Pregame Guesses: Cal Bears Edition

Scott Halleran - Getty Images

The Bruins travel to Berkeley to play the Cal Bears in a must game for both teams, though for different reasons. At this point, it's destination unknown for both squads.

Rancid- Ruby Soho (live) (via DakotaPunk)

(This week’s video is a live performance of "Ruby Soho" by Berkeley’s own Rancid. I bet you thought I’d go with the Grateful Dead – who some would say are a more iconic Bay Area band. But The Dead – and I do love me some Grateful Dead – were never really from Berkeley and also using them somehow felt clichéd. When I decided on Rancid, I figured I’d go with "Salvation" because that’s probably my favorite Rancid track. But "Ruby Soho" has that line "… destination unknown … " and that just felt right with where the football program is at the moment.)

Five games into the Jim Mora era and I’m still getting a feel for where the program stands.

One thing that’s been interesting to me is that in some quarters there are some, many actually, who believe the program has "turned the corner." They are shocked that we aren’t ranked higher, stunned that the national media hasn’t jumped on the bandwagon, indignant that anyone doubts that UCLA has returned to football prominence. Of course, I’m not necessarily talking about the professionals who remain rational in their coverage of the team, I’m talking about a whole lot of fans who long since left rationale behind.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot.

Whenever I see someone identify really strongly with the Bruins, I’ll admit I presume they attended UCLA. I realize this isn’t true. I also realize that some of the most dedicated, diehard and thoughtful fans did not attend UCLA. Still, that’s always my initial reaction.

And if one did attend UCLA, I assume you took statistics or research methods or something similar. Point being, there is something called a "sample size" – and, very loosely, it references having enough information (or samples) to conduct a proper empirical study.

Still with me? (if not, play the Rancid video again, then catch up).

My feeling is that five games (and the associated spring and fall practice camps) is not a large enough sample to make any kind of definitive statement about the program at this point.

What we’ve got, though, is some very strong anecdotal evidence that we’re on the right track.

Last week, coming off the meltdown against Oregon State, I wrote:

I’m sure it reads like I’m making all kinds of excuses. Maybe I am. But it’s not my intent. I’ll say it again, we played poorly and we got out-schemed. The Beavers players played well, give them credit. What we need to find out the next two weeks is whether or not the mistakes get corrected and whether or not the team bounces back.

See, a bad team (and we all know what they look like) starts to fold after a bad loss. They start to expect the mistakes and once you start to do that, it’s all over. A good team, even a good team capable of crapping the bed at home as a favorite against a conference rival who lost nine games the year before, bounces back, puts things behind them, shows up in force against a weak, 1-3 Colorado team.

I’d like to make a prediction that we do bounce back, but I can’t. I really don’t know what will happen tomorrow. I really do believe that it’s hard to assess where we are right now. I really do believe that we were so far down below sea level the last four years, that it’s all Mora could do to get us back to the surface. It’s tough to tell from shore if the team will stay calm and start swimming or if it will swallow a mouthful of seawater and drown.

So, what happened?

We showed up in force against a weak, 1-3 Colorado team.

(I have to interrupt the guesses to make this observation: Colorado is fucked. John Embree is to head coaching what Taylor Embree was to running back punts for touchdowns. Okay, back to the guesses.)

We went on the road after a tough (or bad) home loss (you decide which) and took care of business 42-14.

Despite the quality of opponent (and really, there is a whole digression to be explored about the quality of our opponents this season and how that impacts one’s view of the program – but I’m not going to get into it. Feel free to write your own post on the topic) UCLA did what it had to do in Boulder. (Unlike the last time we were there – LOL@KarlDorrell.) And while this is not proof that we’re a "good team" it’s what a good team would do. There’s no way of knowing, but given the way Rick Neuheisel’s team consistently struggled on the road, it’s not at all clear that we would have beaten the Buffaloes at all, no less by four touchdowns.

Tomorrow’s game, in my opinion, offers a whole different type of challenge.

Last week’s guesses post referenced some past Jim Tressel sentiment about the difference between playing out of conference and the conference teams you play every year. Well, while Colorado is a conference game – they’ve only been in the conference a short time; Cal is a conference game, a long time rival that is probably the school most like UCLA. Half their student body also applied to UCLA. Half of our student body applied up there. Both teams and both student bodies are primarily California kids. We recruit the same exact players. If USC is our hated rival – the Hatfields to our McCoys – Cal is our competitive second cousin, a rival, yes, but one that has so much in common with us, it’s tough to really despise them.

As for how all that impact what I’m saying, all I mean is that the Cal players are intimately familiar with ours (and vice versa) and while the Trojans are our official, cross town rival, playing the Bears is another game where you throw the records out. Cal’s record, if you didn’t already know, is 1-4.

It was talk about Cal that prompted some of the message board chatter I referenced above. There is a fear in some circles – it’s paranoia, actually – that a bad Cal season will lead to them hiring Chris Petersen from Boise State. That fear led to a "would UCLA have been better off with "first choice" Chris Petersen, instead of "we hired him even after Chris Petersen turned us down" Jim Mora. And there are a whole lot of people who feel, "No, we hired the right guy in Jim Mora" and that’s what made me wonder if they understood that five games isn’t enough to affirm that.

Just so you know, I’m not making the case that Petersen would definitely be the better UCLA coach than Mora. I don’t know that. I do know that Petersen has a great record, mostly in a weak conference but with some really good wins. I know that his BSU predecessors, Dirk Koetter and Dan Hawkins did so well when they left Idaho they aren’t college head coaches anymore. Really, we just don’t know.

We do know that we have a crucial game tomorrow.

Don’t forget, as much as the game means to us as we add to our sample size, it probably means more to Cal.

Think about it: They are 1-4 and very close to seeing their whole season slip away, with all the post-season implications that implies. But a win over UCLA completely changes things for them. They’re at home. It’s a conference game and the difference between 2-4 and 1-5 is tremendous. Of course, we can analyze them and the contest to death and conclude that even a win tomorrow doesn’t turn around their fortunes in the long run, but I’m sure they don’t see it that way. I’m sure they see a way to do a hairpin turn and get back in the race – a loss and they are that much closer to just hitting the wall.

So, there is a lot at stake for both teams. I haven’t even mentioned the fact that it’s been a long while since we won at Berkeley (it’s been a while, right? I probably should double-check that – oh well.) In any case, our road record the last nine years has been poor. It’s tough to say who needs the win more.

I do try and come up with a different angle each week, but my feelings haven't really changed in the last seven days. We did what we had to last week. But I don't think this team is immune from a potentially poor performance. Brett Hundley is still a redshirt freshman. The line is still young. We aren't going undefeated the rest of the way.

That said, I have a pretty good feeling about this game. I haven't followed Cal all that closely this season (thanks Pac 12 Network) but I have this sense that they are ready to implode. I could be wrong. I actually think that Jeff Tedford is -- or at least has been -- a pretty good coach. But I'm of the mind that coaches shouldn't have tenure. Sometimes a team just gets sick of their coach, sick of their stories, sick of their motivational speeches, sick of the same practices and work outs. That might be the case in Berkeley, where the fans have grown impatient and the whole program seems stressed.

All told, this might be our weekend to make a bit of a statement. One road win against Colorado is one thing; a sweep of the Buffs and Bears is another, if only because the prior coach would surely have found a way to lose at least one, or both, of these games. A return home with two wins after the disappointing game against Oregon State is what a good team should do -- and while a 5-1 start is likely still too small a sample size, eventually the anecdotal evidence starts to mean something.

With that, here are your Pregame Guesses, California Bears edition (please put your guesses in the subject line for comments, but also feel free to comment on the post as well. Love to have your feedback):

  1. The over/under for tomorrow's game if 55. I like the over, do you agree? (This is a yes/no question.)
  2. Which number will be higher on Saturday -- UCLA's total points at halftime or Brett Hundley's total completions for the whole game?
  3. True or False: UCLA gets a touchdown on defense or special teams.
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