Let's start our Saturday with another national preview on UCLA. This time it is from Paul Myerberg of the New York Times. You can find Myerberg's thoughts on college football over at "the Quad" (The NYT's College Sports Blog). He has been posting exhaustive previews of all FBS teams at Pre-Snap Read.
Myerberg's assessments on UCLA last year - when he predicted us to go 6-6, 4-5 in regular season - was pretty much on the money. So it's really interesting to read what he has to say about the Bruins this season. Myerberg has the Bruins ranked number 40 in his pre-season preview as he takes note of the clear progress Bruins made in 2009 (emphasis added throughout):
In a nutshell It's still a work in progress, this rebuilding job. Progress was made last fall, however, beyond merely the all-important three-game improvement in the win column. Improvement was made on both sides of the ball. U.C.L.A. scored 286 points, not a good number - only 22 points per game - but more than a four-point improvement over its 2008 output. The Bruins allowed 21.2 points per game, down from 29 points per game the year prior. Better yet, U.C.L.A. seemed to locate a quarterback; play from this position was horrendous in 2008, particularly in terms of its penchant for turnovers. This improvement, steady as it was, did little for U.C.L.A. through five games in Pac-10 play: the Bruins opened 0-5, failing to score more than 20 points four times and holding no opponent to fewer than 24 points. The season was made with a solid start and a solid finish, with U.C.L.A. winning its first three games and three of its last four. Improvement was surely made, even it wasn't pretty.
In a nutshell I may be in the minority, but I think we'll continue to see improvement from the Bruins in 2010. Will that reveal itself in the win column? With this schedule - the non-conference slate is jaw-dropping - perhaps not. That doesn't mean the Bruins won't be improved, nor does it mean the Bruins aren't a Pac-10 dark horse. They will be, and they are. Well, on that second point... it's a very dark horse. Still, I like the direction of the program under Neuheisel: last season illustrated that progress has been made, and there's little reason, despite some losses on defense, to expect any step back in 2010. The continuity on offense will only aid U.C.L.A.'s scoring attack, particularly under center. Is Prince ready to take the next step? No, he's no quite an all-conference quarterback, at least not yet. But he'll be improved, and will do a better job of stringing together successive solid performances. The defense does face issues up front, where three starters must be replaced. If that group can round together, joining a talented linebacker corps and secondary, the U.C.L.A. defense should again rank in the top third in the Pac-10. Helping matters further are five Pac-10 games at home, as well as a road game against Arizona State, a game U.C.L.A. should win. Can we put U.C.L.A. in the same breath as Oregon, U.S.C. and Oregon State when discussing potential Pac-10 champions? No, not in 2010. But the Bruins are beginning to round into form, leading me to believe the future is bright.
You should read the entire preview here because his notes are pretty much in sync with what we have been reading and writing on BN. Myerberg does have one mistaken impression on the Bruins though. It is about our "pistol" offense. Hey, no one is perfect. We will correct that (with a little help from tWWL of all places) and share more thoughts on expectations after the jump.
Myerberg wonder whether the "Pistol offense" is "a wholesale change" in UCLA's "offensive philosophy" in his ongoing "Five and Five" segment on the Bruins. The answer is obviously negative. We have gone over how the Bruins ran that formation number of times last year and that it is just that - a formation - in a total offensive scheme. Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLA actually has some good notes on how the"revolver" formation came about and how it fits into our offense:
"Norm and I had a conversation after last year that we had to do some things differently to expect different results," Neuheisel said. "So we went out there and studied different programs and ideas.
"We always can go back and do what we did and hope we're just a little bit better. But I went through this before at the University of Washington, where we couldn't move the ball, and all it took was just this magic, this little spark of making defenses play something every down to create the opportunity to exploit them in other places."
The pistol will be merely a tool in the Bruins' kit, not an every-down call. But the fact Neuheisel and Chow are beginning to add to their playbook after two seasons of simply trying to get everyone to learn all the plays in the old one shows how far UCLA has come.
Sure seems like Shellburne has the concept down in terms of how CRN and Norm Chow are thinking about using this formation. It has been amusing to see how most of the local and national reporters have failed to see the overall. You can totally blame Myerberg for having the kind of misimpression he has on this formation. Lot of it has been due to clueless reporting (and often hackjobs) we have seen coming from the local news outlets.
Going back to our season outlook, Shelburne got some poignant comments from CRN:
"We're in a deliver business," Neuheisel said. "I've got a sense of calm, not hurrying to get it done. If it doesn't get done, that'll work itself out. If somebody decides there's a better person for UCLA football in terms of leadership, they'll let me know.
"But I am excited about the challenge that this season presents, and I'm so fond of the guys in our program. I know what they want, so we're going to do it together. We're going to figure out a way to be a UCLA team that not only our fans are proud of but everybody else has to take notice of."
There has been some freaking out at some other online communities about Bruins being picked 8th in the conference. This has been mostly coming from usual worrywarts who get weak kneed at first sign of trouble and also from some hard core Dorrell supporters, who are now amusingly concern trolling and worked up over expectations after their boy wonder completely destroyed our program.
I guess after being mediocre for so long thanks to Toledo's missteps and Dorrell's inept "leadership" and total lack of vision, we can't fault some Bruins from being overly concerned (we saw that among Red Sox fan base for almost a century until 2004). What is sad though is that kind of hyper worrying and concern trolling, takes all the fun away from enjoying the bit by bit building of a program.
It has been obvious to number observers - such as Paul Myerberg from the New York Times, Oli Buchanan from Rival.com, and Richard Cirminiello of CollegeFootballNews.com - that the Bruins are on a steady path towards right direction under CRN. All the data points from our exhaustive depth chart analysis, points to the fact that he has been methodically replenishing the talent barren roster left over by the previous regime.
Under CRN the Bruins clearly have the momentum. They are going to hold on it if they stay on an upward trajectory by performing better during the conference play this season. As Myerberg noted in his preview during the 5 game losing streak last season, Bruins lost 4 of them by 14 points. If the Bruins keep getting better (like they did towards end of the season gaining much needed confidence), matter of time when some of those games will swing our way. We will stick with CRN's approach rather than getting caught up in hyper worrying and concern trolling over Pac-10 Media day projections.