But we don't feel 5-5, do we?
I can't speak for any of you, the five game losing streak really took a lot out of me.
What I mean is, if you had told me before the season that UCLA would be 5-5 going into the Arizona State game and riding a two game winning streak at that, I would have taken it. I guess I would have figured on at least one non-conference loss, probably Tennessee because it was a road game for us and revenge game for the Volunteers. And I also would have figured at least one win out of Cal, Oregon and Stanford. But it didn't play out that way.
Instead, we took care of business against a relatively weak non-conference schedule, then rolled off the table during an October from Hell in which we lost five straight games.As a result of that what-could-go-wrong-went-wrong stretch, I'm not so trusting of the current two game winning streak. Like the child of an alcoholic mom whose been trying to stay sober, I keep waiting for the other cleat to drop, to come home from school looking for milk and cookies only to find mommy passed out on the coach clutching an empty bottle of Beefeaters, while dinner burns on the stove.
But I suppose there's another way to look at this up and down season -- one that doesn't involve gin or a grease fire.
It's really just perfectly possible that we've beaten the teams we're better than and we've lost to the teams that are better than us. Think about it:
On a neutral field, wouldn't we still beat San Diego State, Kansas State, Tennessee, Washington and Washington State? And on that same neutral field, wouldn't we at least be underdogs against Cal, Oregon, Stanford, Oregon State and Arizona? I'm not an oddsmaker, but that looks about right. From that point of view, maybe we can describe the season up to this point simply by saying that we've beaten the teams we should have beaten, but failed to upset any of the teams that are having a better year than we're having.
Stay with me on this.
If that's true, then the question I have at this point is "Why didn't we upset any of the teams on the schedule who are just better than we are at this point in the Neuheisel era?"
My answer goes back to the end of the Tennessee game. We've debated Rick Neuheisel's decision to roll Kevin Prince out and go for a first down that would have allowed us to run out the clock. Part of me wants to admire that call, because it sends the message that we're playing to win, that we're not just playing "not to lose." You'd like to call it a gutsy gamble -- and I'm someone who actually admires Bill Belichick for trying to pick up a sort of similar first down for the New England Patriots against the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday.
But if I had a time machine and could change one play this season, I think that would be it. If that's not it, it would be Alterraun Verner's just-missed pick six against Oregon State -- actually that's probably the play I'd alter, so let's change the premise to "if I could change one offensive play this season" and go from there.
Not only did that play not entirely make sense strategically (the smart money was to take a knee on third down, let the clock run down, then take the safety on fourth down before turning the ball over and letting the red hot defense slam the door shut), it cost us Prince at a key point in the season.
That's the point I was driving at, in an admittedly roundabout way. The reason we never elevated our game past the team's that we've lost to, the reason we scored no upsets in my opinion is that we lost the quarterback we went all in on at a turning point in the schedule and we're only just now seeing him approach his potential. I'm stating here that had Prince played the whole season without getting hurt, the guy we've been watching check down to his fourth option, the guy whose been not just a quarterback but a leader the past two weeks would have emerged much sooner and we would have beaten a couple of those teams we played in October.
But I don't have a time machine and we can't unbreak Prince's jaw. Instead, we face Arizona State in the last home game of the year with a quarterback whose just now peaking. And that's a good thing.
Look, it's an unwritten rule around here that we don't look past the next game. And the next game is a tough game, no sure thing. But, if you indulge me one quick peak at the rest of the year, I'll just say this:
I remember Pete Carroll/Norm Chow's first season at USC. With that in mind and that as a model, It would not shock me if Rick Neuheisel spends January and February bragging about a five game winning streak that closed out the season with an 8-5 record.
Here are your Pregame Guesses for Arizona State:
- Within ten, how many yards will Kevin Prince throw for?
- In what will likely be his last game in the Rose Bowl, how many tackles will the great Brian Price record?
- True or False, Alterraun Verner will intercept a pass in his final home game as a Bruin.
Bonus True or False question
- True or False, the Bruins will be 6-5 and on a three game winning streak when the face the Trojans next week at the Coliseum?