Welcome to the first Pregame Guesses ("PGG") of the 2017 UCLA Bruin Football season. As the name suggests, Pregame Guesses allows fans to guess the answers to questions regarding the UCLA football matchup of the week. As has been the tradition dating back to before I authored this piece, PGG also mixes in a song that typically has some sort of relevance to the game.
As was the case last year, UCLA opens the season against Texas A&M, this time in the friendly confines of the Rose Bowl. Last year, PGG (understandably) focused on the fact that UCLA’s former offensive coordinator was now calling the offense for Texas A&M. After the offensive debacle that was UCLA football last year, we will stay away from casting stones at Noel Mazzone, instead focusing on the 2017 iteration of UCLA football.
For those of you that may have been living under a rock since the end of last UCLA’s 4-8 campaign last season, UCLA has has ended then Kennedy Polamalu experiment and brought in a new offensive coordinator—Jedd Fisch. Two of the Guesses relate to the offense under Fisch; the other addresses UCLA's defense.
On to the music . . .
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Today's PGG is personal to me.
I began attending UCLA in 1987, so this year marks my 30 year anniversary of being a UCLA football fan. I attended my first UCLA football game on September 5, 1987, a dismantling of San Diego State at the Rose Bowl, 47-14, at the hands of Troy Aikman, Gaston Green, Eric Turner,and company. I naively thought seasons like '87 (and '88) were going to be the status quo for UCLA football for a long time. Boy was I wrong--and this plays into the musical choice for today.
For this week's PGG, I thought I'd look back on which songs were popular 30 years ago when I attended that first game, but after doing so, I'd like to report that, IMO, music was at a major low in September, 1987. It was tough to find a popular song that I actually liked! I did find one song that was popular in the late summer of '87, the title of which reflects the my thoughts on the shortcomings of the Jim Mora era of UCLA football today, and Coach Mora's inability to elevate UCLA football to elite status. Here is "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" from U2:
U2's now legendary anthem about working hard on a relationship only to realize that the other person is not "the one" could apply to UCLA fandom under Head Coach Jim Mora. Many Bruin fans thought that Coach Mora was the answer to UCLA's football woes under Rick Neuheisel and Karl Dorrell, only to be repeatedly be proven otherwise by Coach Mora's inability to beat Stanford, beat Oregon, and (other than beating Southern Cal three times with Brett Hundley at QB) secure a signature, program changing win.
On to the Guesses . . .
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After very good start to his college career in 2015, UCLA signal caller Josh Rosen was not able to build upon his 2015 success before his season was cut short due to an injury to his throwing shoulder in the sixth game of the season. This was, in part, due to UCLA’s anemic running game in 2016 and the loss of Paul Perkins in the backfield after 2015.
Considered a Heisman contender as a freshman after his week one performance in 2015, Rosen isn’t even in the pre-season Heisman discussion in what will--I disagree with Coach Mora that Rosen will be back in a UCLA uniform next season, but would be thrilled if I was wrong--be his final season in Westwood. The running game is a question mark (Bolu Olurunfunmi was clearly the best back in Fall camp) as is the offensive line, with Kenny Lacy out for the season. How will Rosen perform against Texas A&M, with a new offensive coordinator, an uncertain backfield, and an offensive line in flux?
PREGAME GUESS #1: Texas A&M has question marks on defense (losing Myles Garrett, the number one overall pick in the NFL Draft will do this) but most of them relate to stopping the run. The Aggies return three starters from last season’s secondary and that might be the best unit on the team. Will Rosen be able to improve upon his 1 touchdown, 3 interception performance in College Station last year? PPG number one is a two parter: Will Josh Rosen throw for more or less than 325 yards against A&M (he averaged 319 YPG last season)? Will Rosen record three or more passing touchdowns?
PREGAME GUESS #2: When UCLA rushes the ball, it will pit weakness vs. weakness, given UCLA’s poor rushing game last season and the uncertainty surrounding the running back position coming out of Fall camp. By many preseason accounts, Texas A&M will have trouble stopping the run and has major questions at linebacker. PPG number two is also a two parter: Which of UCLA’s running backs will get the most carries on Sunday? True or false: Will that running back eclipse the 100 yard mark rushing the football?
PREGAME GUESS #3: What about UCLA’s defense? Texas A&M will be breaking in a new starting quarterback (my money is on senior, Jake Hubenak, a pro-style QB, but A&M has other options as well). The Aggies return sophomore RB Trayveon Williams, who had 94 yards on 15 carries against UCLA as a freshman and finished the season with 1,057 yards rushing. They will face a UCLA defense coached by Tom Bradley, in his third year at UCLA. The defense was arguably UCLA’s only bright spot last season, but it lost six starters and the Bruins are looking to plug those holes with underclassmen, including some true freshmen who might start. Last season, A&M scored 31 points and gained 442 total yards in its overtime win over the Bruins. Will the Aggies exceed those outputs, or will UCLA’s defense hold them to lesser numbers? True or false: Texas A&M will score less than 31 points and less than 442 total yards on offense against UCLA.
BONUS PREGAME GUESS: Rose Bowl attendance is always a fascinating topic for me. There are a lot of factors that could play into the attendance this Sunday. UCLA is still almost a month away from being in session, the Bruins are coming off a 4-8 season, and the A&M game comes right in the middle of a three game holiday weekend. On the other hand, UCLA is playing a marquee opponent from the SEC, it will be Josh Rosen’s first game back from injury, and die hard UCLA fans will be chomping at the bit for the start of the season. Predict the attendance at the Rose Bowl this Sunday.
I hope that you enjoyed the initial Pregame Guesses of the 2017 season. Please make your selections in the comment section below and don't forget to check back again next Friday for PGG in advance of UCLA vs. Hawai'i.