UCLA FOOTBALL: 2008 Preview - New Beginnings

Derek HartCorrespondent IAugust 20, 2008

Athlon's and The Sporting News picks them to finish 4th in the Pacific-10 Conference.

Lindy's and the Pac-10 coaches pick them 5th.

Phil Steele and his publication picks them 6th.

Sports Illustrated says they will finish 4-8.

Clearly there is no consensus for how the UCLA Bruins, who begin their 90th season of football versus Tennessee at the Rose Bowl on September 1st, will fare. 

For Rick Neuheisel, the new head coach and former Bruin quarterback, it is certain that there is uncertainty, particularly with the offense. Having recently named junior college transfer Kevin Craft as the starting quarterback, the primary concern for Neuheisel and new offensive coordinator Norm Chow is the offensive line. Or more accurately, the inexperience at that position. Some may consider it the lack of an offensive line, what with injuries and youth nearly decimating it.

Put it this way: If I was a defensive coordinator going against the Bruins, I would blitz at least 80% of the time. With Craft being a traditional drop-back passer, combined with the problems of said offensive line, he could be a sitting duck.

As a UCLA alum and a fervent Bruin supporter, I know that with the O-line and the injuries suffered to key players like quarterbacks Ben Olson and Patrick Cowan, it could well be a tough year. I've had many of my fellow Bruin fans tell me as much, and have read as much on Bruin website forums and blogs.

It seems to me, from reading the blogs and talking to Bruin supporters, that a lot of people are giving up on the team before the season even starts.

Despite the team's issues, I am not one of those fans who are writing off the season. Here's why...

I looked at the UCLA schedule, and the seven home games scheduled are certainly winnable. Even the USC game on December 6 is not completely one to automatically write off. Those who don't believe that do not remember December 2, 2006.

Let's go down the Bruins' list of home opponents, rating them on the level of how winnable the contests are:


TENNESSEE - Winnable.  Even though they're a good SEC team that's ranked #18 in the country. It's the first game of the Neuheisel era, it's at home, and even Volunteer coach Phillip Fulmer said on ESPN that the Bruins are just like his team, and the Rose Bowl will be a hostile environment.

ARIZONA - Very Winnable.  The Wildcats are one of the teams picked to finish below the Bruins in the Pac-10. UCLA's defense, led by coordinator DeWayne Walker, can definitely stop their quarterback, Willie Tuitama. 

FRESNO STATE - Winnable.  But it will be tough; in my view this will be the toughest home game for UCLA outside of USC. These Bulldogs deserve nothing but respect, they have always been competitive against Pac-10 teams. They gave the Bush and Leinart show at USC a scare in the Coliseum in 2005. Thank goodness this game is at home. 

WASHINGTON STATE - Very Winnable.  These Cougars are picked to finish last in the conference. The Bruins shouldn't have much trouble with them.

STANFORD - Very Winnable. They were the best four-win team in the country in 2007, but I'm sure that UCLA learned a lesson from the Cardinal's epic 24-23 upset of USC last year in the Coliseum. I really don't think the Bruins are going to let Stanford do the same thing to them. This game shouldn't be too much of a problem.

OREGON STATE - Winnable.  The Beavers lost a lot of their key players, and like Arizona, Washington State, and Stanford, they are picked to finish below the Bruins in the Pac-10. All signs point to a solid victory.

USC - Not Unwinnable.  Yes, I know they have perhaps the best defense in the country. Yes, I know they start the season ranked # 3 in the nation. And yes, I know that they are not only favored to win their seventh straight Pac-10 title, but are a possible pick to go to the BCS National Championship Game in Miami.

But I am STILL not going to completely write this game off. For those who say that I'm nuts, I say, remember 2006! How many people thought that the Bruins were going to beat those Trojans then?


My point is this: Despite our question marks (and I'll admit, there are quite a few), the UCLA Bruins are perfectly capable of winning seven games this year. Call me crazy and overly optimistic, but that's how I see it.

The only games on the Bruins' schedule that I see as most likely losses are at BYU, at Oregon, and at Arizona State, all ranked teams that UCLA must play on the road. BYU, in particular, has BCS potential. 

The Bruins game at California is a probable-loss-but-you-never-know. Those Golden Bears lost some key skill players, including DeSean Jackson. However, the game is in Berkeley, and the home team in this series has won for the past several years, making it a nice rivalry between the two flagship University of California schools.

Washington? Even though it's in Seattle, that's a winnable game. Especially with the fact that the Huskies have won barely more than ten games the past three years, and their head coach Tyrone Willingham is on the hottest of hot seats. If the Bruins can stop their quarterback Jake Locker, they'll be in decent shape.

Don't get me wrong, I know that UCLA is going to suffer some growing pains, what with a new quarterback and an injured and inexperienced o-line. These Bruins are not going to be Pacific-10 Conference Champions in 2008, I freely acknowledge that.

However, a 6-1 record at home is not out of the question for these young Bruins, and neither is a 7-5 season with a bowl trip to Las Vegas or Hawaii. 

Personally, I think UCLA is going to surprise some people and play better than expected.

We will see how things unfold.