Even though the season won't kick off until early September, I thought it would be fun to take a look around the conference for a quick preview of the other eleven teams -- in no particular order. We'll get more in depth during the week before the Cardinal plays each team, but for now we've got a quick overview of how the team looks at this point as seen through the eyes of a blogger who knows that team best. Enjoy.
UCLA Bruins (Pac-12 South)
Head Coach: Rick Neuheisel (15-22)
2010: (4-8, 2-7, 9th)
Lost to Stanford, 35-0
The first great Pac-10 quarterback that I really remember watching was Troy Aikman. I had a poster of Aikman on my dorm room wall, and when people asked why a Stanford student would hang the starting UCLA quarterback on his wall, my answer was simple. My favorite NFL team desperately needed a quarterback, and I was hoping they'd be bad enough to earn the top overall pick and draft Aikman. (That worked out pretty well for me, by the way.)
Aikman has cast a fairly large shadow over the signal callers who have followed in his footsteps at UCLA, but that's probably just because of his three Super Bowl rings. There have been more than a few good men to take up the position in his wake. Aikman left following the 1988 season, but it wasn't long before Tommy Maddox arrived and essentially duplicated Aikman's career statistics. Aikman had a higher completion percentage (he's the most accurate quarterback in UCLA history) and eight more touchdowns, but Maddox accounted for a few more yards passing.
Cade McNown (1995-98) is probably the best quarterback in UCLA history, at least statistically speaking. Taking advantage of a four-year tenure as the starter, McNown compiled more attempts, completions, and touchdowns than any Bruin before or since.
The torch was passed to Cory Paus (1999-2002) and then to Drew Olson (2002-05), two quarterbacks who might not have been spectacular but were efficient enough for long enough to rank in the top four of the important UCLA passing categories.
Since Drew Olson's departure, however, the Bruins have lined up one question mark after the other behind center. Ben Olson ('05-'07) totaled 1,873 yards in three seasons, Kevin Craft ('08-'09) managed just nine touchdowns during his two years in charge, and 2010 was, well, forgettable.
The Bruins matched up with Stanford in the second game of the season last year. The Cardinal had just blitzed through Sacramento State, and UCLA had lost on the road to Kansas, but this was long before anyone really knew anything about either team.
We learned a lot, and we learned it quickly. Even though Andrew Luck and the Cardinal never looked particularly sharp, the Bruins never had a look at this game and they ended up getting shut out, 35-0. As I sat in the Rose Bowl and digested what was happening, I realized the story of the game was the complete ineptitude of the Bruins' offense. On the rare occasions when they were able to put together sustained drives, penalties, turnovers, or botched plays would push them back out of scoring range. Defensively they didn't look much better, as evidenced by one series during which the defense lost track of downs and actually sent out a punt returner on third down.
The biggest problem, though, was that there was no clear leader at quarterback. The starter was Kevin Prince, but when he was largely ineffective for three quarters, Richard Brehaut came in to replace him. Unfortunately for Bruin fans, there was no discernible difference between the two.
If UCLA is to improve this season, and there are lots of people who think they will, they're going to have to get better at quarterback. True freshman Brett Hundley appears to be the one who will lead them to the Promised Land, but his time might be a year or so away. The good news for the Bruins, though, is that they don't need a great quarterback, they just need a good one. And, I think, they need to settle on just one. They still haven't.
Ah, but it's not all doom and gloom in Westwood. Thousand-yard rusher Johnathan Franklin returns, as do the top two receivers, Taylor Embree and Nelson Rosario. On defense, they'll be led by free safety Tony Dye, their top tackler from last season.
Better than all that, they've got Rick Neuheisel, a man who's desperate to win. He summed up his feelings last month during Pac-12 Media Day. "I have a stake in this. This is not just a job, this is my alma mater... my dream job."
I have to believe that this is the year that UCLA starts turning things around. If they can manage seven or eight wins, maintain their momentum during recruiting season, and insert Hundley in 2012, the Bruins could be standing shoulder to shoulder with the Trojans in the Pac-12 South.
But enough from me. Here's someone who actually knows what he's talking about. Greg from the UCLA blog, BruinsNation, stopped by to chat. Here's what he had to say...
What are fans excited about for this season?
Fans have been hoping for the last 2 years that THIS year would be the turnaround. It hasn't happened yet. However, there are more reasons to think this year could finally be it. With very few major injuries going into the year, more overall depth from good recruiting, and the coaching changes at offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator and certain positions (especially wide receiver), there are some real reasons for optimism. The running game was quite good last year despite teams stacking the box against the Bruins, given their third from last passing offense. If the passing game gets going this year, then the team is ready for a breakout. Hope reigns supreme in August, doesn't it?
What are the biggest concerns facing the team?
Number one, two, and three are QB play. Though limited by a piecemeal offensive line the last 2 years, the QB's were inconsistent at best, especially in the passing game. There is still debate whether Kevin Prince or Richard Brehaut should be the starter, but as opposed to last year, either of them looks ready to play this year. If either of them can be simply consistent and effective, it will be a major step up for the Bruins. A healthier OL and more experience this year should help, and fall camp has seen solid improvement in both QB's. But until that imporvement shows on Saturdays, the fan base will still rightfully be very nervous. Following on that, the health of the OL is also key.
What's the best-case scenario for the team?
If the team plays to potential, the only team that definitely looks better on paper is Oregon, and we don't play them this year. That said, there are numerous solid to good teams amongst Stanford, Utah, ASU, U of A, Southern Cal, and nonconference with Texas and Houston. I'm curious to see how Luck does without Harbaugh and that dominating offensive line, and the defense under Fangio was awesome. That said, Luck is still the premiere player in the conference. Utah stepping up to Pac 12 competition every week will also be interesting. USC needs to stay healthy as they are always talented but thin on the depth chart. So it will be fun to see how the season goes for all these teams. In the end, I think every Bruin fan would be ecstatic with 8 wins. Eight or more wins also will bring in a lot of great recruits who are waiting to see what becomes of the current coaching staff.
What's the worst-case scenario for the team?
If the offensive line is ineffective and the quarterbacks don't improve from last year, and the coaching changes don't add intensity, discipline, and maturity, and injuries and stupid penalties rear their ugly heads again, then UCLA will compete with Washington State and Colorado for last overall in the conference, and the fanbase will be screaming for a new head coach. This would hurt recruiting for the coming year as well, so the program could stay down for another 2-3 years at a minimum.
Realistically, how do you expect the season to pan out?
I expect the Bruins to be markedly better this year than last, especially at offensive line and quarterback, the 2 weakest points from last year. Also, the vanilla defense which worried absolutely no one except our own fans should be much more agressive under our new defensive coordinator, who should make use of some great athletes and talents. That said, there are still so many question marks, and we face an overall very good Pac-12, though Oregon is the only real superstar, and we miss them on the schedule this year. Issues like discipline and consistency are so intangible now, but will be a huge part of how the Bruins fare this year. A few good bounces with health and players stepping up and maturing gets UCLA to 9 wins or more. More of the same from last year gets them 2 or 3 wins at best. I'm taking the easy way out and splitting the difference: I expect UCLA to get to 6 wins (beating Houston, San Jose, OSU, WSU, Cal, Colorado).
- Arizona Wildcats
- Arizona State Sun Devils
- California Golden Bears
- Colorado Buffaloes
- Oregon Ducks
- Oregon State Beavers
- USC Trojans
- Utah Utes
- Washington Huskies
- Washington State Cougars