In about four weeks, UCLA Football will open training camp in preparation for the 2016 schedule. If you read the SB Nation mothership article by Bill Connelly that we added to our front page, then you may have noticed that, statistically speaking, UCLA’s win probability is over 50% for every game on this year’s schedule and only two games (Texas A&M and Southern Cal) have a win probability under 60%. Will that lead to an undefeated season?
Well, Connelly thinks an 8-9 win season is more likely. Technically, that would mean the team underachieved...again.
Now, I’m not going to go predicting an undefeated season, but the fact remains that every game on the schedule is winnable. But which games will be easy and which will be hard?
Let’s take our annual look at UCLA’s schedule in a feature we call "Easy Bear, Hard Bear".
Saturday, September 3 - UCLA at Texas A&M
The Bruins start their season on the road in College Station, Texas. Of course, the Bruins want to start the season off with a win, but this is an important game because it also pits former UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone against his former team.
At UCLA, Mazzone had a tendency to brag that he called the same five plays over and over again in a different order. Will UCLA’s defense be able to stop Mazzone’s offense? Doing so is probably the key to this game.
But, that’s never easy when playing in front of a hostile crowd of almost 103,000.
Why the game is winnable: The UCLA defense has been facing Mazzone’s offense in practice for years. The Bruins should know Mazzone’s tendencies better than Mazzone himself. If Tom Bradley has the cornerbacks cheating up for the inevitable bubble screens, a pick or two could send the crowd home early. Still, this one gets a Hard Bear.
Saturday, September 10 - UNLV at UCLA
This game should be an easy win for the Bruins again this year. UNLV improved their win total but still only won three games last year under first-year head coach Tony Sanchez. UNLV will likely be a better team this year, but they still have a long way to go. On the other hand, playing in the Rose Bowl will be the biggest game of the year for the Rebels. UCLA cannot look past this game. UNLV should be a much better football team this season under Sanchez, but the Bruins should again prove to be too much for the Rebels to handle.
Why the game is winnable: UNLV was still one of the worst teams in the MWC last season but San Jose State needed OT to beat them and Fresno State beat them by just three points. The talent level on the team still pales in comparison to the Bruins', but it would be a mistake to overlook this team.
Saturday, September 17 - UCLA at BYU
Kalani Sitake takes over as the new head coach of the BYU Cougars after Bronco Mendenhall surprisingly left for the University of Virginia. BYU will be looking for payback after they lost a close game at the Rose Bowl last year.
Why the game is winnable: Mendenhall didn’t leave the cupboard bare in Provo, but BYU’s talent level isn’t quite there. It won’t be an easy win, but the Bruins should pull this one out again. But, going into Provo against a team looking to make a mark early earns this a Hard Bear.
Saturday, September 24 - Stanford at UCLA
Stanford. Some might call it Jim Mora’s kryptonite. No matter how you look at it, this game won’t be easy. Christian McCaffrey is still there, but the graduation of Kevin Hogan should give the Bruins their best opportunity to defeat the Cardinal since Jim Mora’s first season in Westwood.
Why the game is winnable: Stanford has lost two of its biggest weapons in Hogan and Devon Cajuste. But, because Jim Mora has yet to beat Stanford, it earns a Hard Bear.
Saturday, October 1 - Arizona at UCLA
Scooby Dooby Do, where are you? The Wildcats will be wishing they still had Scooby Wright when they visit the Rose Bowl this year even though, last year, he tried coming back from his knee injury a little early and didn’t have much impact against the Bruins. UCLA played a great game against them last year. Look for more of the same this year.
Why the game is winnable: Rich Rodriguez will have Arizona ready to play after last year’s humiliating loss in the Desert. If they had played us tougher last year, this may have been categorized as "Hard", but after Arizona's showing against us last year, I think Medium is appropriate.
Saturday October 8 - UCLA at Arizona State
ASU got revenge at Rose Bowl last year for 2014’s game when UCLA embarrassed the Sun Devils on national TV. But QB Mike Bercovici is gone and so is former Bruin Devin Lucien.
Why the game is winnable: ASU is looking to rebuild after losing some key players to graduation. This game should be an Easy win for the Bruins.
Saturday, October 15 - UCLA at Washington State
Mike Leach led his team to victory at the Rose Bowl last year and going to Pullman is tough on a team because of the travel involved. Thankfully, this game is being played in mid-October, instead of November when the chance of snow is more possible
Why the game is winnable: There's a simple solution to beating a nickel defense: pound the ball on the ground. Noel Mazzone didn’t seem to get that last season. But Coach KP does. Watch for the Bruin RBs and the UCLA Offensive Line to do just that. But, after last season, this one gets a Hard Bear.
Saturday, October 22 - Utah at UCLA
Two years ago, Utah came to the Rose Bowl and narrowly defeated UCLA. The Utes always seem to play the Bruins tough. Maybe that’s because no one ever seems to give the Utes any respect.
Why the game is winnable: UCLA got payback last year for the heartbreaker from 2014. But don’t take the Utes for granted. For various reasons, this game is almost always a Hard Bear.
Saturday, October 29 - BYE
Thursday, November 3 - UCLA at Colorado
When the Buffs came to the Rose Bowl last year, the Bruins seemed to overlook them and Colorado almost won the game. Of course, by that time, the Bruin defense had been completely destroyed by injuries. That doesn’t change the fact that Colorado still isn’t a very good football team, even if Coach Mike McIntyre is continuing to build his program in Boulder.
Why the game is winnable: A well-coached and hungry team is always a threat, and UCLA would be foolish to overlook the Buffaloes. But, ultimately, UCLA's talent should give the Bruins this victory.
Saturday, November 12 - Oregon State at UCLA
Oregon State looks to again be at the bottom of the conference. The Beavers also lost their defensive coordinator when Kalani Sitake was hired as Bronco Mendenhall’s replacement at BYU. But, this has the chance to be a trap game if UCLA gets caught looking past the Beavers to Southern Cal.
Why the game is winnable: OSU is still not a very good football team. Coach Mora just needs to keep the team focused and come out of this one with a win.
Saturday, November 19 - Southern Cal at UCLA
The rivalry game is always hard. The records don't matter. By this point, Clay Helton may have started to wear out his welcome in Troy, but it still doesn’t matter. The Trogans will come to play.
Why the game is winnable: Every rivalry game should automatically be winnable. If you can't get up to play $c, you don't belong on a UCLA team. There is definitely still some talent on this team and Cutty Sark is gone. Trogan fans may not be Clay Helton fans by this point but he beat Jim Mora last season. This will be a Hard Bear.
Saturday, November 26: UCLA at UC Berkeley
Hmm...Thanksgiving weekend in Berkeley. That will probably keep most fans home from this game. By now, Cal will hope to have its QB situation figured out after losing Jared Goff to the Rams.
Why the game is winnable: Cal continues to find itself in the midst of a massive rebuilding under Sonny Dykes. Will it ever end? As long as Coach Mora keeps the team focused after the Southern Cal game, this should be an easy win.
There you have it. While I think every game is winnable, it does not mean that it is what we are expecting or predicting. A lot of information is still yet to come and we will get to that later on this year.
Based on the same post last year, UCLA was 3-1 in the Easy games, 4-1 in the Medium games and 1-2 in the Hard games. This year we have a tougher schedule. There are six Hard games, up from three last year, five Easy games and only one Medium game.
How do you view each of this year's games? Sound off in the comments below.
Hopefully, at the end of the season, everyone in Bruins Nation will be doing this: