attention to the conference standings, secure in the knowledge that we really didn’t matter.

What’s more, I didn’t wake up early on the weekend to catch Game Day on ESPN or follow too closely the national polls. It definitely didn’t matter to me one bit if Georgia’s loss to Clemson was enough for Virginia Tech to jump up into the Top Ten.

In many ways, it’s a lot easier to be a fan of a perennial also ran. It really takes up much less time. You follow your team, you watch your games, you have plenty of time for reading a paperback or listening to records (or reading on your Kindle/listening to Spotify for those of you too young to remember when UCLA actually played in the Rose Bowl on January 1). You have more time to watch Sunday Ticket or wait for UCLA basketball season to start. (Personally, I don’t have that problem, but whatever.)

But now, maybe things are different?

We’re ranked in the Top 25, ranked higher than SC and are apparently the favorites in the Pac 12 South. That’s a bit misleading, of course, because the two best teams in the league – by far – are in the north. But still, we are favored to play in the conference title game for the third straight season and if form holds will get a shot at the Stanford/Oregon winner in early December with a BCS bowl game appearance on the line.

Considering the fact that we backed into the Pac 12 title game two years ago and were sort of a surprise to repeat last year – this becomes the first season in a long time that we enter the first week with legitimate, not I-drank-the-Kool-Aid, confidence that every game might mean something this year.

For me, that leads to a greater interest in college football altogether. If UCLA has legitimate BCS possibilities (not the championship game, per se, but last-game-of-the-season in the Rose Bowl legitimacy) than I feel obligated to pay closer attention to what’s going on across the country. In 2013, it’s not quite what it was in prehistoric times, when we knew our Rose Bowl opponent would be the Big 10 champ and we’d follow Michigan and Ohio State all year to see who we’d likely play. (In point of fact, when I was a student we went to three Rose Bowls but only played Michigan once and never faced Ohio State. We played Iowa and Illinois in the other two appearances. We also played Miami in the Fiesta Bowl – the combination of Bruins + Hurricanes + Sun Devils + Tempe = one of the great lost weekends of all time. For the record: We won all four of those games. All things considered, my student days were pretty good in terms of football.) So, I might have to wake up early to watch Corso and Herbstreit, I’ll make sure I’m near a computer when the new polls come out, I’ll pay closer attention to who the top teams are going to play next week.

That’s what happens when your team matters, when you’re in the game. At least, that’s what happens to me. UCLA football feels relevant going into the season for the first time in so long I don’t even know how to date it. Since 1998? Maybe – we went into that season on a ten game win streak.

Truth be told, we don’t go into this season on a winning streak at all. We go in on a three-game losing streak. But, that doesn’t seem to matter so much at the moment. It’s possible that we just weren’t that good last year. Despite the down ending, it’s possible that we overachieved last year, what with the new staff coming in and a redshirt freshman quarterback taking all the snaps. (The only thing that really disappoints me from last year are the three blowout losses. I don’t mind the Ls so much as the fact that we didn’t even compete in three games. No matter what the won-loss record is this year, no matter how we do in the Stanford/Oregon stretch in mid-October, I feel we must be close and in striking distance in every game. I’m not talking about moral victories, I’m just acknowledging the fact that sometimes a good team loses a game to a better team. But regardless of the final score, I want every opponent this year to know they were in a tough game. I want every opposing coach to respect the shit out of us when the final whistle blows no matter what it says on the scoreboard.) Maybe beating SC and going toe-to-toe with Stanford in one of our meetings was the potential of last year’s team.

So, let’s call last year a foundation building year. Let’s forget about the final scores and the final record and just acknowledge the fact that a new coach and a new staff came in and changed how things were done on and off the field and that last season was a necessary bottom step on the ladder we’re hoping to climb.

For the rest of you, I’m wondering about the rituals and rhythms of your season. When do you start planning your tailgating menu? How much time do you spend just thinking about/talking about/reading about the team? Do you wake up on Friday mornings and read Pregame Guesses with your breakfast or do you wait until you get to work and savor it during your coffee break? Does the team’s won-loss record impact how you spend your time during the season or are you equally into it no matter how things play out on Saturday?

Are you ready for the season to start? I am. I don’t think I have too many more Guesses columns in me without some games to talk about.

And with that, here are your Pregame Guesses, Fall Camp 2013 edition:

  1. Other than watching UCLA games and reading the Pregame Guesses column each week, what is your favorite ritual of the college football season?
  2. Other than watching UCLA games, how many hours per week do you devote to college football (including watching games and other television programs, reading the papers, online, everything)/
  3. If your answer to Question 2 is in double digits, you might need to consult a therapist.
  4. If you live in town and go to the games, what time will you arrive at the Rose Bowl for Nevada's 7 pm kickoff? If you're out of town, where and with whom will you watch the opening game?
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