On Saturday at 7:00 p.m, the No. 25 UCLA Bruins will look to do something that they haven't done since 1998: beat the California Golden Bears in Berkeley.
Yes, Strawberry Canyon has been a house of horrors for the squad from Westwood. Cal seemingly always gets up for the contest against their fellow University of California member, and most recently they've enjoyed success in the series regardless of the location.
This year however, the two programs are headed in opposite directions. The dichotomy has UCLA on the upswing via their energetic new coach Jim Mora and the staff that he has brought over. Currently, the Bruins are ranked and sit with a 4-1 record.
Cal, on the other hand, is in a complete nosedive. The Golden Bears have lost four of their first five games this season; the offense has looked pedestrian and unimaginative; and the defense has been prone to allowing big plays.
There are rumblings coming out of the Bay Area that head coach Jeff Tedford has lost the team. He's been criticized for his conservative play-calling and his puzzling personnel choices. Cal has looked undisciplined, uninspired and underwhelming. Call me crazy, but doesn't this scenario seem eerily similar to UCLA's former regime under Rick Neuheisel?
The overall talent on the football team is there for Cal to have a successful season, but the coaching seems to be absent. For example, when playing Ohio State, explosive sophomore tailback Brendan Bigelow had four carries for a startling 160 yards—including two touchdown runs that went for 81 and 59 yards, respectively.
Since the Ohio State contest, Bigelow has only gotten four carries in two games and didn't even register a statistic against Arizona State last week. Despite his eye-popping 20.6 yards per carry average, he's only carried the ball a total of 10 times in five games.
Who will win on Saturday?
The offensive line has also been a big bugaboo for Tedford's bunch; Cal ranks dead last in the NCAA with 25 sacks allowed in five contests. When taking that stat into account, it's not difficult to see why the Bears currently sit at 1-4.
Regardless of the respective momentum for both programs, this figures to be a tough contest for UCLA. As previous mentioned, they haven't defeated the Golden Bears in Berkeley for 14 years.
In addition, Cal's 1-4 record is a bit misleading. The Bears' first five opponents have a combined record of 18-6. Conversely, UCLA's first five opponents have combined for a 10-12 record. The Golden Bears also have a stout defensive front, and that could pose problems for the Bruins' freshmen-laden offensive line and freshman quarterback Brett Hundley.
This game truly has lots of implications. For Cal, it's imperative that they get a win here to save their season. With a loss to UCLA, they would go to 1-5 with Stanford, Washington, Oregon State and Oregon still on the schedule.
With the amount of pressure mounting on Tedford from the fanbase and alumni, one would think he'd be relieved of his duties if he can't get six wins. This is a must-win for the Golden Bears, plain and simple.
For UCLA, this is the type of game that can get them over the proverbial hump and further the notion that they've "turned the corner" as a program.
Cal is in so many ways similar to UCLA. Both institutions are part of the University of California system, each have stellar academics and both fight for many of the same recruits. UCLA has the momentum right now, and need to capitalize on it.
Plus, a win in a venue that the Bruins haven't won in since 1998 would be a huge feather in Mora's cap.
I expect to see a very close contest. Cal will come out of the gates with a ton of energy and emotion, and UCLA has to match it if they are to be victorious.
*Tomorrow, a full game preview between Cal and UCLA will be published.