With UCLA football, it’s hard not to look at any winning record and feel as if the team is improving by leaps and bounds.
At 5-2, this is the Bruins’ best start since Karl Dorrell had his 2005 UCLA team at 7-0, which is also the last year UCLA had a 10-win season.
Of course, that 5-2 record — while not deceptive — is largely due to UCLA’s light schedule. Of the five teams UCLA has beaten thus far, only one has a winning record (Nebraska); the rest own a combined record of 8-21, and none are at .500 so far this season, which solidifies that the teams UCLA has beaten so far have been, well, meh.
In essence, UCLA took care of business — with the exception of the aberrant blowout loss to California in Berkeley that UCLA fans would all like to forget, your humble narrator included — and have benefited by being just one game away from securing bowl eligibility this early in the season.
UCLA will now have to pay the piper in the deepest conference in the nation, though. The Bruins start their rough stretch of games in Tempe this Saturday against a resurgent ASU team that — while they were blown up against Oregon, which is excusable — has looked more impressive than UCLA has in 2012. Aside from an ugly loss to the Ducks, the Sun Devils have blown out teams they were supposed to blow out while losing in a tight contest to Missouri.
After that? The Bruins will host Arizona, and in case you forgot, those Wildcats like to explode offensively, mainly through the air. In fact, Arizona is fifth in the nation in passing yards with 352 per game. And if you’ve been paying attention to UCLA football at all this season, you’d know the Bruins have a maddening secondary that enjoys getting burned consistently through the air. An Arizona offense that put up 52 points against a Washington defense that held USC’s passing attack scoreless for 24 minutes should scare you.
UCLA gets a mini-bye in the form of Washington State, but then they get their annual crosstown showdown with USC, a team that’s by and large looked entirely unimpressive but still has enough talent to back their way in to a Pac-12 championship game against Oregon at the end of the season.
And then the Bruins get to wrap it all up against Stanford, a team that was a controversial call away from almost beating Notre Dame and a squad that thoroughly exposed an elite USC offensive line. Stanford has proven to own one of the best defenses in the nation while it’s proven it can be brilliant offensively (see: Arizona-Stanford).
The Bruins have a tough stretch, with four of the five final games on their schedule being against teams with winning records. Aside from Washington State (2-6), UCLA’s remaining components lay claim to a combined 20-8 record (which, ironically, is the same ratio of wins to losses that UCLA currently owns at 5-2).
UCLA’s going to have to step up in countless ways, namely in the secondary on defense and in the trenches on offense. The Bruins will also have to tone down their annoying tendency to commit awful penalties, considering they’re the fifth-most penalized team in the nation with nearly nine a game.
Things have to change and be tweaked for UCLA to come out of this with eight wins and will be lucky to come out of this season with nine wins like some are expecting.
The Bruins have room to grow, though, and there’s reason to be optimistic with younger guys on the squad earning valuable experience to garner enriched development as football players.
Hopefully UCLA’s on the correct trajectory here, and hopefully, fans aren’t going to have to be disappointed when the season is said and done.
Although don’t be surprised if that happens. This is, after all, UCLA fotoball.