Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports
As the college football season slowly creeps closer, anticipation is building in Westwood for a UCLA team teetering on the edge of relevance.
The Bruins are expected to make another large stride under second-year head coach Jim Mora in 2013, but an important piece of that equation will be performance at home. UCLA has six games at the Rose Bowl, including two should-win non-conference games and two against the lowest tier of the Pac-12.
The season opener vs. Nevada is no cake walk—just ask Cal how the unveiling of new Memorial Stadium went last year—but the Bruins still come out as 13-point favorites. If UCLA can get past the Wolf Pack, the next home test would come in the form of a textbook gimme.
The boys in blue will welcome New Mexico State on Sept. 21, hopefully riding high after a big win in Lincoln, to close out the non-conference slate. Because the Aggies went 1-11 without a win over an FBS opponent in 2012, something tells me the Bruins will be fine in Week 4.
At this point in the season, UCLA could be undefeated at 3-0, and should be at worst 2-1. When the Bruins host the aforementioned Golden Bears to continue the home schedule in Week 6, it’ll be their last chance to get an easy win for a while.
Medical staff help California Golden Bears quarterback Zach Maynard (15) off the field, Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Despite the fact that Cal clobbered its UC counterpart in Berkeley last year, the Bruins are the odds-on favorite in this game too. The Bears finished with a 3-9 record, counting UCLA as their only notable win all season. In 2013, they’ll have to cope with the firing of Jeff Tedford, the loss of star wideout Keenan Allen (plus major pieces of the secondary), and uncertainty under center.
Unless new head coach Sonny Dykes can settle the dispute at QB quickly, it would seem the Bruins can take care of business at home. And they better—the next two weeks will define what kind of team this could be.
Following the huge matchups in Palo Alto and Eugene, UCLA will look to either recover or race to the finish depending on their results. The Bruins face another Pac-12 doormat in Pasadena the following week as Colorado makes it way out West.
In the two seasons that the Buffs have been in the league, UCLA owns a 2-0 record with a combined score advantage of 87-20. Frankly, the Bruins aren’t known for that kind of destruction, so Colorado must be pretty terrible. With a new head coach in Mike McIntyre, CU will try to start rebuilding this year, but the Buffaloes are a ways away from competing with the contenders.
By now, UCLA very well could be 4-0 at the Rose Bowl, ready to take on their toughest home opponents yet. The Washington Huskies will visit on Friday, Nov. 15 (a game televised on ESPN2), followed a week later by the Arizona State Sun Devils.
The Bruins haven’t faced UW in two years and they lost in the last meeting in Seattle in 2010. This year, UCLA will look to refresh the rivalry by sending senior QB Keith Price home empty handed. After once having Heisman buzz about him, Price has faltered in the later stages of his career and needs a strong final campaign to salvage it.
This will be the first true measuring stick for UCLA on its home turf, though previous road trips will have already shined some light. If the Bruins can knock off the Huskies in front of a national audience on Friday night, it could be the jumping off point for a big finish in the last two games.
At a potential 5-0 at home, UCLA would be set up for Senior Night vs. Arizona State in what will likely be a critical Pac-12 South matchup. The last two meetings have come down to a last-second FG attempt, and with the Sun Devils steadily improving under Todd Graham, this year could be more of the same.
Arizona State Sun Devils quarterback Taylor Kelly (10), Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
ASU has a solid defense—much like UCLA—and also has an emerging star signal caller in redshirt junior Taylor Kelly. He’s no Brett Hundley as far as I can see, but Kelly is a legit talent who can make Arizona State a force to be reckoned with. If the Bruins can close out their home schedule undefeated with a victory over a possibly-ranked ASU, it would be the penultimate triumph of the regular season.
After all, the final game of the year is, as it is supposed to be, against Southern Cal. It may not be a home game on the schedule, but if recent trends continue, the Coliseum could be Rose Bowl South for UCLA before you know it. Okay, maybe that’s a little hasty…but I still like the Bruins’ chances.
The Trojans notwithstanding, a perfect home record is completely attainable for UCLA in 2013. It’s almost a necessity really, given how challenging the road will be. If the Bruins do drop a game to ASU or Washington, that wouldn’t be the worst of things. But if unexpected losses like Nevada or Cal start popping up, Mora’s second season could be a smaller step than we’re hoping for.