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UCLA Pregame Guesses: ASU Sun Devils/Salute to the Seniors Edition

UCLA looks to close out the home season season with a win as they salute the graduating seniors.

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

UCLA Bruin Marching Band Fight Song (via campcopake)

The Rolling Stones "Sympathy For The Devil" May 3, 2013 Los Angeles Staples Center (via VinylPiper)

(This week's video features the Solid Gold Sound of the UCLA Marching Band performing the UCLA fight song. I selected this song to honor the players participating in their final regular season home game. The audio isn't the greatest, but the symbolism is: This particular version is from December 2, 2006. The final score on that particular day was 13-9. I don't have to add anything else, do I? The bonus video is the Rolling Stones performing Sympathy for the Devil, live at Staples Center last May. This was the show that the Bruin marching band opened up, marching into the arena playing "Satisfaction.")

Tomorrow should be fun.

A lot of fun.

For the first time in a long, long time I'm actually nervous about a game - I've got some real anticipation anxiety and I honestly can't remember the last time I felt that way.

I believe it's because we're finally playing a game that means something and it's the first time in a long time that I've felt that way. Yeah, I'm not counting any of the games against Southern Cal - those games always mean something, but that's different.

The game against Arizona State means something, I feel, because we have something to lose. As I laid out in the "Ten Scenarios" post earlier in the week, we have a chance to have a really great season. And yet there still exists the possibility that our season, in the end, disappoints.

In a way, it's a crossroads game, we're going to get a good idea where we stand as a program when the fourth quarter ends. Because even after getting to 8-2, after beating every team on the schedule that we should beat and, yeah, losing to the two teams that at this point are still ahead of us we're now faced with a do-or-die game against an opponent that for all intents and purposes is basically our equal. I'm sure ASU fans feel they are the better team and the view through blue-and-gold colored glasses says the Bruins should win, but really these are two very similar teams. Fans on both sides capable of putting partisanship aside would agree that this is anyone's game.

I spend very little time looking at the rankings and the stats and all that and I won't bore you with the details here. But I will note that when I looked for the first time at USAToday's Sagarin ratings I saw that Arizona State is ranked higher than we are rated. They also played the tougher schedule to this point according to Sagarin. I was a little surprised by that, not that I have paid all that much attention to ASU this season. I was also initially surprised by the fact that they are favored by the odds-makers, though I do understand that Vegas betting lines are not exactly game predictions. I really do believe that my opinion of their team was skewed a bit by their win against Wisconsin, when the Badgers coach and the Pac 12 ref crew seemed to conspire to hand Arizona State the game. For reasons that I now realize were probably unfair, I've held the ending of that game against the Sun Devils for months, without really looking too closely at how they've done in their other games and it seems they've done pretty well.

I'm also really excited about the game. This is the first time in a long time I've been able to attend all of the home games, I finally cleared the "my kids have a game of their own on Saturday" situation. (Technically, one of my kids does have a game on Saturday but it's early in the morning and he'll be with me at the Rose Bowl.) We also have a chance to win all of our home games for the first time since 2005, a season of false promise that included a really fun 17-66 whipping at the Coliseum. (Fun times!) So, I think part of my nervousness and part of my excitement is because I've invested more of my time and energy (and, yeah, money) in the season. I'm invested and really want a payoff.

It's also Senior Day tomorrow. Anthony Barr and Jordan Zumwalt are playing their last regular season home games in the Rose Bowl and will be joined by their families in a pregame ceremony along with all of the other players and families in the senior class. I read a few redshirt juniors are graduating and playing their last game as well. I can't say enough about any of them, I appreciate them so much. These are kids who signed on to play for UCLA when the team wasn't going so well. They believed in the team and the school and I'm so happy, no matter what happens in our last three or four games, that they got to experience winning seasons and games that matter.

In all, UCLA will honor 18 players participating in their final, regular season home game:

Linebacker Anthony Barr

Receiver Jordan Barrett

Receiver Darius Bell

Linebacker Isaiah Bowens

Receiver Brendan Cross

Defensive Tackle Seali'i Epenesa

Receiver Shaq Evans

Fullback Luke Gane

Defensive End Keenan Graham

Running Back Malcolm Jones

Defensive End Cassius Marsh

Wide Receiver Grayson Mazzone

Safety Stan McKay

Linebacker Aramide Olaniyan

Cornerback Brandon Sermons

Running Back Damien Thigpen

Defensive Lineman Brandon Willis

Linebacker Jordan Zumwalt

Realizing it's the last home game for these guys and the last of the season somehow adds a bit of melancholy to the weekend. This season has blown by - it doesn't seem all that long ago that the team visited Bruin Woods in Lake Arrowhead as a respite from camp in San Bernardino, the Nebraska seems like yesterday - it's hard to believe we're ten games in, coming around the far turn and heading for home on a very memorable year.

Back to tomorrow:

I hadn't really realized it until it was pointed out to me, but we are really beat up at running back. Four of the top five backs on our early season depth chart are hurt: Jordan James, Damien Thigpen, Stephen Manfro and Malcolm Jones. I read on another site that James and Thigpen should dress for the game and maybe play and that Jones is cleared but is a game time decision. Yes, I know that that dark cloud has a silver lining named Myles Jack, but no matter how you cut our offense has played short handed for a lot of the season. Paul Perkins has done pretty well, but he's had to carry much more of the load than he was expected to handle going into the season. Throw in the injuries to starting tackles Simon Goines (also expected to dress tomorrow) and Torian White, well, I think it's fair to say we never really got a chance to see what this team could do with the ball at full strength. Injuries happen to every team, I know, I'm just pointing out the facts.

I feel, for us to win tomorrow, we need to play like we've been playing the last few weeks and for much of the season. We need for the defense to lead like they've done all year and in particular we need them to force some turnovers. It would be great to see Barr get some sacks and prevent Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly from sitting in the pocket and throwing deep. Washington completed quite a few deep passes against us and also converted some long third downs with a pair of quarterbacks and I don't think we can afford to have that happen again tomorrow.

Offensively, we need to convert on the opportunities supplied by the defense and not turn the ball over. Brett Hundley needs to be accurate tomorrow and the receivers, who dropped at least four balls that I counted against the Huskies last week, need to be better.

None of this is particularly profound. But that's who the 2013 version of the Bruins are: a team let by a tough, opportunistic defense and an offense that does just enough to win. I expect we'll see plenty of Jack and Company on offense (#doffense) because, really, what choice do we have? I'm sure that ASU will be ready for it, so here's hoping we've added a few new plays to counteract what they've seen on film.

Speaking of film, here is a video of the final drive against Arizona State in Tempe last year. If you haven't seen it since it happened, it's fun to watch:

UCLA final drive against ASU, including the winning FG and celebration (HD) (via puntingiswinning)

Honestly, that's all I've got. I'm excited, nervous, confident. And that's so much better than being 4-6 and having the last two games of the year mean nothing. If nothing else, we've got tonight.

Tomorrow should be a lot of fun.

And with that, here are your Pregame Guesses, Arizona State/Salute to the Seniors Edition:

  1. Which senior will you miss the most once they are gone?
  2. Who will pass for more yards, Brett Hundley or Taylor Kelly?
  3. Who wins, ASU or UCLA?