A challenge is an opportunity. The strong minded optimist sees a steep mountain and tells himself that climbing it will bring him glory and marches on with nary a doubt. The weak minded pessimist sees the same mountain, slumps his shoulders, starts looking for a tunnel, then once he gets to the other side, tells everyone that he just didn't have the right shoes to climb the mountain, that it was raining and that wild beasts roamed the slopes.
As we take a closer look at the UCLA football schedule for 2013, we will see a more difficult slate than we just had. Some of us will be emboldened and think that it will be a great opportunity to make some noise and keep the team on an upward trajectory. Others will willingly give their lunch money away and book a ticket to Las Vegas for December.
While we are not quite ready to put forth our specific expectations for this fall, gbruin has laid out some general guidelines already. With Signing Day yet to come, followed by spring camp, we will get a better sense of what we believe to be a reasonable performance for our team afterwards. So please do not take this as what we think UCLA should accomplish, but merely a gauge of my own perceived difficulty of each game.
For now, here is a quick breakdown of our weekly clashes in 2013.
Saturday August 31 - Nevada at UCLA
First of all, don't be fooled by this being an "away" game for Nevada. The majority of their roster is from California. Nevada was 5-1 on the road last year, though the competition was light. Yes, that includes their season opening win at Cal. Their offense operates in the Pistol with its founder Chris Ault as their coach, and when it is on, it is quite hard to stop. Just ask the Green Bay Packers. But Chris Ault is retiring. It is unclear what will happen to that system as Nevada has hired 38-year old Texas A&M assistant Brian Polian to become the next football coach. Before Texas A&M, Polian spent two years at Stanford as special teams and recruiting coordinator while also coaching safeties. So he should be familiar with Pac-12 teams, and since he is a defensive specialist, I can envision him keeping the offensive coordinator and the Pistol. The Wolf Pack will be fired up under a young new coach.
Why the game is winnable: UCLA has been solid at home in the last two years even if it should have been better, and there is no denying the talent gap between the two programs. While the Nevada offense can be prolific, its defense is quite mediocre. Their leading rusher is skipping his final year to enter the draft.
Saturday September 7 - bye
Saturday September 14 - UCLA at Nebraska
Nebraska will be itching for revenge. Clearly they thought they should have won the game last year at the Rose Bowl. Playing in Lincoln is extremely challenging for any team given the huge support from Husker fans and the intimidating stadium environment. Taylor Martinez will be in his senior year.
Why the game is winnable: UCLA had one of its best games against Nebraska in 2012. The Nebraska defense is simply not very good, as Wisconsin demonstrated by putting up 70 points, and as Georgia did by putting up 45 points in the bowl game. The Cornhuskers continue to be overrated in the rankings thanks to their reputation. UCLA has, even in this last mediocre decade, played well in games like this. Coming off a bye, the coaches have a great opportunity to put together a solid game plan and get the team prepared.
Saturday September 21 - New Mexico State at UCLA
New Mexico State is still coached by DeWayne Walker (who for a while was being considered to be the next defensive coordinator at Cal). They won 1 game last year.
Why the game is winnable: See above. The UCLA backups should win this game, given how good Walker is at stopping the spread...
Thursday October 3 - UCLA at Utah
Let's face it, UCLA has had a terrible showing on Thursday nights. Even with the new regime, I will assume nothing until proven otherwise. The stadium will be rocking, as it did last year for the Utes against Southern Cal. Their young QB will be a year wiser and Kyle Wittingham is a good coach, I don't expect a repeat of last season. The Utes barely lost by a TD at the Rose Bowl.
Why the game is winnable: the game at Stanford showed that this staff can get the team ready to play in the spotlight on the road. Workhorse Utah RB John White is graduating, as is stud defensive tackle Star Lotuleilei. Following an easy game the week before, the team should be well rested and ready to take on the altitude.
Saturday October 12 - California at UCLA
I debated this with myself. I suppose I could give it a "medium" rating, as the coaching could end up being an upgrade. New coach Sonny Dykes certainly knows offense, but he may not have all the pieces he needs yet.
Why the game is winnable: UCLA always beats Cal at home. And Mora is still thinking about that debacle at Cal last year. He'll be pissed, and so will the players. They should all be out for blood and do to them what they did to Arizona last year.
Saturday October 19 - UCLA at Stanford
Stanford is the reigning conference champion, has a whole stable of ginormous offensive linemen, a solid defense, and a QB in Kevin Hogan who is turning out to be the real deal.
Why the game is winnable: The Stanford stadium is simply not a very intimidating environment. UCLA nearly won there last year, in the rain. Stanford is losing some key players to graduation, and everyone on this team and on this staff should again be out for redemption.
Saturday October 26 - UCLA at Oregon
Autzen is likely the toughest road trip in the conference, and for UCLA it is the second road trip facing one of the conference's top 2 teams. That stadium gets full, and loud. It seems like the entire Duck team from this year is coming back (as well as their coach), which is scary if they are any faster than last year.
Why the game is winnable: Mazzone's offense at ASU actually did pretty well against Oregon. Stanford gave somewhat of a blueprint on how to disrupt this Oregon offense and throw them off rhythm. If our defense is what we think it could be, we just may have the personnel to knock off the Ducks.
Saturday November 2 - Colorado at UCLA
While I think the Buffs hired a good coach in McCarthy, it will likely take a long time for him to get his roster in shape. He is inheriting a very young team and will have a new QB with no experience.
Why the game is winnable: See above. We should again see a lot of backups in this game.
Saturday November 9 - UCLA at Arizona
UCLA has just not played well at Arizona lately. We won't even bring up the garbage from two years ago. In his first year, Rich Rodriguez already had an offense that was one of the top 5 in the country. His players have another year to learn his system.
Why the game is winnable: Arizona loses a lot of players next year, including QB Matt Scott. Whoever Rodriguez is selecting to pick up the reins will not have much experience. If they are without a solid offense, this team is quite beatable.
Friday November 15 - Washington at UCLA
I was tempted to give this an easy rating, because UW was not a good road team last year (2-5 when including the bowl game). But UW has been recruiting well, and QB Keith Price will be a senior. UCLA cannot sleep on this team. Despite their mediocre record the past few years, they think they are good and play better when a team allows them to think so.
Why the game is winnable: as mentioned UW was not a good road team. They are not very disciplined (I don't just mean penalties) and also did not do well against spread offense teams last year. If UCLA scores early and often, it should demoralize them.
Saturday November 23 - Arizona State at UCLA
You may think I am overthinking this one, but UCLA barely beat ASU last year on a last second field goal. The Sun Devils though finished the year on a good note, beating their rival Arizona and winning their bowl game. They were also the least penalized team in the conference (after being the worst!). It will be their turn to seek revenge on that loss (in which they didn't have their best defensive player), and they gashed the UCLA defense.
Why the game is winnable: This will likely be the toughest home game for UCLA. These teams seem evenly matched in terms of schemes and it will likely become a test of wills. The home crowd will be crucial in this game, IMO.
Saturday November 30 - UCLA at Southern Cal
The rivalry game will always get that rating, no matter what. We can never take the other team for granted, but we should never enter the game with a losing mentality either. Home field doesn't matter here. The Southern Cal program is going to be a total mess next year but they are still reeling in a lot of talent and at this point in the season they just may be playing for pride since there will likely not be much hype around them after the year they just had.
Why the game is winnable: Lane Kiffin.
There you have it folks. Again, while I think every game is winnable, it does not mean that is what we are expecting or predicting. Good teams win hard games no matter what. A lot of information is still yet to come and we will get to that later on this year. For now, fire away with your thoughts and how you view each of these games.