Saturday, May 27, 2006
AN ABSURDLY PREMATURE ASSESSMENT OF: UCLA
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SMQ spins the wheel for a hastily-rendered, too-soon look at a random school's prospects for the fall, sans inevitable academic and criminal suspensions, sudden transfers, debilitating injuries and other miscellaneous misfortunes of the long summer
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2005 was a leap forward for previously middling Karl Dorrell - unless winning ten games was preparing his own noose
PAST FIVE SEASONS: 37-24 (22-18 PAC Ten) - 2005: 10-2 (6-2 PAC Ten), Won Sun Bowl
STARTERS BACK, ROUGHLY: 10 (4 Offense, 6 Defense)
WHAT'S CHANGED: Just as he matured and produced the Bruins' first truly elite passing season since Cade McNown's senior effort (and the same 10-2 record, too, though no one was comparing last year's Bruins with the 1998 Rose Bowl/near-mythical championship team), three-year starter Drew Olson graduates and takes all-America-caliber early departures Maurice Drew and Marcedes Lewis along. That duo combined for 6,259 career yards and 60 touchdowns.
On defense, linebacker Spencer Havner's tackles were down in '05 from previous sky-high totals, but he leaves third on the school's career tackle and tackle for loss list since 1975.
WHAT'S THE SAME: The Drews and Lewis were the face of the top notch offense the past two seasons, but a good amount of mostly anonymous talent is back. SMQ has never heard of Chris Markey, Khalil Bell, Joe Cowan, Marcus Everett, Brandon Breazell, Gavin Ketchum or Ryan Moya, but combined they had 2,500 yards and 20 touchdowns last season in the shadows of their more hyped teammates; that group does not include Junior Taylor, injured early in '05 but back for a run at the go-to receiver designation. A lot is going to depend on the new quarterback, sophomore Ben Olson, but the overall production returning is quality and deep, and even if it can't match last year's 39-point average, shouldn't be far behind.
MORMONS IN HOLLYWOOD: Olson (Ben) reportedly almost beat out Olson (Drew) for the starting job after doing the Mormom mission thing and then transferring from BYU, but wound up only throwing four passes in relief duty. This inexperience makes him an unknown commodity, but reasons for hope include his size (6-5, 227) and obvious pro-style physical ability on top of his prep hype, which made Olson (Ben) the highest-rated quarterback among non-Vince Young recruits in 2002. And 'inexperience' does not necessarily equal 'immaturity' - Olson is 23, which makes him the second-oldest active Bruin (he's a month behid senior fullback Danny Nelson) and a candidate for Weinke-level creepiness in two years. In the meantime, Karl Dorrell will settle for Weinke-level results.
THEY ARE BROUGHT DOWN, EVENTUALLY: Telling stat: four of the top five tacklers last year were DBs. Now, no defense looks good in the PAC Ten - SMQ agrees to an extent with Heisman Pundit, who has argued that it's really the success of West Coast offenses more than the incompetence of defenses out there that's responsible for the numbers, though probably only a little bit more - but the Bruins were especially atrocious by any measure on that side of that ball, and specifically didn't come close to considering stopping anyone on the ground. The number 116, as in the national rank of the run defense, was bad enough, but the details were horrifying: three PAC Ten opponents ran for 300 yards, and USC had way over 400. The reasons for this, for one like SMQ who didn't get a good look at UCLA last fall, are hard to fathom, given that the Bruins are appropriately proportioned on the line, above-average in the speed/athleticism category and had a couple very highly regarded linebackers patrolling around (Havner and Justin London, both now gone). So we're talking about some scheme and maybe - this is tough to put a finger on, and much easier for us fly-over folks to levy against a team wearing powder blue in Los Angeles, but a persistent and valid charge nevertheless - heart/toughness issues. If you can still win ten with all that dysfunction, what can you do by improving to just near-competence?
OVERLY OPTIMISTIC POST-SPRING CHATTER: Double-digit victories was not enough to sate the persistent Dorrell-haters at Bruins Nation - not a surprise, really, for guys late of the subtly-named Fire Karl Dorrell - who seem to consider success built on a string of wild comebacks against the league's bottom dwellers and interrupted by the most stunning blowout of the decade somewhat illusory. But in the arena of illusion, that's nothing compared to the Nation's own forecasts of the new Olson - who they call here and elsewhere, seriously, the "Southpaw Jesus" - impact on the program, especially in relation to certain other Los Angeles-based mega schools:
The nine-win barometer makes sense - hell, that's one fewer than last year, when no one could accuse Dorrell of working with "lack of talent at QB," and with an extra regular season game to get there - but the comparison with USC, right now, does not, and if Dorrell's job is said to depend solely on reversing the accumulated momentum of the past five years between these schools by November, nobody worth a damn will be lining up in the winter to fill britches that are probably too big for them, too. Remember, Southern Cal most recently beat UCLA 66-19, and it wasn't that close; with a young team built to win a good bit now and a ton down the road, wouldn't just being reasonably competitive with the Trojans again be enough of a leap for one year? Not for some folks...
REASON FOR HOPE: Olson (Ben) has all the physical tools and experienced surrounding talent to meet
allmost reasonable expectations. The defense couldn't possibly wind up ranking with Sun Belt teams again.
REASON TO BE AFRAID, VERY AFRAID: How much was '05 success, for lack of a more precise term, "lightning in a bottle"? Big Ben is not emerging from the bench fully formed. The defense has been a consistent albatross and hit a low that a lower-octane offense will have a much tougher time overcoming. Skill guys may be adequate, but will they be able to pick up slack for the departed Olson's experience, Maurice Drew's versatility and Lewis' all-around, big play freakosity?
IF THIS TEAM WERE ANY POP CULTURAL, HISTORICAL, POLITICAL, LITERARY OR OTHERWISE NOTABLE FIGURE, IT WOULD BE... Captain Ahab in search of more than a hide in his great white whale, for quite obvious reasons.
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All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things... all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick.
HONESTLY, WITHOUT LOOKING AT THE SCHEDULE, SMQ'S THINKING... Nine wins is certainly not out of this world, though SMQ thinks this looks like an 8-4 kind of team. That may sound like a step back, but given the chips-in-the-right-place way UCLA clawed to last season's success, overall progress - especially in the all-important SC affair - might not necessarily lead to more wins in the short term.
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Previous absurdly premature assessments:
April 3: Central Michigan...April 4: Brigham Young...April 6: Kentucky...April 7: Bowling Green...April 8: Southern Cal...April 11: Rutgers...April 12: Marshall...April 13: Florida State...April 15: San Diego State...April 17: Alabama...April 19: Oregon State...April 20: Buffalo...April 22: NC State...April 23: Arizona ...April 24: Memphis...April 26: Louisiana Tech...Apr il 28: Iowa...April 30: Toledo...May 2: Ohio State...May 3: Mississippi State...May 5: Southern Miss...UL-Lafayette...May 11: Akron...May 13: Michigan State...May 15: Air Force...May 17:Stanford...May 18: Georgia Tech...May 21: Connecticut...May 23: Purdue...May 25: Navy
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