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Pregame Guesses: Alamo Bowl Edition

The season was glass half full and half empty at the same time. Nine wins is pretty good, but this team should have done much better.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

(This week's video is Sunbathing Animal by Parquet Courts. The album this is from, also called "Sunbathing Animal" is the best of 2014.)

I haven’t spent more than a second here and a minute there watching college football during the bowl season. I caught a couple of series of the TCU-Mississippi State game today and decided it’s a tragedy that the Horned Frogs didn’t make the playoffs, but really, what do I know? The season ended for me at halftime of our blowout loss to Stanford.

That’s when I left. I’d seen enough.

Funny thing is, I stuck it out through the whole Oregon game, watching from Section 14 as the UCLA sections emptied out all through the second half. No loss is acceptable, I get that, but I also get that Oregon has a better team than us. We’re better now than we were when Jim Mora took over the program three years ago, but we aren’t that much better than we were and we haven’t caught up to the Ducks yet.


And I was able to sit through that loss without getting despondent. Sometimes you lose. Sometimes the other team is just better.

It happens.

But I didn’t see the Stanford game coming.

We haven’t come along as far as I thought or hoped.

And, I must admit, the loss – the way it happened, the total and complete dismantling we suffered – really took the air out of my tires.

A total blowout on what I thought were a new set of radials.

Time to put the whole lousy season up on blocks.

Before I do, I thought I’d interview my son. He’s a diehard UCLA fan and comes to the game with me. He likes to go more than I do sometimes. He doesn’t read blogs or message boards; he gets his information from Yahoo alerts. It’s a paradox. He doesn’t pay nearly as much attention to the details of the program as I do, but in some ways he roots harder than me.

Or maybe it’s not a paradox. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t follow things too closely that he’s able to pour his passion into the team. His love for UCLA football isn’t tainted. He’s just about "Go Bruins" and the eight clap and ringing the Victory Bell and in many ways I envy him. In many ways, he’s better off than I am.

This interview took place while he was baking cookies for his girlfriend. They bought scalpers tickets and are going to the Rose Bowl tomorrow (today, actually).

Achilles: What did you think of the season?

Neoptoleus: It was a good season, I thought it was a good season, not up to UCLA standards, but pretty good.

Achilles: What do you mean by UCLA standards?

Neoptoleus: UCLA wins championships in other sports, like baseball and soccer.

Achilles: What were the highlights for you?

Neoptoleus: Beating SC, of course, but none of the games that were good really meant anything. I guess the ASU and AZ games were both statement games, beating two good teams meant something and showed the rest of the country that we’re sometimes competitive.

Achilles: How would you asses the program now, compared to when we hired Jim Mora three years ago?

Neoptoleus: We’re not up there with the top teams. We’re not elite yet and can’t compete with Oregon and Alabama. Good teams, elite teams, could beat Stanford.

Achilles: What will you miss about the 2014 team?

Neoptoleus: Brett Hundley, Eric Kendricks, obviously the two best player on our offense or our defense.

Achilles: How do you feel about where UCLA is as a football program? What if we aren’t building towards something better and this is the peak?

Neoptoleus: I’m happy, even if this is the peak, because UCLA is finishing with winning records, we have talent, can recruit the talent to compete and play exciting football. Even if this is the peak, I’m happy because I’m used to UCLA football being shitty.

Achilles: What are you looking forward to next year?

Neoptoleus: Rosen, the quarterback. I’m definitely interested to see what he can do and whether or not he can take the program to the next level.

"I’m happy because I’m used to UCLA football being shitty."

That’s the perspective of someone who was six-years-old when Karl Dorrell was hired and 15 when Rick Neuheisel was jettisoned. That’s the perspective of someone who got so used to seeing his team play lousy football and get its ass kicked by its rival that a nine win season and a win over SC is a "good season."

"Rosen, the quarterback. I’m definitely interested to see what he can do and whether or not he can take the program to the next level."

I’m interested in that as well.

Because it’s essential for us to find out if the team’s record over the past three years is due to the presence of one of the best quarterbacks in school history or if there has been a more substantive improvement in the overall program, the losses to Stanford and Oregon notwithstanding.

Before ending this – because, really, I’ve got nothing – I’d like to make a couple of positive observations about our football program. Nothing here is meant to be a complete endorsement of the current staff nor is it meant to damn with faint praise. Mostly, it’s just a couple of things I’d like to get off my chest before wrapping things up for the year.

First: I think this team is much tougher than it ever was during the prior three regimes. We’re bigger and stronger and the team plays with more intensity.

Second: I think we’re more talented on the offensive line and on defense than we were in the prior three regimes. This is a good thing. We have actual depth on the offensive line for the first time since I don’t know when.

Third: We really need to do a better job bringing in some top talent at running back and wide receiver. Don’t misunderstand. We have a lot of good players. I like Paul Perkins. I like(d) Jordan Payton. I really like Thomas Duarte (and we would have had a better season had played every game). But when you watch Oregon and Alabama and TCU and see the speed and athleticism in their backs and wideouts – well, it’s a whole other game.

If anyone cares, as I write this, UCLA has the seventh ranked recruiting class in the country (based on the Scout rankings) and has the highest per-recruit star average.

Happy New Year, everyone!

And, with that, here are your Pregame Guesses, Alamo Bowl Edition:

  1. True or False: UCLA will fake a punt versus Kansas State.
  2. What number will be higher: Brett Hundley's passing yards divided by three or Paul Perkins rushing yards?
  3. What number will be higher: Eric Kendricks tackles or Jordan Payton receptions?