After a dismal record of four wins and eight losses in 2008, most of the prognosticators are not expecting a huge improvement from the UCLA Bruins football team in 2009.
The people at the recent Pac-10 Media Day don't expect any improvement at all; the Bruins are picked to finish seventh in the Pacific-10 Conference according to them.
Athlon's and Lindy's publications have UCLA finishing sixth.
The Sporting News picked the Bruins to finish fifth.
Phil Steele, in his publication, was more optimistic—he has UCLA in third place.
Entering his second year as head coach, Rick Neuheisel, despite his disappointing rookie campaign, has the program moving in the right direction, enough so I can confidently make this statement:
The UCLA Bruins will be a better team with a better record in 2009.
They will NOT go 4-8 again.
For starters, their offense will show improvement; they certainly cannot be any worse than last year.
One thing is for certain: as their offense goes, so will go the Bruins' fortunes. H ow many wins they get will depend on the growth and maturity of that unit.
UCLA is starting fresh on that side of the ball, namely on the offensive line and at quarterback, as redshirt freshman Kevin Prince gets the nod behind center, which will also see a change from last season. Colorado transfer Kai Maiava will handle the duties there, which will mark an upgrade at the center position.
Sean Sheller, who was injured for all of last season, and Jeff Baca will provide a decent presence up front, and incoming junior college transfers will bring some depth to that position.
I don't expect Prince to be running for his life like last year's starter Kevin Craft did, and I definitely do not expect him to throw 20 interceptions.
The best news about the Bruin offense is that Neuheisel signed some top-rated players in this year's recruiting class, which was rated in some circles among the country's top five.
Morrell Presley, the nation's top tight end, and two-time 100 and 200 meter state champion Randall Carroll are two athletes who are more than capable of contributing right away; you don't redshirt people like that.
I'm very much looking forward to seeing Presley and Carroll, who with his speed is the potential home run threat that UCLA has been lacking for some time, help the Bruins now. They certainly have the ability to do just that.
And on top of everything else, they spurned USC to play in Westwood, changing their minds after they had both committed to the Trojans. That should count for something.
The Bruin defense? Not much to say there because they will be good.
Led by cornerback Alterraun Verner, and two of the nation's best in defensive tackle Brian Price and linebacker Reggie Carter, there is nothing wrong with this talented unit.
They will be expected to disrupt opposing offenses and keep UCLA in games, which I am confident they will, even with a new defensive coordinator in Chuck Bullough, who takes over for DeWayne Walker.
With all-conference kicker Kai Forbath returning, field goals will be pretty much a given. The kicking game will be nothing to worry about.
When I looked at the Bruins' schedule, I was very encouraged because, except for USC, the toughest opponents will all be at home in the Rose Bowl.
Here's how I think UCLA's home schedule will be played out:
San Diego State, Sept.5—WIN. The Aztecs shouldn't be too much of a problem.
Kansas State, Sept. 19—WIN. See San Diego State.
Oregon, Oct. 10, and California, Oct. 17—SPLIT. These will be the Bruins' most challenging contests of the year outside of USC. They are back-to-back, and the Ducks and Bears are picked by some to win the Pac-10.
That being said, I think UCLA will win one of those games, and with the home crowd behind them, will at least be competitive in both.
Washington, Nov. 7—WIN. After having gone 0-12 last year, the Huskies will be better, but playing against UCLA's defense at the Rose Bowl, forget it.
Arizona State, Nov. 21—PROBABLE WIN. The Sun Devils' offensive line is like what the Bruins' was in 2008—bad. Plus, they lose star QB Rudy Carpenter, and they still only went 5-7 last season.
All in all, five home wins are very much possible for UCLA.
As for the away games, I actually see a couple of wins among the six...
Washington State, as terrible as they are, is almost a gimme, and I am also counting the game against Stanford in Palo Alto as a victory, though the Bruin defense will be tested by the Cardinal's stud running back, Toby Gerhart.
Tennessee? With the game being in Knoxville before 100,000 screaming fans dressed in orange, I don't think the Bruins will pull it off, though it will be competitive. It will not be a Volunteer blowout.
Arizona and Oregon State? Those are probable losses as well, especially with the Beavers in Corvallis, where they are very tough to beat, just as are the Wildcats in Tucson.
Put it this way—if those Beavers could beat the mighty Trojans the last two times they were at Reser Stadium, what does that bode for the Bruins?
And as for crosstown enemy USC?
With the game being in the Coliseum, I have three words to say about UCLA's chances against those Men of Troy: Not This Year.
But in 2010, with another stellar recruiting class and another year of maturing, it may well be a different story.
You're probably asking what I think the UCLA Bruins' record will be for this upcoming campaign. Well, here it is...
An overall record of seven wins and five losses, fifth place in the Pacific-10 Conference, and a berth in the Las Vegas Bowl.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Things will improve in Westwood in 2009. Progress will be made with an eye toward 2010, the year the Bruins will finally be poised to challenge USC for conference superiority, if they're not a factor nationally as well.
You heard it here first.
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