Welcome to the final Pregame Guesses of the 2017 UCLA Bruins football season. As I am writing this on Christmas Eve, the musical selection will be an easy one for this Gen Xer (no, not Wham!’s “Last Christmas,” although you are in the right decade if you guessed this). But before we talk music, let’s introduce the football game.
UCLA played the Kansas State Wildcats three years ago, in the January 2, 2015 Alamo Bowl following the 2014 season, arguably Jim L. Mora’s finest. That game was also Brett Hundley’s last in a Bruin uniform. UCLA beat the ‘Cats 40-35, but it was K State Head Coach Bill Snyder’s hi-jinks during a kneel-down play in the victory formation and Mora’s displease with such hi-jinks that stole the show. Watch:
Snyder defies age and is still coaching the Wildcats at age 78, Mora is gone, and most if not all of the players in that game are gone, so I doubt that there is any residual dislike between the teams. Maybe Snyder holds ill will against UCLA and will use that “snub” to motivate his players. Maybe not.
On the field, both teams have interesting quarterback situations. UCLA’s is well known to readers on this blog. Rosen was hurt in the season finale against UC Berkeley and may or may not play in the bowl game. Reports have gone both ways at the time of this writing.
Devon Modster would step in if Rosen does not go, and will be eager to show what he can do in an attempt to perhaps get a leg up on the competition for 2018. And we don’t know who that competition will be. Dorian Thompson Robinson did NOT sign his LOI this week, although he has not shown any signs that he will not do so in February.
Freshman, Skylar Thompson, K State’s third string QB, will start for the Wildcats. Their starter, Jesse Ertz, suffered a season-ending injury in October and the second stringer, Alex Delton, was not a world beater in the five games in which he appeared, throwing only 75 passes. Enter Thompson, who led the ‘Cats to season ending wins against Oklahoma State and Iowa State, getting his team bowl eligible.
All of this uncertainty makes for a very, very interesting matchup.
It’s Christmas Eve, and I’m about to start watching “A Christmas Story,” a movie that came out in the 80s about a family living in the 40s. I wasn’t around in the 40s but I was in the 80s, so I am going with a New Wave Christmas song that wasn’t that big when it came out in the 80s but has grown into one of my favorite “alternative” holiday songs over the years. It’s The Waitresses’ “Christmas Wrapping”:
UCLA’s rushing attack has been an enigma this season. Several backs have come into the spotlight, only for another back to perform better the next week. The rushing game has not been great, but there have been some good individual performances. Bolu Olorunfunmi, Soso Jamabo, and even Brandon Stephens have had good games, with Stephens getting into the action most recently, rushing for 83 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries against UC Berkeley. PGG #1 is a two-parter. PREGAME GUESS NUMBER 1: Which UCLA back will do the most damage against Kansas State and how many total yards (rushing and receiving) will that back have? How many touchdowns will that back score?
Kansas State is #96 in total offense for the 2017 season. The Wildcats only average 368.3 yards per game. And that is in the Big 12 Conference, one not known for its stellar defense. And the passing offense is what bogs down the total offense ranking, as K State only averages 181.7 yards through the air. As mentioned above, however, the Wildcats have performed better the last few games with Skylar Thompson under center. And he is a dual threat quarterback, against which the Bruins have had issues this season. On the other hand, UCLA’s defense looked much better against Southern Cal and UC Berkeley. PREGAME GUESS NUMBER 2: How many yards of total offense will Kansas State gain against UCLA?
The Cactus Bowl is a lower tier bowl game. Many fans are not excited about playing in such a bowl but, personally, I like the additional practice time (although who knows how helpful a few weeks’ of practice in Jedd Fisch’s system will help for 2018 under Chip Kelly). What I do like about bowl games is watching younger players who are the future of the program. Guys that might not have made much of an impact during the regular season that might get an extended look for next season. Perhaps there might be a breakout performance. PREGAME GUESS NUMBER 3: Which up-until-now unheralded player will have a breakout performance against the Wildcats?
The internet has been burning up today about Josh Rosen rumors. Will he or won’t he play in the game? Did he or didn’t he sign up for classes in the Winter? If presented with the Cleveland Browns or UCLA for another season, which will he choose? Predict the future. BONUS QUESTIONS: Will Rosen play in the Cactus Bowl? Will Rosen stay at UCLA for his senior year or enter the 2018 NFL Draft?
And so we close the book on Pregame Guesses for the 2017 season. Please post your guesses in the comment section. I hope that you enjoyed reading this column as much as I enjoyed writing it. Have a great holiday season and a Happy New Year! See you in 2018!