Monday, August 27, 2007

2007 Preview, Prediction, and More

Well, six weeks later, I've finally wrapped up the preview of the 2007 season. If you missed any of the articles, are new to the blog, or you just don't like reading all the gory details then this summary should be a good way to catch up before the season starts this Saturday. I think the Bruins are going to win 9 games this year with a trip to the Holiday Bowl. They could go as high as 10 or 11 if the offense really gets cooking or maybe as low as 8 or even 7 if Ben struggles or we have more injuries in our backfield.

Getting Your Feet Wet

The first four games are the relatively easy part of the Bruin's schedule. All four opponents have to replace key members of their teams and two of them have brand new quarterbacks. These teams don't have the most imposing secondaries so Ben Olson should be able to stretch the field and make some big plays if given the opportunity.

9/1: @Stanford Cardinal. Victory. (Read the entire article...)

A Bruin victory is pretty much a no brainer. UCLA returns way to many players and they will hit the ground running in the season opener. Stanford is just beginning to rebuild their team after an atrocious 1-11 season and they will eventually be a much better team... just not this year. The only question that remains is the margin of victory and that will be a barometer of how good this Bruin squad will perform this season.

It is a road game, and UCLA has struggled outside of the Rose Bowl in recent years. It will also be the first game under Norvell's offense, so it is hard to know what to expect from our boys. Considering how well Olson did against Utah in the season opener last year, I think he could have a repeat performance up on the Farm. I'm guessing a comfortable Bruin victory is in the works, but don't expect a blow-out. Stanford has just enough players on offense that if Ostrander starts clicking they could put up some points.

9/8: BYU Cougars. Victory. (Read the entire article...)

BYU looks like a solid team and they have some young, talented players taking over the reigns this season. I'm sure most Bruin fans will write them off as just another team from a non-BCS conference, but I think the Cougars could make some noise this year. They have excellent coaches, an awesome offensive line, and a tradition of winning.

All that being said, I can't see too many scenarios where BYU can beat the Bruins. They just have too many players to replace on offense and special teams and they lost a couple key defensive players as well. If this game was being played at LaVell Edwards Stadium in November it might be a totally different outcome. However, it is being played in September at the Rose Bowl, a place where the Bruins have gone 12-1 over the last two seasons. Considering that UCLA has a large number of returning starters and a formidable defense, I think that's a pretty good recipe for a Bruin victory.

9/15: @Utah Utes. Victory. (Read the entire article...)

There's no doubt this game will be much closer than the last meeting. Utah has some potent offensive weapons, excellent specialists, and they'll be back on their home turf. The Bruins haven't faired well on the road recently, so this game will be a good mental challenge for this team. The Utes have an inexperienced defensive line and the Bruins should run well against this team. The secondary has some holes and Ben and the receiving corp could make some big plays in the passing game as well. Utah's biggest strength, their spread offense, will run smack dab into the Bruins experienced, athletic, and quick defense.

Ultimately, I think the talent gap, an imposing defense, and an improving offense will be too much for a rebuilding Utah team. There are just too many holes in the Utah defense that, even with their star defenders last year, still got lit up by Ben Olson. This one is going UCLA's way, but it probably won't be a run away win.

9/22: Washington Huskies. Victory. (Read the entire article...)

On paper the Huskies don't seem to match up well with UCLA. They lose their big play makers on offense and bring on board some inexperienced, but talented, replacements. The Huskies have an X-factor at quarterback but he'll still be raw when they come to Pasadena and I don't think Locker can carry the team by himself. This is a program that is still rebuilding and they are probably another year away from being a serious threat. This Dawg has some bite, though, and the Bruins better be ready for a gritty opponent.

For whatever reason, this is always a close game and I don't think this year will be any exception. The Bruin defense should suffocate the Husky offense, so it might be a low scoring affair. I'm sure our boys will be licking their chops at the prospect of getting revenge after the tough loss in Seattle a year ago. A thin Husky defense coupled with all the returning talent at UCLA will be too much for Washington to overcome. Throw in home field advantage for good measure and you can chalk this one up in the win column.

Choppy Waters

The next three games will be much more challenging for our boys. Oregon State returns a ton of players, Notre Dame has a lot of young talent, and California is a top-15 team. Two of the three are at home, where the Bruins have been particularly tough the last two seasons. If UCLA gets through this stretch with only one defeat that would be pretty good in my opinion.

9/29: @Oregon State Beavers. Defeat. (Read the entire article...)

This game just smells bad to me. The Beavers have lots of talented players on both sides of the ball and one of the best special teams units in the conference. It will be played on the road, where UCLA has struggled the last few years. The Beavers have defended the Dam well recently including that crazy shoot-out victory over USC last season. Matt Moore probably did more to hurt Oregon State in their last two games against UCLA then help. If his replacement can just hang onto the ball then the rest of the team should be pretty difficult to stop.

With Norvell installing a new offense, I have a feeling we'll struggle at times in some of the early games. The first four opponents have some weaknesses we can exploit and our defense will keep us in those games no matter how poorly the offense performs. In this game the margin of error will be much smaller and a big mistake on special teams or an untimely turnover could cost us a victory. I think we could drop an early road contest and this game looks like it will be the one. If Ben performs well and the offense gets clicking then we absolutely have the potential to win. At this point, however, I have a feeling this is our first defeat of the season.

10/6: Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Victory. (Read the entire article...)

This might not be the same Notre Dame program from years past, but any time you play the Irish it is a big game. The Bruins will need to be focused and pumped to take on a team with a lot of young talent and some very good coaches. The Bruins payed the price for being too conservative last year and Norvell, Walker, and the other UCLA coaches hopefully have learned their lessons for this season.

Notre Dame barely managed to squeak out a victory over the Bruins last season and that was with their star-studded lineup. UCLA returns pretty much everyone who made the trip to South Bend last year and the Irish have to replace their top passer, rusher, receiver, and big chunks of their defense. If the Bruins can come into this game with the same confidence, energy, and focus then they should win. You know our guys are eager to get redemption from last season's defeat. With a sold out Rose Bowl cheering them on, I think that's exactly what will happen.

10/13: Bye Week.

10/20: California Golden Bears. Victory (Read the entire article...)

I've gone back and forth in my head on this one so many times I'm dizzy. Both teams have strengths and weaknesses that are the opposite of the other. Cal has a great offense and the Bruins have a stout defense. UCLA has a lot of veterans and Cal has some exciting young players. The Bruins have home field advantage and UCLA has been very tough to beat at home over the last two years. The Bears special teams unit could crank out another big play to push the game in Berkeley's favor.

In the end I'm going to give the nod to the Bruins, but just barely. I think this one comes down to the 4th quarter and I like all of the experienced UCLA seniors in that kind of scenario. I think a more aggressive Bruin defense will slow down Cal's offense and the Bears inexperienced defense will be just slightly less effective at stopping an improved Bruin offense. UCLA also has an extra week to prepare for this game and they were awesome against the Trojans last year with the extra time. Things could change by the time we get to this point in the season and predicting this far in advance is never easy.

One Side or the Other

As we near the end of the season, the Bruins have four opponents that are very good on one side of the ball but not the other. WSU, ASU, and Oregon have dynamic offenses and some very impressive quarterbacks. Their defenses could use some work, however. On the other side of the spectrum is an Arizona squad that will have one of the best defenses in the conference but is breaking in a new spread offense this season.

10/27: @Washington State Cougars. Victory (Read the entire article...)

Every year this is a tough game for the Bruins. The Cougars have had our number recently winning last year in Pasadena and five of the last six meetings. The game is in their backyard and a late October date means cold weather and unfriendly crowds are in store for our guys. Washington State will have another potent passing attack and the Bruin secondary will be tested for the second week in a row.

All that being said, the Bruins have a lot of advantages in this game. The WSU defense is thin and their tailback spot has a lot of holes. If Ben Olson and the offense can stretch the field with their own passing attack then the Cougar secondary has some deficiencies that can be exploited. Couple that with a potent and aggresive Bruin defense and you have a UCLA squad that can win this tough road game. It will likely be another very close call, but I think the Bruins make it back to Pasadena with another notch in the win column.

11/3: @Arizona Wild Cats. Victory. (Read the entire article...)

With two potent defenses, this game will likely turn into a low-scoring, knock-down, drag-out battle. The winner of the game will be the team who's offense can see some improvements over last season. Arizona is breaking in a brand new system and the Bruins are also retooling their offense under Jay Norvell. With a lack of depth on the Wildcats offense, injuries at this point in the season could be devastating to their scoring production. I think UCLA just brings more talent and depth when they posses the ball.

I don't believe the Bruins will get caught off guard on this trip to Tucson. They learned their lesson two years ago that you can never take this gritty team lightly. I fully expect our boys to be eager to atone for the last trip which still burns in the gut of Bruin fans everywhere. I think it will be a close game but UCLA will pull it out in the 4th quarter.

11/10: Arizona State Sun Devils. Defeat. (Read the Entire Article...)

Like the Oregon State match up, this looks like a trap game to me. ASU has a lot of fire power on offense and they could really cause some problems if they get cooking. Unfortunately, UCLA always seems to have a let down game (or two) every year and if this team gets caught napping against Carpenter and company it could result in a defeat.

On paper UCLA should be able to beat this team. We have a great defense and should slow down the Sun Devil offense, our own offense should be clicking by this point in the season, and we have the all important home field advantage. I just have a gut feeling that we won't get enough pressure on Carpenter with his senior offensive line blocking for him. Like the WSU game last season, the Bruins struggled without an effective pass rush. I'm going to go against the conventional wisdom on this game and predict an Arizona State victory.

11/17: Bye Week.

11/24: Oregon Ducks. Victory. (Read the entire article...)

One thing the Bruins need to be careful about is looking ahead one week to the big showdown with USC. Of course, the Ducks are in the same boat, as they play in the Civil War against Oregon State the following week as well. I think both teams will be focused and I'm sure UCLA will benefit from having an extra week to rest, heal, and game plan for the Ducks.

I think Chris Markey could have a big game. He had his first real break-out performance against the Ducks back in 2004. In his final home game, he could leave his mark again. The Bruin defense will have their hands full but I think they should be well prepared for this game. The UCLA offense should also be gelled by this point in the season and firing on all cylinders. The Bruins have been hard to beat at home (12-1 in the last two years) and if they lose the prior week to ASU, like I predicted, then they'll have even more motivation to perform well against the Ducks. I think a UCLA victory is in the works, but like most games this season, it might come down to the fourth quarter.

The Victory Bell

There is no doubt that the showdown with USC will be the toughest game of the year for the Bruins. If UCLA is playing well they could come into this game with one loss or even undefeated. This game could very well have conference and national championship implications. The Trojans are everyone's #1 pick to win it all this year. We'll see if the Bruins can play spoilers once again.

12/1: @USC Trojans. Defeat. (Read the entire article...)

It is hard to be too optimistic about this game as a Bruin fan. The Trojans have superior talent and a lot of experience. The game will also be played at the Coliseum where UCLA has lost the last 3 games this decade by an average of 33 points! That's not exactly a recipe for success this December. The Trojans also have the extra motivation of getting revenge for last year's stunning upset. Pete Carroll isn't exactly known for going easy on opponents and I'm sure his team will be pumped and well prepared for the Bruins.

There are a few things that could change by the time the game is played. Injuries are always a factor this late in the season and the Trojans always seem to have more than their fair share. They have a lot of depth all over the team but quarterback could be one position where Southern California could see a big drop-off in production. None of Booty's backups have much experience and with a tough schedule this season, they may not see significant minutes before UCLA comes to visit. Of course, that knife cuts both ways as UCLA has been dealing with its own depth issues in the backfield this pre-season.

Another factor is the development of Ben Olson and the UCLA passing attack. If the light-bulb clicks on for Olson then he absolutely has the raw talent to be a Heisman-worthy quarterback himself. If the offense is capable of taking it to the next level then that could produce enough points for Walker's defense to try and keep the game close. Those are two very big if's and not something I would count on.

When it is all said and done, I don't think the Bruins have enough firepower to pull out a win in this game. This Trojan defense is impressive and it will be very, very hard to score on them. Walker's defensive ain't too shabby either so it could be another low scoring affair. I think it will be much closer than prior years, but ultimately this contest will go to the bad guys. Then again, UCLA was a big underdog last year and we all know what happened. Here's hoping I'm wrong and the Bruins make it two-in-a-row... I'm not going to bet the house on it.