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Pregame Guesses: Virginia Cavaliers Edition

The Bruins take on Virginia in the first game of the season, looking for their defense to set the tone.

Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

(This week’s video is Peter Frampton and Buddy Guy playing together at the Hollywood Bowl on Wednesday, performing George Harrison’s "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." It’s not the greatest video, for one thing it picks up partway through the song, and I’m not sure it does what I saw live justice. But I did want to share it, I thought it was a great way to end the show on Wednesday.)

I usually write the Pregame Guesses post the night before it goes up, depending on the week and the day of the game. I like to reflect on everything that’s happened since the last game, then sort of spill everything out. Sometimes I’ve got a coherent narrative or point I want to make before I even start typing, other times I just start in and stop when I’ve got enough words to make a post a post.

I’m starting early this week (at the moment it’s Wednesday morning at 10:18 am), because I’m going to the Hollywood Bowl tonight (Peter Frampton Buddy Guy, David Hidalgo, Robert Randolph – I’m not usually a fan of "guitar gods," but this should be a fun show, big enough to fill the Bowl’s cavernous size. Looking forward to it), then tomorrow night (or last night if you’re reading this on Friday morning) we’re going to check out Lee "Scratch" Perry at the Santa Monica Pier. So, I’m blogging when I should be working. (Note: Due to some family issues, I never made it to the Pier.)

I’m glad the season is finally starting tomorrow. This off-season has left me weary.

I think I’m weary because I’ve been waiting for this season to start for two or three years now. The reasons have been discussed ad nauseum: The roster is starting to peak and the schedule, while tough, has most of the tougher games at home.

We seemed poised to take a leap up another level.

Quite of few members of the mainstream media agree. I was randomly reading Grantland yesterday and came across this article and UCLA is prominently mentioned by a number of writers as playoff team, team to watch, whatever. And this story is not unique, obviously we’re ranked #7 in the preseason polls. If anything, we’re starting to get overhyped, a Sports Illustrated writer in this piece thinks we could be this year’s "flop team."


I think the main point is that we’re in the discussion. After more than a decade or irrelevance, we’re being talked about on the college football shows and the national media is including us in the conversation. I’ve quoted an old boss of mine a number of times over the years in the Guesses post. He used to say "Achilles, you’re either in the game or you’re out of the game." Well, we’re in the game and, If nothing else, that makes the season more fun.

Brett Hundley has been the focus of much of the off-season conversation. He made the cover of Sports Illustrated twice in the past few weeks. That’s Lebron James-type shit. But, in my opinion, I don’t think this season rises and falls on Brett Hundley.

Don't get me wrong: Hundley is a key piece to the puzzle and if you were going to single out any one player, it would have to be him. He’s the quarterback and the ball is in his hands most of the time. I get the hype and, honestly, Hundley is a very good player.

But is he even the best quarterback in our league? I don’t know. Oregon’s Marcus Mariota can make a legitimate argument that he’s the top QB in the Pac 12. Kevin Hogan at Stanford is tough. Some people like Oregon State’s Mannion. Taylor Kelly at ASU is a good quarterback.

Point is: The Pac 12 has a bunch of good quarterbacks and, for the most part, the teams are coached by offensive-minded head coaches, some of whom fall into the "guru" category.

Mike Leach at Washington State and Rich Rodriguez at Arizona probably fall into that "offensive guru" category. Maybe Sonny Dykes at Cal Berkeley does, too. Southern Cal’s Steve Sarkisian, Washington’s Chris Petersen, OSU’s Riley, Utah’s Kyle Whittingham – I’m not going to list every coach in the conference but as far as I can tell only Arizona State’s Todd Graham and our own Jim L. Mora are defensive coordinators turned head coaches.

I think and feel this is a very significant fact to consider.

I’m back …

(The show at the Hollywood Bowl last night (it’s now Thursday, less than 48 hours to kick-off) was a lot of fun. Buddy Guy was Buddy Guy, he’s a great guitar player and a legend, but I sometimes find guitar heroes to be a bit distant – they play great and sound great but there isn’t an emotional connection. Still, can’t argue with the man’s talent and it was fun to see him play again. He’s 78, won’t be too many more chances. Peter Frampton was not necessarily more connected to the audience, but I thought he was more fun in a nostalgic, classic rock sort of way The highlight was the lone encore, when Guy returned to the stage to duet with Frampton on George Harrison’s "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." When Guy and Frampton were exchanging licks, you could see what happens when the former really gets engaged. All in all, a fun show. Not a great show, but a fun show.)

I feel that, despite some considerable personnel losses from last season, the identity of this Bruins team will be its defense. The losses, in case you forgot, were Anthony Barr, Jordan Zumwalt and Cassius Marsh, among others. All three were NFL draft picks, Barr going in the first round to the Vikings.

I really feel this is an important aspect of the Mora era, if true, because being consistently great on defense is a better thing to be than being great on offense. Having a great defense will keep you in games, it will keep you in seasons.

I don’t feel like taking everyone through the whole depth chart, but I would like to make a few observations.

First, we have our best group of cornerbacks that I can remember. I would have to go back to the 90s or maybe even the 80s to find a better group of corners than we have right now. Fabian Moreau is a stud. Ishmael Adams is tough. Goodman, Jefferson, Goforth – our safeties are top notch as well. Moving closer to the line of scrimmage, yes we will miss Zumwalt, but Myles Jack (remember him?) and Eric Kendricks are two of the best all-around linebackers in the country; throw in Isaako Savaiinaea and Kenny Orijioke – we’re damn good at linebacker. Up front Eddie V, Owa, Kenny Clark – I’m really excited about this defense.

I mean, when you think about it, almost all of our best players are on the defensive side of the ball. Brett Hundley aside, we’ve got some nice talent on offense, but I still say we lack a home run hitter, a stud playmaker to complement the quarterback. Bellerephon made the case that overall this set of receivers is better than the ’98 group and I won’t argue the point, but there is still no pass catcher on this team who looks like he can do what Danny Farmer did. Might someone emerge on offense? Sure, most definitely. But at the moment it looks like we have a group of good to very good players at the skill positions and along the line, but no one that’s great, Hundley aside.

I also believe that the two and three deep on defense is better than on the offense.

I don’t really have any thoughts on tomorrow’s game. Honestly, I’ve mostly stayed away from the coverage. I’m trying to stay on an even keel (for my own sanity, not because I think it matters if I, as a fan, get too up for the game) and so I’ve avoided the hype.

But, really, I’m super excited about tomorrow. I’m really excited for this season to start. I feel like I’ve been waiting for this season for a long, long time, looking forward to a season of UCLA football that actually matters.

Finally, I’m really looking forward to being part of BN’s coverage of this season. I feel like we’re going to be the blog of record for an historic year of UCLA football and I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts and feelings with you and to reading your thoughts and feelings as well.

And, with that, here are your Pregame Guesses, Virginia Cavaliers edition:

  1. Will UCLA lead at halftime and, if so, by how many points?
  2. Which Bruin will score the team's first touchdown of the season?
  3. Who will lead UCLA in receiving yards?