Monday, November 07, 2005

The Bruins, Dorrell, and His Job Security

The UCLA Bruins were reeling in the offseason after their 24-21 loss to Wyoming in the Las Vegas Bowl. Head coach Karl Dorrell needed to turn around the program in 2005 or face the fact of losing his job after just three seasons. The consensus thought was Dorrell needed to win 8 regular season games and a bowl game to have job security beyond this season.

After examining the schedule in the preseason only the road game at Southern California and the home game versus Oklahoma were against top 10 teams. Landmine games at San Diego State in the opener and at Washington State were a cause of some concern but not daunting. Fellow 2004 Pac Ten bowl teams California, Arizona State, and Oregon State had to come to the Rose Bowl, and Oregon was off the schedule.

The schedule was conducive for Dorrell and the Bruins to have their most successful season since 1998. The Bruin faithful have endured three seasons of Southern Cal Trojan dominance, not only in the Pac Ten but nationally, as well.

Could Dorrell save Bruin football and his job in 2005? The boys at BruinsNation thought so and after an 8-0 start and number 6 spot in the Bowl Championship Series rankings, most of the nation did too. The hype was building for a top 5 showdown of unbeatens between the Bruins and Trojans, but not anymore.

After this past Saturday's 52-14 embarrassment at the hands of Arizona, what is expected of Dorrell and UCLA now? The "necessary" 8 wins have been attained and three games including a bowl remain. Arizona State comes to Pasadena this Saturday, USC finishes off the regular season schedule December 3 in the Coliseum, and more than likely a Big Twelve or Big Ten team will be the opponent in the bowl game.

Arizona State is a shade of their former selves since the injury to star quarterback Sam Keller, but still pose a serious threat to the Bruins. No one, especially now, expects nothing more than a puncher's chance at USC. Depending on the bowl opponent, is it possible UCLA could finish the season 8-4 and unranked?

In the preseason if one would have said UCLA would blow out Oklahoma, and beat Cal on their way to an 8-0 start and no. 5 ranking in the BCS, Karl Dorrell's job would be safe as Fort Knox. Yes, but that same person would have never thought in his or hers worst nightmare that UCLA would lose by 38 points to Arizona, albeit, an 8-0 Bruin team versus an 2-6 Wildcat team.

Looking back over the first 8 victories there have been some good wins but one could argue there have been no big wins. Oklahoma, only in name, registers as a big, but the way the Sooners are playing now compared to September, whose to say UCLA would not suffer a loss in a rematch. Cal was a big win at the time, but the then top ten Bears have lost 3 of 4 and have dropped from the rankings and face the possibility of finishing 6-5. Throw in close wins over sub .500 teams Washington, Washington State, and Stanford, where 4th quarter comebacks were needed, and the 8-0 start does not look so impressive after all.

UCLA has had a good season, and have exceeded many preseason expectations, including mine. However, the Bruins are loaded with talent and were serious national title contenders. The team was living up to their talent, but unfortunately the coaching has let them down. UCLA has two legitimate Heisman Trophy candidates in Maurice Jones-Drew and Drew Olsen, but face the possibility of falling off the national radar if they lose a consecutive game.

Karl Dorrell has the Bruins set for their best season this decade, but this blogger thinks if UCLA doesn't finish 10-2 with a big bowl win he will be shown the door. The only slip up allowed the rest of the way is USC, to the dismay of the Bruin faithful.

It is not far fetched to think UCLA could win out, win a share of the Pac Ten title and a claim a spot in the BCS. The Bruins hung with USC last year, but getting blown out by Arizona exposed UCLA's poor defense. UCLA learned in 1998 a high powered offense can only take you so far without the help of a good defense.

My prediction for the rest of the year rests on the outcome of this Saturday's game against the Sun Devils. If UCLA rebounds and wins, then the game at USC will be for more than just pride. At 9-2 UCLA would be in a good position to claim a spot in the Holiday Bowl if Oregon wins out and somehow gets into the BCS or if the Ducks lose one of their two remaining games. Otherwise, it is hello El Paso.

If UCLA continues to struggle and loses to Arizona State then I do not see the Bruins winning another game this season. An 8-3 record would certainly guarantee a spot in the Sun Bowl, unless Oregon loses its last two games. Right now I peg Northwestern as the opponent for the Pac Ten in El Paso. As good as UCLA is, the defense will not be able to handle a shootout with the Big Ten's Wildcats.

In both scenario's I do not predict a win over USC, and depending on the bowl opponent, UCLA could finish 8-4, 9-3, or 10-2. Dorrell has to win his bowl game this year, no questions asked.

In his first two years, UCLA lost to Fresno State in the Silicon Valley Classic and Wyoming last year. The Bruins will face a BCS opponent in a bowl for the first time in the Dorrell era, that much is guaranteed. Losses to the Bulldogs and Cowboys in the postseason the last two years were not kindly forgiven, and expect the Bruin faithful to demand change even if UCLA loses its bowl to the likes of a Colorado, Texas Tech, Iowa, or Michigan.


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