ONE DEDICATED MEMBER OF BRUIN NATION’S OPINION OF HOW THE TWELVE REGULAR SEASON GAMES WILL GO
Every season since 2008, I have looked at the schedule of games that UCLA’s football team will play and made a prediction of whether the Bruins will win or lose each contest.
Or if the game is tough but winnable.
Or a probable loss due to the opponent being so onerous.
Or a toss-up.
I don’t pretend to be an Nostradamus or anything like that, but over the now-seven years that I have been writing about my alma mater on the gridiron, I’ve noticed that my predictions have been right the majority of the time.
Not that I am saying that they will automatically be right this time, but I’m going to go ahead and make my game-by-game predictions of how these Bruins will fare in 2014, starting with their first two games:
At VIRGINIA, August 30, and MEMPHIS, September 6 – WINS
Since these worthy opponents’ records were a combined 5-19 last year, most fans and pundits consider these openers (Virginia on the road, Memphis at home) as more of the preseason variety before the campaign to fulfill the high expectations begins in earnest.
Indeed, I expect a comfortable win over the Cavaliers and a blowout over the Tigers. However…
There IS one factor favoring these two foes: the fact that since no one’s expecting anything from them – Virginia is picked to finish last in the ACC’s Coastal Division while Memphis is projected to finish next-to-last in the American Athletic Conference – those Cavaliers and Tigers will have nothing to lose.
And that will make them dangerous.
Putting it another way, if UCLA needs a fourth quarter comeback or barely beats these two teams, I will be concerned on a pronounced scale.
TEXAS at Dallas, September 13 – TOUGH BUT WINNABLE
The general consensus from Bruin Nation is that this is where the season really begins.
I won’t deny that this will be a tough challenge, what with those Longhorns bringing over 100,000 of their “Hook’Em!” fans and their Bevo mascot to Jerry Jones’ palace and new Texas coach Charlie Strong cleaning house and bringing in a no-nonsense mentality to his new team.
Kind of like what UCLA coach Jim Mora did two years ago.
What makes me optimistic about this game is something that few people seem to remember…
Four years ago UCLA faced a 7th-ranked Texas team with a sub-par squad which would win but four games during that 2010 season.
With a derelict “Pistol” offense and a gutsy but weak-armed quarterback named Kevin Prince.
Playing on the Longhorns’ campus in Austin in front of well over 100,000 hostile fans, no less.
And the Bruins beat them – handily!
It’s fairly needless to say that the Bruins have a much better team, led by a much better quarterback, than they did back then.
Call me nuts, but while it won’t be a blowout this time around, I think history will repeat itself.
At ARIZONA STATE, September 25 – TOUGH BUT WINNABLE
The last several years has seen real battles between UCLA and these Sun Devils as after two close wins by the Bruins in 2011 and 2012, ASU broke through at the Rose Bowl in 2013, winning the Pac-12 South in the process.
The good news for Mora’s squad is that the Sun Devils will lose almost their entire defense, including super studs Carl Bradford and Will Sutton.
The bad news is that key members of their high-flying offense return, including underrated QB Taylor Kelly.
All of that points toward a shootout, which means if the Bruins play just a little defense and pressure Kelly into running for his life, they will win a close one as Brett Hundley and his offensive mates shouldn’t have too much trouble scoring on an inexperienced ASU defensive unit.
UTAH, October 4 – WIN
I have complete respect for those Utes from Salt Lake City, especially when they play at home as UCLA survived a heated war in Rice-Eccles Stadium last year.
Though their record doesn’t show it, Utah has some talent and has shown to be more than capable to give their Pac-12 opponents a run as they enter their fourth year in the conference.
Nevertheless, that won’t mean much this particular time as being in the friendly confines of the Rose Bowl, I expect the Bruins to beat the Utes comfortably.
And I also expect the Bruins to not be looking past Utah to this next foe:
OREGON, October 11 – TOSS UP
This is the one game (outside of USC, of course) that the UCLA community circled on their calendar when the schedule came out.
Assuming that things go as planned for these two teams, I fully expect ESPN’s College Game Day to be doing their show from the Rose Bowl that morning – this showdown will be that big.
It’s no secret that those Ducks from Eugene have used their Road Runner-like speed to more or less own the Bruins since 2007.
Two things fall in UCLA’s favor against QB Marcus Mariota and his green and yellow-clad friends with the Donald Duck-looking mascot from Phil Knight U:
1. The Bruins match up better against Oregon than at any time in recent years, and…
2. (More Important) The game is at home.
Expect the crowd at the Rose Bowl to reach at or near its 92,542-seat capacity, and expect that to be a factor.
At CALIFORNIA, October 18 – WIN
Does anyone else realize that the last time UCLA defeated their older Golden Bear brothers in Berkeley was in 1998?!
That’s SEVEN straight losses in Strawberry Canyon, dating back 16 years!
The last loss was particularly embarrassing with one of Cal’s three wins in 2012 coming at the expense of the Bruins, who committed turnovers galore and basically gave the game away to a Bear team that frankly wasn’t as talented as them.
I’m sure Mora and company know this, and I’m positive that they will get their revenge on a Cal squad that was considered to be the worst team in the Pac-12 last year.
And despite having a good passing offense thanks to QB Jared Goff is projected to be the worst the year.
I’ll be quite upset if UCLA does not win this game by at least three touchdowns plus at least a field goal, and get this proverbial monkey off their back once and for all.
At COLORADO, October 25 – WIN
I think most folks will agree that Colorado has had a rough time in Pac-12 football since they first joined it.
Last year was the first time the Buffaloes didn’t have the worst overall record among the conference’s 12 teams as their four wins signified a clear improvement.
There is enough talent in Boulder, led by QB Sefo Liufau and LB Addison Graham, for fans to not see CU as everyone’s whipping boys anymore.
But it won’t be enough for the Bruins – providing that they don’t take those Buffs lightly – to be too worried. Even though the game is at Folsom Field.
ARIZONA, November 1 – WIN
Another fairly formidable team that UCLA shouldn’t overlook.
Another team that the Bruins should beat at home rather comfortably, especially if they don’t take those Wildcats from Tucson for granted and handle their business.
Because after U of A lost their last two games against their Westwood foes – namely that 66-10 shellacking the last time they played in the Rose Bowl and that 31-26 heartbreaker in Tucson last year – those Cats be looking for revenge.
At WASHINGTON, November 8 – PROBABLE LOSS
Fellow members of Bruin Nation: It really hurts me to say this, but…
This is the contest where UCLA will be at its most vulnerable, most due for a bad day, and most ripe for a loss.
Especially since the game is in Seattle in their newly renovated Husky Stadium, which promises to be louder and more hostile than ever.
New coach Chris Peterson is playing with the big boys after a stellar tenure at Boise State, and no doubt he will have his U-Dub team ready.
Technically the Bruins have a little more talent player-for-player than the Huskies, and they have won four of the last five meeting between the teams, BUT…
With the majority of Washington’s defense returning, I can’t help being concerned about this matchup and how UCLA will handle things up there.
If the Bruins can pull off a win here, I’ll be most ecstatic and more optimistic for the next opponent…
USC, November 22 – TOUGH, BUT I’M CALLING THIS A WIN
With wins in this Crosstown Rivalry’s last two meetings, including a solid 35-14 triumph in the Coliseum last season, I don’t believe anyone could rightfully call me a liar (unlike USC’s Josh Shaw) when I say that Los Angeles is a Bruin town.
For the moment.
What people don’t realize, however, and what the “Trojan Family” proclaims, is the fact that despite the sanctions put upon ‘SC and despite them going through three coaches in 2013…
This a very good Trojan squad whose starters match up well with anyone in the Pac-12 if not the nation.
Ten wins, including a statement victory over Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl, is good proof of that.
Most importantly, after being a part of the UCLA community for roughy 30 years as a fan, student and alum and after personally seeing a total of 14 clashes between these two kingdoms, there is one thing that I have learned, which I’m sure many people know and understand:
Anything can happen in a rivalry game.
That particularly holds true this year as USC will undoubtedly be a factor in the Pac-12 South race thanks (especially) to WR Nelson Agholor and especially DL Leonard Williams.
Having said that, being at home will help the Bruins, and though I don’t think it will be an absolute beatdown, the momentum that UCLA has had over the Trojans the past two seasons will continue this year.
And they will keep the Victory Bell painted blue.
STANFORD, November 28 – TOSS UP
I remember two years ago, when the Bruins upended USC and were flying high, them having to face this Cardinal from Palo Alto the following week.
And I knew that Ivy League-type school would be trouble; being that they were better than the Trojans I was very much worried about a hangover-style let down.
Which I was proven right as Stanford used a grinding ground game and a punishing front seven to smash mouth UCLA that day, and pretty much every time the two teams have faced each other since 2008.
The challenge returns this year as the even though the Cardinal lost key members of their offensive and defensive line, I remain at least a little concerned about how the Bruins will come out after playing their hated 11-miles-away rival.
And no one can honestly deny that the team with the wacky, famously non-conformist fun band and tree mascot will not be strong and give UCLA a real battle.
That’s why I’m calling this game a toss up as for the Bruins to win, they have to completely forget their dealings with their Trojan enemies, something that I don’t think they were successful at doing back in 2012.
If UCLA does that, they’ll have a good shot at ending their six-game losing streak to that cardinal-clad bunch.
There it is my Bruin brothers and sisters, my game-by-game view of how 2014 will play out for our beloved Westwood program.
Of course I’m hoping for an undefeated season and a berth in the four-team College Football Playoff – what Bruin isn’t hoping for that – but I must allow for ups and downs and bumps in the road as there are five or six games in which UCLA, in a worst case scenario, could lose.
On the other hand, I remain optimistic about what I had predicted in an earlier post on this blog – ten wins and a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
With the first kickoff commencing in less than 48 hours from this writing, there’s really nothing more to say or do except…
Let’s get this campaign started and see what unfolds.