Looking at the various college football publications for this upcoming season, it is clear that the UCLA Bruins are not getting any love or respect.
Athlon's has the Bruins finishing eighth in the Pac 10 Conference.
So does Lindy's.
Media pundits covering the recent Pac 10 Media Day at the Rose Bowl states the same, as does Sports Illustrated.
Paul Myerberg of PreSnap.com has UCLA in seventh place.
The Sporting News is a little more optimistic about UCLA's potential fortunes; they pick the Bruins to finish sixth.
After a 2009 season which saw progress in the form of a 7-6 record and a victory in the Eagle Bank Bowl, there are admittedly some concerns in Westwood for 2010, namely among the defense's front seven.
Coach Rick Neuheisel must replace five of the seven defensive linemen and linebackers, including standouts like Reggie Carter and especially Pac 10 Defensive Player of the Year Brian Price, who is now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Price was an absolute beast who caused much havoc for opposing offenses during his three years as a Bruin; you cannot replace a guy like that.
Datone Jones is the lone returning player up front, and Akeem Ayers will provide much needed stability at linebacker.
But the heart and soul of UCLA's defense will undoubtedly be junior free safety Rahim Moore, who led the nation with ten interceptions last year and is on many preseason All-America lists.
Moore, Jones, and Ayers will be the leaders of a Bruin defense that will desperately need their leadership if UCLA is to build on their 2009 campaign. The potential is there; the question, however, is whether or not the new players will be able to perform.
With the return of quarterback Kevin Prince, their leading rusher in Jonathan Franklin, productive receivers in Taylor Embree and Nelson Rosario, and most importantly four starters on the offensive line, Neuheisel, and coordinator Norm Chow, will expect the Bruin offense to improve on last year's 22 points per game, which was eighth in the conference and a big factor in their five-game losing streak last October.
To combat their anemic output, UCLA is counting on their new "pistol" offense—a variation of the shotgun—and the fact that the players are in their third year under Chow to help generate more points.
A third straight top 10 recruiting class, led by linebacker Jordan Zumwalt, defensive lineman Cassius Marsh, running back Jordan James, and Gatorade National Player of the Year Malcolm Jones, will be expected to contribute right away as the Bruins continue to build.
The one area that UCLA has nothing to worry about is their kicking game. Kai Forbath is considered the best in the country and a shoo-in for the Lou Groza Award, given to the nation's best kicker. Forbath made 28 out of 31 field goals in 2009, and Jeff Locke is a top punter as well.
My outlook on how 2010 will unfold in Westwood is that UCLA will be a better overall team, but their record will likely not reflect that, as the Bruins have the toughest away schedule in the country.
With having to play preseason fourth-ranked Texas, California, Oregon and Washington on the road, Neuhesiel's team will be on a death march.
I do not expect UCLA to win those games, especially against the Ducks in Autzen Stadium and last year's national runner-up Longhorns in Austin.
The home contests, on the other hand, are more winnable. Here's my opinion on how the Bruins will fare:
Stanford, Sept. 11: WINNABLE. Despite the emergence of QB Andrew Luck and the resurgence of this program from the Farm, this game against Jim Harbaugh's Cardinal can be summed up in eight words:
Let's see how they do without Toby Gerhart.
That will be the difference in this Pac 10 opener.
Houston, Sept. 18: DIFFICULT, BUT WINNABLE. Outside of USC, this will be one of the two toughest home games the Bruins will have.
The reason: QB Case Keenum. He's an excellent signal caller with a rifle arm and a quick release that could give UCLA fits.
However, the Rose Bowl crowd and the fact that the Cougars are facing a higher level of competition than their Conference USA foes will win out.
Washington State, Oct. 2: BIG WIN. That's a sad program in Pullman, WA right now. If the Bruins don't win by at least a comfortable margin, then something's wrong. I consider this the only real "gimme" game of 2010.
Arizona, Oct. 30: CLOSE, BUT WINNABLE. With QB Nick Foles and RB Nic Grigsby, these Wildcats have had UCLA's number the past couple of years. The home field and crowd gives the Bruins an edge, but it will be a hard fought homecoming match up.
If this game were in Tucson, I would have this as a loss.
Oregon State, Nov. 6: TOSS UP. Along with Houston, this is the other one of the two toughest home games UCLA will play before their crosstown war with USC.
The Rodgers brothers, WR James and RB Jacquizz, are two of the best players in the Pac 10; these Beavers are talented enough to win the conference.
As for USC on December 4th, I'm going to refrain from picking a winner until the week of that brawl with the Trojans, as I want to see how UCLA and 'SC's seasons unfold.
Although they have lost 30 scholarships and are banned from the post season for two years (pending appeal) due to NCAA violations, the Trojans will still be a formidable team; it's not like they will go 5-8 or 4-9. Look for QB Matt Barkley to be vastly improved from his freshman campaign, as well as their defensive front seven.
As the UCLA Bruins begin their 92nd year of football in Westwood, this is how I believe their fortunes will go:
An overall record of six victories and six defeats, including four wins in the Pac 10, which will be good for either fifth of sixth place and a berth in either the Las Vegas Bowl or the Kraft Foods Bowl (formerly the Emerald Bowl) in San Francisco.
Compared to what the other prognosticators think about the Bruins' chances in 2010, I am taking an optimistic view.
But I know it will be tough; UCLA could easily finish 5-7 or worse. It will depend on two factors:
1. How well the offense—and particularly the offensive line—continues to improve, and...
2. How the new personnel in the defensive front seven does.
Now that you've heard it here first, let the season commence.
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