BN: Good morning, Bruins Nation. We're very happy to have a special guest with us today. I'd like to welcome the host of ESPN's College Football's In Studio Game Day broadcast and play-by-play host of ESPN's Thursday night college games, Rece Davis. He's here to talk with us about some UCLA Football, some NFL prospects, and about the Capital One Cup. You can follow him on twitter at @ESPN_ReceDavis. Rece, thanks for joining us on Bruins Nation. How are you today?
Rece: I'm doing great. How are you?
BN: I'm great. Thanks again for your time. We'll get to the Capital One Cup in a moment, but if we could jump right in to some of your thoughts on U.C.L.A. Football. We've had a decade or so of some pretty disappointing football, then enter Jim Mora a couple of seasons ago and the Bruins promptly get a 9 win season, followed up this year with a 10 win season, consecutive wins over rival Southern Cal, and a Sun Bowl victory, and now they return their most talented and anticipated team in at least 15 years, and fans are talking Pac-12 Title and maybe a look at the College Football Final Four. Are we justified in that? What's the national outlook on U.C.L.A. this year?
Rece: I think, without question, fans are justified to look in that direction for a number of reasons. One, you have everybody back on offense. Everybody. When you're led by a quarterback who's talented and has experience like Brett Hundley, that really means a lot. You'll hear teams say, "Well, we've got 8 returning starters on offense", but they don't have their quarterback coming back. Look, people get tired of hearing about quarterbacks, but I always say that when you think we've talked too much about the quarterback, let's talk some more about the quarterback. Because the way the game is played, you have to have the trigger man who not only can manage the game which is job number one for every quarterback from Johnny Manziel to Jerry Neuheisel, I mean that's the first job, you have to manage the game. There are guys that make plays, and certainly you guys have that in Hundley. You've got a Heisman Trophy candidate in Myles Jack who I anticipate will play mostly on defense but will probably come in and give us highlight moments at least in the red zone at running back and perhaps he'll even play more running back because he certainly did that very well last year. So I think that U.C.L.A. is going to be in the mix for a spot in the college football playoff.
I've been asked this question several times in the last few days about who I would anticipate. Because of my high regard for Marcus Mariota and perhaps a little bit of conditioning, I steadfastly put Oregon in there, but I've been reading and thinking, and I reserve the right to change my mind, the more I read and think and digest all of this and look at who has the momentum and who has to deal with the fewest changes and those types of things, I think U.C.L.A. has a ton of positive momentum right now. And if it's close, the other thing is, having games, your non-conference schedule, all the metrics are going to love the Bruins because you play the extra conference game. Sometimes people don't understand how these computer rankings and metrics work. It's not just that you go out and you play blockbuster games, it's that you don't play any bad ones. And when you play an extra conference game, then your "bad one" or weaker game is much much stronger than somebody who plays one fewer conference game. Then you add to the mix that you're playing Virginia and Texas. Even though Virginia is not good, they're still an ACC team and they should be better this year. U.C.L.A., if they win enough games, their computer ranking is going to be off the chart. Their strength of schedule numbers are going to be ridiculous. So I think in that context, if they get into position where it's close, we've heard that the selection committee is going to reward schedule strength. and that really bodes well for U.C.L.A. So I think the optimism is completely founded.
BN: Certainly. You mentioned that matchup against Texas and that's been a very interesting point for U.C.L.A. fans. Our A.D. gave up a home game at the Rose Bowl this year to schedule what they're calling a "neutral site" game. I guess you can look at burnt orange as sort of a neutral color, but playing the University of Texas in Dallas doesn't sound very neutral to me. When you talk about only 4 teams being in that playoff, there's not much room for error. What are your thoughts on scheduling a game like that versus another high profile team in what could conceivably be a more neutral site. Texas fans travel pretty well, and 2 hours isn't very far, even in the state of Texas.
Rece: And there's a big alumni base in the greater Dallas area. But, think about this. I just finished covering the Final Four down there. And during the regular season, Kevin Ollie took UConn to check out Jerry World. That was during a disastrous road trip when they lost to Houston and SMU and he was telling them, "This is where we can come back and win the National Championship". U.C.L.A. can do the same thing. They're playing in the stadium where they're going to play the National Championship game, right? So I think it's all positive. Look, I've praised U.C.L.A. to the Nth degree, but typically the Rose Bowl hasn't exactly been Bryant-Denny or Tigers Stadium in terms of a raucous home field environment.
BN: That's fair. Yeah.
Rece: And even if it were, why not play this game? This game is going to get huge attention and exposure. Play the game, man. You win the game, there's nothing but upside. Texas is still early. It's a good time to play it. They're early under a new coach. Not sure what the quarterback situation is going to be for the Longhorns that early while they're still feeling things out. That's a win that if you can get that might look a whole lot better at the end of the season to the computers. And, look, I've mentioned computers a couple of times, I understand it's not the same ranking system, but the Selection Committee is going to have that type of information at its disposal, and that's why I'm bring it up, and people who rank these teams are going to have that type of information. That's a win that by the end of the season is going to look a whole lot better than it actually was, so why not play that game? I think there's nothing but upside for U.C.L.A. playing that game.
BN: Ok. Fair enough. You mentioned that U.C.L.A. is loaded coming back, but we did lose several really good players from last year, including two super high profile players in outside linebacker Anthony Barr and offensive lineman Xavier Su'a-Filo. Both of them have a very very good shot at being first round selections. What do you see as far as their prospects, both with the draft and in their NFL careers?
Rece: First of all, Su'a-Filo is going to be one of those guys that's going to play forever. He's going to be an anchor of somebody's offensive line, maybe somewhat toiling anonymously, but he's going to make a lot of money playing a long time. He's a really good player. I think Barr is going to be a disruptive difference-making type of guy. He'll be a really good pro. U.C.L.A.'s linebacking corps last year was just terrific and chock full of NFL prospects. I think Barr will fit very well in the pro game and have an excellent career as well.
BN: Yeah. We're definitely looking forward to seeing them get to take that next step. That's always an exciting time for a college athlete and for ones that you've followed for so long. Let's change course here a bit. You're one of the advisors on the Capital One Cup Board, and those standings are being updated very shortly, aren't they?
Rece: Yeah. The winter standings will be released on April 28th. The Capital One Cup is something that I'm really proud to be associated with. It represents, in my judgment, the ultimate bragging rights in college sports. U.C.L.A. won the Capital One Cup last year, so I think that it's something that reflects the overall excellence of an athletic program. And it's not just an award for the insiders or the people in the athletic department. I think the thing that makes the Capital One Cup unique is we like to involve the fans. Fans can follow along with the standings at CapitalOneCup.com, on Facebook or on twitter, however they like to engage in their particular social media, we're there for them.
As part of the advisory committee, me, Doug Flutie, Clark Kellogg, Barry Larkin, Jenny Finch, Lisa Leslie, it's ok to say Lisa Leslie though she's a Trojan, she's great, and Brandi Chastain, so we've got a lot of different people over the years who have been part of it. Robin Ventura was part of it for a while until he decided to go off and manage in Major League Baseball. So you have a lot of different people who have been members of the advisory board who are passionate about this program. Not only for college, it involves the fans and gives them the opportunity to say that my school has the best overall athletics program.
But the most important thing is the reason that all the people who have been involved and are currently involved and have been so excited about it is that Capital One gives $400,000 in scholarship money for student athletes to the winning schools. They get to go to the ESPY's too. That's a really cool thing. That's where we actually give them the trophy, but the money that goes for furthering the education of people involved in athletics is really important. We talk all the time about sports providing opportunity in the "real world". Well, Capital One is doing something about that. So I think it's something that is really beneficial, is really good for young men and women playing sports, and it's a great thing that Capital One does to try and promote that. As far as the standings, U.C.L.A. is going to be in the mix again. What is it you guys have now after winning the baseball title last year, is it about 101, a hundred something championships in all sports?
BN: Yeah, we got 110 and we're pretty proud of that.
Rece: You should be! Listen, I've been in the Hall of Fame on campus and walked through there and it's amazing. All of the National Championship trophies and all the great athletes who have come through Westwood to play at such a high level is a really cool thing. And that's what the Capital One Cup is about. It's about reflecting overall excellence in an athletic program and U.C.L.A. has epitomized that over the years. I think that they're certainly in contention over on the women's side with a big spring season, and the U.C.L.A. men can also make a push to try to defend their title.
BN: Yeah, we'll definitely be watching that and we'll be looking for the updated winter rankings to come out in 4 more days, on the 28th. Rece, I'll just wrap up with this, the last time College Game Day was at a U.C.L.A. game at the Rose Bowl was 1998. That's means that was last century. I think that's probably been long enough. We're hosting Oregon, Stanford, and Southern Cal, all in Pasadena this year, so if we do our part leading up to those games, any chance we can get you guys coming out to the West Coast this fall?
Rece: I think that no one ever argues with the opportunity to go to U.C.L.A. How about that?
BN: I like that. That's a good answer. Well, I know you gotta run, I appreciate you taking your time with us this morning. Thanks for joining us at Bruins Nation. That's Rece Davis from ESPN. Follow him at @ESPN_ReceDavis. Rece, thanks a lot.
Rece: My pleasure.