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Dose Of Reality: Projecting Expectations For 2008-09 Football Season

It is that time of the year again.  Menelaus’ post re Phil Steele's preview spurred a pretty good discussion wrt to expectations for next season.  This is a discussion we have had every year here on BN around this time during the off season (See 2007 and 2006).  And every time the discussions have centered on the difference between expectation and prediction.  IMHO the distinction between the two terms is basically semantics.  But we can still give it a shot in terms of what we think should be the expectation for this team given the current state of the program and information available at this snap shot of time.

As we noted this week, the mood around here wrt to our football team is lot different now than it was during those times, for obvious reasons:


Photo Credit: karthulovesyou (flickr)

The feel around our entire football program is different as noted by even the most skeptical fans here on BN:

[T]he most important thing about the event is simply to say that CRN is the man. The Best CEO in America. He has changed the entire feel of the athletic department. There is an excitement, confidence and buzz that’s at a higher level than in way too long, if ever. My major complaint about the previous coaches (didn’t say his name Fox!) was not just that they weren’t the right type of dynamic leaders for the job, they had no plan on how to manage not only the team/game, but what is one of the most important jobs in athletics at a major school. That is no longer an issue. Rick has done more for UCLA in a few months than has been done in a very long time and it really showed at this event. He’s embracing (good and bad) the history of the program that had turned it’s back on great players and assets and is creating one of the best programs in the country. The family of Bruin athletics seems stronger than ever and I’m positive recruits, reporters and rivals can feel it.

We all feel the same sense of energy around our football program here on BN. However, at the same, we have to be cognizant of the realities surrounding our program, which has been underachieving on a consistent basis since the forgetful night of December 5, 1998.

I think given the instability in our roster arising from uncertainty in our quarterback situation, lack of depth on the offensive live, and the massive departure of upperclassmen from last year’s underachieving team, it is difficult to nail down expectations for next season.  But let’s see what we get if we try to take it one game at time and project our expectations on the team based on the information available at this snap shot of time.

  • Tennessee (L): The eyes of the entire college football world are going to be on the UCLA football program on September 1st when the Bruins officially kick off the Neuheisal era on the WWL. No doubt all of us – the entire Bruin Nation – will be at a fever pitch with excitement.  But, the Bruins are going to be taking on a powerful Volunteers team that is coming off a win over Big-10 power Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl, and the SEC East Championship.  The Volunteers have their own questions. They will be breaking in a new quarterback who will be looking to replace the dependable Eric Ainge, and a new OC, following the departure of David Cutcliffe (who coincidentally beat out KD for the HCing position at Duke). Dave Clawson, from Richmond, is taking over for Cutcliffe and is going to be running some version of the WCO. Tennessee, true to the spirit of the Fulmer Cup, once again has had an interesting off season.  But these guys still have a lot of talent.  Jonathan Crompton could emerge as the next dependable TN signal caller.  They have a solid group in the secondary and they are used to playing in the big stage.  I think this is going to be a close game.  However, I am expecting the Vols to pull out this game.  The Bruins start the season 0-1.
  • @ BYU (L): After taking on the Volunteers, the Bruins will head off to Provo to take on a Cougar team which has designs on being the 08-09 version of Hawaii and Boise State.  And this will be a statement game from them against a high profile team from the Pac-10.  The advantage the Bruins might have is that they will be familiar with BYU’s offensive and defensive schemes, while BYU will have one game of film to work with to scout the new Bruin offense.  Regardless, BYU will be coming in this game fired up with returning stars such as Max Hall (3,848 yards passing) and Harvey Unaga (1,227 yards).  This will be another close game.  However, I think the Cougars will pull this one out based on their home field advantage.  I expect the Bruins to fall to 0-2 and Neuheisel haters will be coming out of the woodwork to ridicule the program.
  • Arizona (T): The Bruins come back to the Rose Bowl with an 0-2 record to take on a Pac-10 football program with an embattled head coach.  Arizona beat up on the Bruins last year in Tucson by beating up on a hobbled Pat Cowan and running rough shot over DeWayne Walker’s offense.  It will be interesting to see how the Bruin D with its young cubs matchup against the 'Zona offense and whether Walker has an answer for an athletic, multi dimensional QB like Tuitama. The optimistic part of me thinks that the Bruin D will rise to the occasion and the offense will click a little in its third game under Chow.  But, still, this is a toss up game in my book.  Let’s go with two tracks.  Staying with my optimistic side, the Bruins record after this game will be 1-2 (L – "liberal" projection), but if it goes the other way the Bruins will fall to 0-3 (C – "conservative" projection).
  • Fresno St (T): Bulldogs are heading into the 08-09 season with their own high expectations.  WWL’s Mark Schlbach has them ranked in his top-25. They are also coming into the Rose Bowl with an experienced combo in the backfield (quarterback Tom Brandstater and tailback Ryan Mathews) and they will probably bring along about 25-30,000 fans via the I-5.  Again, the prospects for the Bruins in this game depends on how the offense is performing under Olson or Craft or Forcier with a brand new OL.  If the offense is off to a decent start, I feel good about a W in this game.  However, if it is still working its kinks out, I could see the Dogs pulling this out.  So this is another toss up.  If you want to stay on the "L" track, the Bruins up their record to 2-2; but if you want to go with the "C" track, the record falls to 0-4 . 1-3 if you took "L" track in the game before.
  • Washington St (W): The Cougars come into the Rose Bowl with Paul Wulff as their new HC.  The word is that Wulff will be running a no-huddle spread offense this coming season. So this will be a perfect test for DeWayne Walker.  This is a game I expect us to win at home as the Bruin defense should be able to shut down the Cougar offense.  The Bruins up their record to 3-2 (L) or 1-4/2-3 (depending on the "C" option selected above).
  • @ Oregon (L): After taking on Fresno State, the Bruins head up to Eugene. This is going to be a tough game. Eugene natives are going to be out for Neuheisel’s blood based on his past history at UDub. The Ducks will also have a pretty solid team which is coming off an impressive win in the Sun Bowl with Justin Roper at QB. Obviously, we will go into more details during the week leading up to this game. But, at this snap shot of time, I don’t see the Bruins beating the Ducks in Eugene. I fully expect us to lose this game and our record will fall to either 3-3 (L) or 1-5/2-4 (depending on the "C" options picked above).
  • Stanford (W): This will be the first game of the season in which UCLA should be favored.  Stanford came on strong this past season pulling off some great wins against Southern Cal and Cal.  The Bruins should have the advantage in terms of personnel.  And I expect the Bruin defense to shut down and dominate the Cardinals in this game, although we can’t get too over confident.  Bruins up there record to either 4-3 (L) or 2-5/3-4 (C).
  • @ California (L): After beating up on Stanford, the Bruins head off to the Bay Area on a positive note.  By this game, I would assume Jeff Tedford’s QB situation will become clear, in which (IMHO) Kevin Riley should emerge as the unquestioned number 1 QB in Strawberry Canyon.  I think Cal is positioned to have a decent season next year, but in this game IMHO they will be the favorites at home.  The Bruins fall to 4-4 (L) or 2-6/3-5 (C).
  • Oregon St (T):  The Bruins come back to the Rose Bowl to play their second to last home game of the season.  Oregon State is coming back from a solid 9-4 season.  And this year they should have Sammie Stroughter at their disposal.  If the Beavers live up to their pre-season hype, they should be the favorite to win this game.  But the Bruins have had their number in recent years.  Again, this is a toss up game and right now I am not sure what to expect.  So, again, going with a consistently optimistic projection, let’s say the Bruins should win this game and up their record to 5-4 (L).  On the flip side, the Bruins could drop to 2-7/3-6 (C).
  • @ Washington (L):  The Bruins head up to Seattle where the entire Husky nation will be out for CRN’s blood.  Willingham may be fighting for his coaching life and the Huskies will be anxious to feel better about Barbara Hedges’ follies by exacting "revenge" (in their minds) against Neuheisel. They will get their wish.  The Bruins fall to 5-5 (L) or 2-8/3-7 (C).
  • @ Arizona St (L):  At this point of the season, the Bruins are going to be down.  There will be a lot of doubts.  And I would not be surprised at all if the team gets a little lost just like Howland’s team did during his first season against St. Johns, when the entire season didn’t seem to have any purpose.  I just don’t see Bruins competing in this game against a pretty deep and talented ASU team under Erickson that could be competing for a shot at the Rose Bowl. This could get ugly and the Bruins drop to 5-6 (L) or 2-9/3-8 (C). 
  • Southern Cal (W):  So, the way I see it right now, I expect the Bruins at best to head into this game with a record of 5-6 and at worst with a record of 2-8. But this is the game in which Neuheisel will get the troops all fired up. The Trojans have had trouble dealing with Walker’s defense.  I think Walker will once again have the guys well prepared.  And Neuheisel and Chow will have the offense ready, fired up and ready to go.  The Bruins win this game, finishing the season with a record of 6-6 (L) or 3-9/4-8 (C) with a lot of momentum heading into the '09-10 season. 

So, to sum it up right now at this snap shot of time, I expect UCLA to lose against Tennessee, BYU, Oregon, California, Washington and Arizona State

I see three toss up games against Arizona, Fresno State, Oregon State and three wins against Stanford, Washington State, and Southern Cal. 

So depending on how the toss up games go, the Bruins could finish either 6-6 or 3-9/4-8 (depending on which "conservative" projection we take as we go through the list above).

In other words, I will be ecstatic if somehow, despite all the questions surrounding this team, the program manages to finish with 6 wins and a victory over Southern Cal.

As many have said already, I am not sure we can use wins and losses as  the barometer of success for next year.  Rick Neuheisel’s first year is going to be different from Karl Dorrell’s first year for a few reasons.  He is not inheriting the same level of talent as Karl Dorrell did following the departure of Toledo.  Dorrell took over a team which was stocked with talents (especially on defense) and two highly recruited young quarterbacks – Moore and Olson – who were entering their second season.  Neuheisel will not have the same level of talent of experience with him given how recruiting was fairly mediocre during Dorrell era until this past season (and we have written many posts addressing that issue).

So, with that in mind, what we need to look for is to see whether Neuheisel can field a team that doesn’t quit despite the expected difficulties this coming season. Keep in mind, even a coach like Howland kind of "lost" his team his first season. So it wouldn’t be a total surprise if we see the football team look a little dispirited despite the unending enthusiasm, experience and skills of the Neuheisal and his coaching staff. 

What will be more important than ever for all of us to remain patient and maintain perspective and a sense of reality while the coaching staff and players work to right the ship for the long term in what I think is going to be a very difficult season.