Five questions: BearTerritory.net’s Ryan Gorcey talks Cal

Following back-to-back home losses, UCLA heads to Cal for a game that could stabilize the Bruins’ season — or knock it completely off the rails. The Bruins are a slight favorite, but haven’t won at Memorial Stadium since 1998. Ryan Gorcey, who publishes Scout’s Cal site BearTerritory.net, answered five questions about the Bears.

1. Sonny Dykes’ first season went about as poorly as anyone could have imagined. Does a 4-1 start in 2014 keep his job safe for the next few years, or could a second-half collapse put him in jeopardy again?

Well, 4-1 did wonders not just for the team itself, but also for a lot of folks in the general Cal community. I think there’s certainly evidence that the program is getting turned around, already winning as many games as it has over the past two seasons combined. The Bears are also playing an exciting brand of football, offensively, and the reasoning behind Dykes’s hiring was that he was going to put butts in seats with offense. That hasn’t happened quite yet. That’s a very expensive stadium that the university has to pay off, and the folks buying the most expensive seats aren’t sold on this new order quite yet. That said, Dykes has gotten Cal’s house in order, academically, which was the most significant directive given him when he was brought in. That’s played very well amongst those up top. Now, as far as a collapse, there are two ways it could happen: Cal could get blown out (like they did in the second half of 2007), or the Bears could keep things competitive against very, very good teams in a back-loaded schedule. We all knew that the second half would be tough, but if he can have his team in games at the end, I think folks will start believing.

2. What are the biggest improvements that you’ve seen from quarterback Jared Goff? Do you expect Cal to play Luke Rubenzer more given UCLA’s recent struggles against running quarterbacks?

Goff’s deep ball is much more precise and is incredibly consistent. He throws the back-shoulder fade better than any college quarterback I’ve seen, and wide receiver Kenny Lawler has rightly called it “indefensible.” Continue reading

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Five questions: The Oregonian’s Andrew Greif talks No. 12 Oregon

Coming off its first loss of the season, No. 18 UCLA hosts Oregon on Saturday as both teams try to keep dimming college football playoff hopes alive. The Oregonian’s Andrew Greif answered five questions about the No. 12 Ducks.

1. Shortly before Oregon’s loss to Arizona, Mark Helfrich was dubbed a “quiet genius.” Was that a premature coronation of sorts, or does he simply need more time to guide the Ducks back to Chip Kelly-like levels?

It wasn’t premature to hail his intellect, because he’s regarded as one of the country’s smartest coaches on a pure intelligence level. But how that’s translated to coaching is muddled for critics, who see his 15-3 Pac-12 coaching record and believe that it should be 17-1, at worst. Honestly, he’s in a no-win situation as Chip Kelly’s successor, a point the “Quiet Genius” story deftly told. His 15-2 conference record entering last week’s game against Arizona tied Helfrich for the best conference coaching start since Pappy Waldorf at Cal in 1947. But then Oregon lost, giving him a third conference defeat — as many as Kelly had in his entire four-year run. You can sense Oregon fans getting restless that given all his intellect and talent on the rosters, the Ducks haven’t done more with it.

2. After holding opponents to 4.61 yards per play in 2013 — the seventh-best mark in the country — the Ducks are giving up 5.73 through five games. How much would you attribute the defensive drop-off to the coordinator change (Nick Aliotti to Don Pellum) versus personnel changes/injuries?

Players and coaches are steadfast that the 3-4 scheme has barely changed since Aliotti retired last January, but there is obviously some difference in play calling when a new coordinator takes over as he learns his comfort calling plays. Continue reading

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Five questions: Salt Lake Tribune’s Kyle Goon talks Utah

UCLA returns to the Rose Bowl on Saturday to host Utah, a team that — despite struggling since moving to the Pac-12 — has lost to the Bruins by only a touchdown in their last two meetings. The Salt Lake Tribune’s Kyle Goon answered five questions about the Utes.

1. Utah won four Pac-12 games in 2011, three in 2012, then two in 2013. Even if Kyle Whittingham’s job isn’t truly at risk this season, how much of a leash does he have moving forward?

We don’t have a concrete answer except to say that it is fairly tight. Our columnist Gordon Monson wrote about assistant coaches contracts in August, which haven’t been rolled over as they usually are. It seems like the baseline of success is winning six games and going to a bowl, which the Utes haven’t done in two years. If they don’t meet that standard, it seems the athletic department is poised to make at least big changes on the staff.

Whittingham has built up a lot of faith over the years by winning games and helping Utah be in position to make the Pac-12, and a lot of fans would like to see him stay. Still, many are wondering if he’s the guy who can lead the program to success in the Pac-12 era. He needs to show some kind of progress this year, which at this point is three Pac-12 wins, to keep his seat surely out of the flame.

2. After throwing nearly an interception for every touchdown over his first two seasons, Travis Wilson hasn’t been picked off yet. Does he look like a significantly better quarterback, or is he due for another turnover-heavy game? (Also, is he one bad hit away from potentially risking his career again?)

Two weeks ago, I would’ve said Travis Wilson is significantly better. The two games since have clouded the signs of progress. Continue reading

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Five questions: FOX Sports’ Tyler Lockman talks Arizona State

UCLA opens its conference schedule on Thursday with a big road game at No. 15 Arizona State — a primetime chance for the Bruins to prove themselves still capable of a juggernaut performance. FOX Sports Arizona’s Tyler Lockman answered five questions about the Sun Devils, who are without starting quarterback Taylor Kelly.

1. How do ASU fans feel about Todd Graham two-plus years in? Does he need to show progress after a Pac-12 South title to keep them satisfied?

It’s hard to imagine them feeling any better about Graham in year three. He has overhauled the program’s culture, taken the team to two bowl games, boosted recruiting and gotten unprecedented commitment — financially and otherwise — out of ASU’s administration. That’s all before mentioning the Sun Devils won the Pac-12 South and hosted the conference title game in his second season. On top of it all, he recently backed up his talk of a long-term commitment to ASU by donating $500,000 of his own money to ASU’s stadium renovation fund. How could ASU fans not be happy with him leading the program?

All that good will afford him some breathing room this season. Fans tempered their expectations a bit after ASU lost nine defensive starters to graduation and the NFL following last season, so while Graham and the players expect themselves to at least match last season’s 10-4 finish, fans would probably be pretty happy to see ASU finish with eight or nine wins in what was expected to be a bit of a building year.

2. How does ASU’s defense look after losing nine starters? Might it get exposed against a more potent offense?

It’s hard to tell exactly where the defense is because ASU has so far faced an FCS team (Weber State), a team that runs the triple option offense (New Mexico) and a team that has two conference wins in the past two seasons (Colorado). Continue reading

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Five questions: Austin American-Statesman’s Ryan Autullo talks Texas

In what was supposed to be its first marquee game of the season, UCLA heads to AT&T Stadium to face a Texas squad coming off a 41-7 beating by BYU. Ryan Autullo, who covers Texas for the Austin-American Statesman, answered five questions about the Longhorns.

1. What are the most significant ways that first-year head coach Charlie Strong has changed the program since he arrived?

Strong is trying to eliminate the culture of entitlement that ultimately signaled the downfall of his predecessor, Mack Brown. Under Brown, players rode an air-conditioned bus a half mile to practice. Now they walk. Until late in preseason camp, Strong forbade players from flashing the Horns hand sign. Additionally, the coach ordered the removal of the Longhorns logo from helmets. It’s all about getting tougher as a program and understanding the value of playing at Texas, Strong says.

2. Of all the players Strong has dismissed/suspended, which ones do the Longhorns miss the most?

Great question. I’d say suspensions to offensive tackles Kennedy Estelle and Desmond Harrison hurt the most. Continue reading

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Five questions: 92.9 FM ESPN’s John Martin talks Memphis

UCLA opens its home schedule on Saturday as heavy favorite again, this time preparing to host a Memphis team that hasn’t had a winning season since 2007. John Martin, a columnist and producer for 92.9 FM ESPN, took the time to answer five questions about the Tigers.

1. How do Memphis fans feel about Justin Fuente’s tenure so far? He hasn’t had a winning season yet, but has the program noticeably improved since he arrived?

I think that most Memphis fans are as cautiously optimistic about Fuente as they’ll allow themselves to be. There is a sense of fatalism with the Memphis program, you know. If there’s a football coach here who’s left on his own terms, I can’t think of him. Line ‘em up, knock ‘em down; it’s hard to succeed at Memphis. That history is documented.

With Fuente, it feels different. Since he got the job, I’ve always had the sense he knows football. Like, he’s a real football coach. When Larry Porter, the last guy, was hired, you knew within 30 seconds of his opening press conference that he was in way over his head. Fuente played football at the highest level as a quarterback, which I think gives him an increased understanding of the game.

Beyond that, he’s majorly responsible for the development of Andy Dalton at TCU. Dalton, of course, just signed a $115 million contract. So he has real credibility in that arena, which most Memphis coaches in the past did not come to Memphis with.

As far as the program itself, I know a 3-9 record last season was worse than Fuente’s first year. But it was an awkward situation with senior quarterback and Texas Tech transfer Jacob Karam sitting on the bench behind redshirt freshman Paxton Lynch. In many ways, the locker room was split. And I think some of the upperclassmen who have now exited the program had a lot to do with how the team finished last season. Continue reading

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Five questions: Daily Progress’ Andrew Ramspacher talks Virginia

Leading up to UCLA’s season opener this Saturday at 9 a.m. PT, who better to scout the opponent than a Virginia beat writer? Andrew Ramspacher of The Daily Progress in Charlottesville took the time to answer five questions about the Cavaliers.

How hot is Mike London’s seat right now? Is there a rough performance bar he has to clear in order to keep his job?

You go 6-20 in your last 26 games, you have declining attendance (see an expected crowd in the mid-40,000s Saturday) and you struggle to handle the quarterback situation, your seat is obviously going to be hot. There’s no doubt Mike London is facing some serious heat this season. It’s his fifth year at UVa and the program has gone in the opposite direction after a 2011 campaign in which he took ACC Coach of the Year honors and guided the Cavaliers to eight wins and a trip to the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Virginia administration, despite multiple requests, has chosen to remain mum on the situation, not publicly stating a bar. But I would believe six wins would keep London for a sixth year. Continue reading

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