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UCLA Pregame Guesses: Southern Cal Edition

Tomorrow's game is do or die -- and it also isn't.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

Tom Waits - In the Colosseum (via RaoulAcosta)

(This week's video is "In the Colosseum" by Tom Waits. It's from the album Bone Machine. Seems appropriate.)

A confession:

I left the ASU game early.

I ended up going by myself because the person I usually go with couldn’t make it. I did make someone’s day by giving them a free ticket when they were second on line to buy tickets at the box office. They didn’t sit with me, though, they must have sat with friends or family elsewhere.

If you recall, the last thing I wrote in the Arizona State Pregame Guesses was "it should be fun." It wasn’t. It wasn’t fun at all.

For reasons I can’t explain, we came out and played our worst half of the year in the most important game of the year. Arizona State was the measuring stick. Going into the game, we had beaten all the teams we were better than and lost to the two teams that were arguably better than us. We were, for all intents and purposes, right where we were supposed to be.

Arizona State was not obviously better than us. It was basically an even game. Not only that, it was a must win game. At home, on Senior Day, we had our destiny in our hands. A win over the Sun Devils, a win over Southern Cal and we had rematch with someone in the Pac 12 title game. And as I drove to the Rose Bowl, I heard on our pregame show that Arizona was beating Oregon. We were going to get Stanford and not the Ducks.

The ball was on the tee. All we had to do was hit it straight down the fairway.

Instead, we sliced it into the woods and spent the whole first half looking for it.

Credit to Arizona State, they played well and they traveled well, there were lots of Devils in the stands. Still, it was our home and our crowd. I thought it was pretty loud until the game got underway.

Then the game just got away.

I won’t rehash the terrible details of the game itself, not all of them, anyway. I will say that I personally deflated after the Brett Hundley pick six. That was such a Kevin Craft play, such a Prince or Brehaut play that I had some PTSD symptoms the rest of the way.

I really got upset. I’m surprised that I did.

I feel it hit me hard because I’d let myself start to believe. For the first time in a long, long time I let myself become unabashedly invested in the UCLA football team. And I couldn’t bear it when we got punked and pushed around on our home field.

I don’t think I was invested at all throughout the entirety of the Karl Dorrell/Rick Neuheisel eras. I take that back. I went to Colorado for the first game of the Dorrell regime and that ended that for me. I went in a hopeful skeptic and came out with the realization that our coach had no clue. After that I just watched with a healthy dose of detachment. Why allow myself to be disappointed when I had no faith in the product?

For me, the Neuheisel period was no better. I do realize that some in the Bruin community had more faith in him than I did and that the hire wasn’t as obviously poor as the Dorrell hire. But, I personally never liked Neuheisel and never wanted him on our sideline. It doesn’t even matter anymore who liked what. Point is, I never allowed myself to care too much for nine years.

But going into last Saturday, I’d become a fan again, not a cynical or sarcastic blogger. I wish you could read the email exchanges I had with friends going into the game. Six months ago, I was the same as them – picking on every flaw in the program, expecting the worst as a shield for when the worst actually happened.

But not last week. Last week I defended the program. I stuck up for Jim Mora and Hundley. I used the youth excuses and the injury excuses and said we matched up well with Arizona State and eventually I stopped reading all of the emails because I couldn’t stand the criticism.

And maybe I got what I deserved.

But, I have not given up.

Not on this team and not on this coach.

To that end, I do want to revisit part of the ASU game.

Moving Myles Jack to offense for ASU -- it was a gamble that didn't pay off.

And that's okay with me.

I think we all recognize that if you don't take risks, you'll never get ahead. Coach Wooden was clear on the idea that those that don't make mistakes aren't trying hard enough. So, Mora/Noel Mazzone tried something and it failed. At least they tried something.

They were down four of their top five backs. They gambled and lost. But they didn't just try to run Paul Perkins 35 times either. To me, it was a mistake because it weakened our defense, which is our strength right now. But, so be it. But I'm willing to give them credit for taking a shot. If we learn from it, if they don’t make that mistake again, then we're better in the long run.

Which brings us to tomorrow, the game against Southern Cal.

But before I do, I want to set the stage by revisiting the "scenarios" I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. At the time, there were 10 possible outcomes for the rest of the season. The lost to ASU cut that list considerably. Here is how the list looks now (the numbers are the original scenario numbers):

Scenario 1: We lose to both ASU and USC and lose the bowl game.

This would be incredibly disappointing and give us reason to question the entire Mora regime and the direction of the program. It would represent a step back from last season and would be the second year in a row the team lost it’s last three games.

Scenario 2: We lose both, win bowl game.

Not quite as disappointing as the first scenario, but disappointing nonetheless. At best you could say the team failed to progress, didn’t regress and we could try and console ourselves with the hope that next season is better than this season.

Scenario 5: We lose to ASU, beat, USC, lose bowl game.

Similar to Number 3 above, but better because it’s better to beat USC than ASU. Another nine win season, but it’s two straight against USC and at least we didn’t lose our last three games.

Scenario 6: We lose to ASU, beat USC, win bowl game.

Similar to number 4 above. It’s a ten win season, with a win over USC. I would say this would be a better year than Karl Dorrell’s 10 win season because that team had Maurice Jones-Drew to carry it. Progress over last season and gives us something to look forward to next year.

Not much there to put one’s faith in and a loss tomorrow would be a setback of epic proportions for the season. But would it be a permanent setback for the program?

I won't spin a loss to Southern Cal -- it would be devastating to the final assessment of this season. And a loss to USC and in the bowl game would represent a regression from last year. In no way, shape or form am I suggesting that the game doesn’t matter in the long run.

It does.

But all that said, I'm not quite able to equate a loss to SC as the definitive, be all end all moment for the Mora regime to this point and going forward.

This is the way I'll sum up my feelings:

Even if we lose our last two games, I'm still willing to see what happens next season. With Dorrell and Neuheisel, I already knew it was over by this point in their second season. I was just about ready for them to go by this point in their first season. They showed me nothing at all. Dorrell never had a clue and the game seemed to have passed Neuheisel bye or whatever because his regime never got going. By this time in the Dorrell/Neuheisel eras I was already sort of rooting for losses deep down because I wanted them fired and knew it would take four or five shitty seasons for Guerrero to make a move.

With Mora, I've seen just enough to be willing to go into next season with a hint of optimism or at least an open mind.

For me, we just have too many true freshmen playing all at once to make a final assessment on Mora. Those kids have talent, but they aren't skilled yet. They aren't seasoned yet. They struggled somewhat versus Stanford and ASU, two very veteran teams.

Maybe some of you are closer than I am to making up your minds on Mora. I get that. I respect that. Some of you don’t like what you see. Some of you are thinking that Mora is a pretty good coach, but isn’t the guy to get us to elite status. I get that, too.

I'm not there yet. I've seen way more good things in his first two years than I did with Dorrell and Neuheisel over a nine-year-span and for me the good things are enough to remain open minded.

So, given what I've seen so far in 25 games -- I'm open minded about next season no matter what happens in the last two games. The personal gets another spring and fall to work stuff out. We lose some good players, but return more good players. We have some really talented scout team kids for the offense (Lee and Massington).

So, that's where I am. Mora has done enough for me to support him for another season no matter what happens in the last two games. With Dorrell and Neuheisel, I'd already seen enough.

Final point: I'd really like to be right. Because I don't know if I have another Guerrero coaching search/rebuild in me. If we need to change coaches again, I might be done with football like I am with hoops.

You know, I wrote all of the above during the week and finished it off Thursday morning. Now it’s Thursday night and I’m about to post and I’m not sure how I feel about all of the above. It still resonates, It’s what I think, feel, believe. But it does read like I’m preparing for disaster tomorrow. I’m not.

I actually still feel pretty good about the game itself. I still like the match-up. I’m not impressed by what Southern Cal has done this year, I thought the Stanford game was lost by the Cardinal not won by SC. They aren’t that talented and their depth on defense is as bad as ours on offense.

I expect to win.

But all the cliché’s are true: It’s a funny game, the ball bounces crazy, stuff like that. What happened last week wasn't definitive and what happens tomorrow won't be either. I’m just not ready to render final judgment – yet.

And with that, here are your Pregame Guesses, Southern Cal edition:

  1. Which team will score first?
  2. Which team will be leading at the start of the third quarter?
  3. Will the two teams combine for more than 60 points?