I was responding to a post within today's front page article by Nestor, and I thougth that my statement was getting too long for the comments, so here goes. In response (rebuttal) to Nestor's well written and well argued front page post stating that we should expect a losing season, I have two main thoughts.
First, last year we had a long discussion about expectations vs. predictions. Expectations, from what I gathered last year, are what you would expect of the Bruins assuming that the coach is qualified and that he's been doing a reasonably good job of stocking the team with talent. As students and alumni of the school that has produced more NCAA champions than any other, more Olympians at many Olympics than any other etc., and has clearly been at the very least the 2nd best historical football program in the Pac-10, we should have higher expectations of our teams than Wazzu, Oregon State, Stanford etc. We should never "expect" to win only 3 football games, and we should never be satisfied with that. So I don't buy that our "expectation" should involve 3, 4 or even 5 or 6 wins. We're Bruins, and we expect better than that. When I saw this post, I was reminded of a 100-piece puzzle that I had when I was a kid that had the saying "Blessed are those who expect nothing, for they cannot be disappointed." If I were really to expect 3, 4 or 5 wins, I wouldn't be disappointed. But the fact of the matter is that if we are that bad, this season would be 4 months of hell, and I will be disappointed to no end. I expect more. I expect the team to be successful (by doing the best it is capable of doing, paraphrasing Wooden). And I think it's capable of much more than 4 or 5 wins. So, I stand by my post that we should expect more, even from a first-year coach with only 9 returning starters.
As for predictions, they're like ass holes, everyone has one and they all stink. So take the following odiferous emanation called a prediction with a grain of salt. Without the albatross that was CRN's predecessor, UCLA has win more than 5 games. Has to. Why? Despite CRN's predecessor's terrible coaching, UCLA still managed to attract talent. In 4 of the last 5 years, UCLA finished in the top 25 of national recruiting classes. How many other Pac-10 schools can say that? Only USC, which has done so in all 5 years. Tennessee is our only other opponent to do it 4 times. Even Cal and Oregon only made 3 of the last 5 top-25 lists. Even in the one year that we did not have a top 25 class, we brought in quality players--our average star rating was 3.64, good for 9th in the country. Okay, we all know that recruiting services do not always get things right, but there has to be some correlation between rankings and talent level in general. We clearly don't have 70 lumps of coal, and we're clearly more talented than some other teams. UCLA football has talent. It may be inexperienced in various areas, but ask any coach and he'll tell you that the more talented team usually prevails. And UCLA will be more talented than its opponent in more than 1/2 of its games this year. We will have significantly more talent than Fresno State, Stanford and Washington State. We will have more talent than (but there's less of a talent gap between us and) Washington, OSU, BYU and Arizona. We will have similar talent to Cal, Oregon and Arizona State (too close to call). We will have less talent than USC and Tennessee. All things being equal that should amount to at least 7 wins and a bowl eligible season.
But all things are not equal.
On the down side of equal (less than equal?), our biggest weaknesses appear to be at O-line and QB, which are critical positions. Those two deficiencies will probably cost us a game or two. We have inexperience. But not as much as you think--those injuries last year allowed a lot of young guys to play.
On the positive side, we also have a new coach. And as much as BlueReign pointed out in his very thoughtful post that Steve Kragthorpe is an example of a coach that saw a drop off in his first year, the comparison is not apples to apples. Steve Kragthorpe is exhibit A in the case of coaches who fail due to AD forcing coach to keep prior coach's assistant coaches. Those assistants then undermined him every step of the way. He had no chance. Our new guy, Rick Neuheisel has brought an energy level to the program that will translate onto the field. He picked all of his assistants (and quite well), clearly with the AD opening his check book to make sure he ahd a staff that could win. Some are even calling it the best set of coordinators in college football. And Rick will get more out of his players than the sum of the collective parts. We may not have the o-line or the QB to go all the way, but he is going to get these guys to play their asses off every week. And in doing that, he's going to milk about 8 wins out of them, against some odds and despite a tough schedule. So goes my prediction.
My other prediction is that we will not have 44-6, 20-6 or whatever lopsided score by which WSU always seems to beat us. We will compete every game and play like we are capable of playing. No more of this inconsistency from game to game. No more cluelessness. Perhaps that's really my expectation. And perhaps that's just how John Wooden would define success. Go Bruins!