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Spaulding Roundup: It's Game Week

After long last, it’s game week. We have waited for this week to start since December 30, 2008.  Interestingly our last full fledged game week for 07-08 here on BN involved a basketball team from Tennessee. We get to kick of 08-09 Bruin athletic season with the marquee sports institution from the Volunteer State.  No disrespect to Tennessee’s other fine pro and athletic programs, but when I think of Tennessee’s sports world, it starts with the Vols.

CPBuinFan over at Bruin Roar attempts to frame this week by calling our season opener an opportunity to “exorcise” demons from last 10 years. Specifically, CPB evokes the painful memories of December 5, 1998, when a nightmare in Miami, dashed the hopes for a UCLA-Tennessee matchup in the first BCS Bowl:

[T]he Bruins and Volunteers will have their date with destiny. It comes ten years too late for the UCLA faithful, but maybe some football demons can be exorcised during this game. I think ten years in purgatory is payment enough for whatever offense we committed against the football gods so long ago. It may not be a victory for the Bruins, but it just might be the first step on the long road back up the mountain.

More fun facts from CPB:

  • UCLA and Tennessee have played 13 times in their history. The Bruins are 4-7-2 against the Volunteers.
  • After San Diego State (21) and Pittsburgh (14,) UCLA has played Tennessee more times than any other active, non-conference foe.
  • The last time these two teams played, in 1997,Tennesse won. The Bruins then went on a 20 game winning streak.
  • The 11 year gap from the last time these two teams played is the longest break since the series began in 1965. Before then, the teams averaged a game every 3 years.
  • Tennessee has a lifetime 14-11-3 record against the PAC-10.

I have tried really hard over the years to wipe out December 5, 1998 out of my memory. I have written about it before. But it will take a while to forget about that night. I actually think the unraveling of our football program officially begin in 2001 against Stanford up in Palo Alton, when Toledo and his team rolled in with a 6-0 record mocking the Stanford stadium as an empty “parking lot.” An unprepared and uninspired football team choked the game away and went on its way to experience a total implosion, culminating in a gutless, disgraceful and humiliating effort (exemplified by Brian Poli Dixon’s dropped pass that turned into a TD for the other team) against Southern Cal.

So it’s going to take a while to exorcise those demons from last 10 years. However, I agree with CPB, Monday night could be a start – no matter what the result is – of a process which will eventually allow us to lol about all those memories, just like the Red Sox fans these days don’t care as much about Bill Buckner from 86. It will take a while.

More Tennessee notes from the official site:

The Bruins have opened the 1996 (L, 20-35 in Knoxville), 1994 (W, 25-23 in Rose Bowl), 1989 (L, 6-24 in Rose Bowl), 1974 (17-17 in Knoxville), and 1967 (W, 20-16 in Los Angeles) seasons against the Volunteers. Rick Neuheisel will become the third Bruin head coach to begin his UCLA coaching career against Tennessee. Bob Toledo coached his first game at UT in 1996 (35-20 loss). Dick Vermeil took the field for his first Bruin game at Tennessee in 1974 (17-17 tie).

The Bruins are 58-26-5 overall in season-opening games. UCLA won 45-17 at Stanford in last year's opener for its third straight season-opening win (2005, won 44-21 at San Diego State; 2006, won 31-10 over Utah in Rose Bowl).

As far as the week in MSM is concerned, it looks like the LA Times of places are framing it perfectly calling it a season of low expectations but high hopes for UCLA football.

"I've seen teams rise to levels that maybe individually you couldn't imagine," Neuheisel said. "I played on a team that went to the Rose Bowl after starting 0-3-1 [in 1983].

"Expectations are low outside looking in, not inside. Those are always high and we have to try to hold each other to them."

Besides, Neuheisel said, "the alternative, to me, is unacceptable."

Neuheisel and his coaches are firing up players like Korey Bosworth and Tom Blake, who are looking to fill the big shoes left behind by players like Bruce Davis:

"I might not have the same agility and natural instinct that Bruce had," said Bosworth, a junior whose two career sacks came in last year's opener at Stanford. "But I feel like I can stop a run better, and I'm stronger than Bruce. I weigh a couple more pounds."

Davis, on his best days, weighed 238 pounds. Bosworth reported to training camp at 240 pounds, with a transformed body - he added 20pounds of muscle while his body fat dipped to six percent.

"We know it's going to be tough to make up for someone who had 25 sacks the last two years," said Tom Blake, UCLA's other starting defensive end. "But the coaches do a good job of coming up with stunts for our defensive line to compensate for his loss."

In fact, the Bruins might have a better overall defensive line this season because defensive tackle Brigham Harwell, who missed much of last season with a knee injury, is healthy, and sophomore defensive tackle Brian Price has a full training camp of experience after NCAA Clearinghouse issues kept him on the sideline until the fourth game in 2007.

"(Davis) would take up two blockers and make it easier for the D-line in the running game," Blake said. "But I think now that you have Brigham back, Price is a year older, me and Korey both have a year of experience, and we're more of a threat than we were before."

Meanwhile, over on the offensive side of the ball, Raymond Carter can’t wait to run in full speed at the Rose Bowl:

Carter, one of the fastest players on the UCLA roster, figures to be the No. 2 back this season behind Kahlil Bell and offers the Bruins a speed option that they have lacked since Maurice Drew left for the NFL after the 2005 season.

Carter, an LA Crenshaw High graduate, was ranked the No. 3 all-purpose running back nationally by as a high school senior and was a three-time finalist in the 4x100 relay and 400 at the Youth World Junior Olympics.

Since returning from the injury, Carter said that his knee feels "100 percent" healthy and, most importantly, he feels he has not lost a step off of his speed from prior to surgery.

"I feel like I am back to where I was before I was injured," Carter said. "Just me being out there running the plays full speed, I don't feel a thing. Everything is fine."

Starting tomorrow, we will officially start posting our notes on how Raymond and his team-mates matchup against the Volunteers.