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Pregame Guesses: The Boys Are Back In Town Edition

Thin Lizzy - 'The Boys Are Back In Town' - Live (via cawright1)

Guess who just got back today?

Jim Mora's version of the Junction Boys is just about over, with practice commencing at the newly-renovated Spaulding Field tomorrow at 1:45. The practices (once on Saturday and Monday, twice on Sunday and Tuesday) are open to the public -- after that they'll be closed, so if you want to see the guys in action before the first game and didn't make it out to San Bernardino, this is your chance.

So, what did we learn the past few weeks about our team, our coach and our program?

Well, most importantly, we learned that our starting quarterback will be redshirt freshman Brett Hundley. In a way, this feels more like a confirmation of something we all suspected all along than some surprising new development, because the job seemed like Hundley's to lose coming out of Spring practice.

Still it's an important development.

For me, it's not only important because Hundley appears to be a more gifted player than than co-incumbents/seniors Richard Brehaut and Kevin Prince. It also feels important because Brehaut and Prince seem inexorably linked to the Neuheisel/Chow/West Coast/Pistol debacle we've suffered through the past few years. This is not the fault of either player, in fact, I've got nothing but respect for both of those guys, who have been battered and beaten up while doing the best they could to lead the team. For me, this isn't about their talent, skill or effort.

Hundley's ascension to the starting role just feels like a cleaner break for the past. (I honestly don't know what I would have written had Jerry Neuheisel won the starting job. And, by the way, how bullshit was it for Rick Neuheisel to show up at an early camp practice?) Hundley represents a new beginning, a fresh start and that's as important psychologically as anything to do with his passing accuracy or running ability.

The other great thing about Hundley taking over is that he wasn't just handed the starting job, he took it. Since the spring, all reports are that Hundley spent his time taking nothing for granted, immersing himself in film and the playbook, doing the things a leader does to set an example for the rest of the team.

As for exactly how Hundley is playing, I really don't know. I didn't make the drive out to San Bernardino, so all I know is what I've heard and read in the practice reports. A quick word about practice reports: Practice reports are like theNational Enquirer and People Magazine. Everyone loves to read them. Sometimes they get a story right. But, mostly, they're for entertainment purposes only; no one should take them too seriously.

We got confirmation of a few other things as well.

For one, it's hot in San Bernardino. Early on, a lot of guys seemed to be missing practices for heat-related maladies. It seemed to get better as the session went on. Truthfully, kudos are due to the team's medical staff for always erring on the side of caution, holding guys out, making sure the overheated got the proper treatment. What's tougher to tell is how the team was impacted by practicing in the 100 degree heat. Did it make guys tougher and more resilient both physically and mentally? If yes, are those benefits mitigated in any way by the lost practice time for guys who were sidelined?

The truth is, we'll never really know. If we win some tough battles later in the year, we'll never know if it was because the team was toughened up early on. If we lose some games on silly, fundamental mistakes, we'll never know if it was because some players missed key practice time while soaking in an ice bath.

None of that, incidentally, addresses Mora's stated goal that camping out of the area was as much or more to do with bringing the team together and bonding as it was about forging them like iron in a furnace. The real truth is, most of what happened in San Bernardino happened behind closed doors, in dorm rooms, cafeterias and common areas and it's not really possible to measure the value of the time the team spent together, getting close.

We also got some confirmation that the offensive line remains a serious work in progress.

Xavier Sua-Filo is a fixture at left tackle. It's almost mandatory that Jeff Baca recover from the concussion he suffered because he's essential as well. (Don't misunderstand, if Jeff can't play, he can't play. His health is more important than anything. But we really need the guy.) Everything else is in flux. The offensive linemen seemed to suffer most under the heat and from what I read there always seemed to be a few guys sitting out due to the weather. It should get better when the team returns to campus.

You know, I've written about the offensive line a couple of times already and I hope it doesn't seem like I'm picking on those guys. I do think they are doing the best they can. I feel that Coach Klemm is doing what he can. But the unit has not gelled yet, it never really gelled the past few years and I feel that history has proven that you will only go so far without at least a functional offensive line. All of our goals, all of our predictions might be hinging on these guys. Bottom line: They are not a lost cause. No way. But they are an unknown factor and that's why I keep harping on them.

Defensively, the big loss is the medical retirement of middle linebacker Patrick Larimore. I feel his is the type of injury -- another concussion -- that would not have led to his retirement even a few years ago. But the world has changed and head injuries are now treated, rightly so, with the most serious of intent. The team is going to have to deal with it, find someone else to pick up the slack, make the tackles that Larimore would have made. My guess is that it won't be just one guy, there is no other Larimore on the team. It's going to take a group effort.

There are only 13 days until we open against Rice in Houston. I'm actually starting to get excited. Until now, I've deliberately been tempering my emotions, not letting myself get too caught up in anything football related. I don't even remember the last time I let myself anticipate a season without reminding myself that our coach was not competent and getting too high was just a set up for the inevitable fall.

The boys are back in Westwood. Whether or not the program is back remains to be seen.

With that, here are you Pregame Guesses, the Boys are Back in Town edition:

  1. Who do you think will ultimately replace Patrick Larimore at middle linebacker?
  2. Name one high school player who will give his oral commitment to the Bruins between now and kickoff in Houston.
  3. Who will be named second string quarterback for the Rice game?