Weekly Q&A — 11/11/14 Answers

Q: UW is not a great team; rocked by injuries, dismissals and the travails of a first year coach … but yet the Bruin’s victory over UW is being billed as the Bruins first “complete game”. Do you think that will lead to overconfidence going into the SC game in a couple of weeks?

A: I don’t think it’ll necessarily lead to overconfidence given the stakes of the rivalry, but I do think that UCLA’s win over Washington has been a little overrated — particularly with the Bruins jumping seven spots to No. 11 in the playoff rankings. It was a solid victory, but UW wasn’t an overpowering team to begin with, had just dismissed its best cornerback, and was playing its best linebacker mostly at running back. That said, I do think UCLA is very much a top-15 team, just one that’s also benefited from a slight break in the schedule.

Q: After the last two games, I’m conflicted on Jeff Ulbrich. I had thought he needed more training in another job elsewhere before taking on the DC spot … but since Arizona, the defense has been playing better, meaning Ulbrich is adapting, learning … what’s your take? Should he be encouraged to go elsewhere or will his on-the-job training be a good investment?

A: Even when the defense looked worse at midseason, I didn’t think Ulbrich was/should’ve been at significant risk of being pushed out. Continue reading

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Weekly Q&A — 11/3/14 Answers

Q: What are the odds of UCLA winning their next three games at this point? Assuming that does happen, is it better for UCLA not to play in the Pac-12 title game enhancing their chances of landing a “New Year’s Six” bowl or wish for a rematch against Oregon but risk falling to the Alamo or Holiday Bowl with a third loss? Can UCLA even make the playoffs as Pac-12 champs despite an 11-2 record?

A: UCLA’s chances at winning out the regular season actually don’t look half bad given its defensive resurgence against Arizona. Stanford and Washington have both struggled on offense recently, and it’s hard to imagine the Bruins playing sloppily against USC — particularly considering that they get a bye week beforehand. Even a worst-case scenario for UCLA now looks like going 1-2 the rest of the way.

But the Bruins aren’t going to make it to a “New Year’s Six” bowl without making it to the Pac-12 title game. The Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl are playoff semifinal games this year, so they’re obviously out of the picture. The Orange Bowl still has tie-ins with the ACC and the SEC/Big Ten/Notre Dame. That leaves the Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and Peach Bowl — one of which will be filled by the highest-ranked “Group of Five” mid-major conference champion. With just five more spots, there’s almost no way the selection committee will pick a two-loss team that couldn’t make the Pac-12 title game.

As for the playoff … even assuming UCLA wins out convincingly and beats a top-five Oregon team at Levi’s Stadium, it’ll still need a lot of other teams to lose. It’s not impossible, but there’s little purpose in hoping for a playoff berth given where the Bruins currently stand. Continue reading

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Weekly Q&A — 10/28/14 Answers

Q: Jim Mora’s “50-0 ass-kicking” comment has caused a bit of a kerfuffle among the Bruin faithful… Can you provide some context to his comment? It sounds pretty defensive — what was going on in the press conference, and what was said prior to his comment?

A: The exact question that prompted the “50-0″ comment was a general one about depth. Mora said that the team has improved there, but then progressed into talking about how the team is still very young — and in light of that, how much it has been able to accomplish in 2.5 years.

There really wasn’t anything particularly contentious during the Sunday conference call leading up to that mini-rant, though. Mora was initially asked about the team’s health heading into November; he said he wasn’t happy with it, and named Darren Andrews, Steve Manfro, Kenny Orjioke, Randall Goforth and Johnny Johnson as some “big names” that aren’t playing. Then he took couple of questions about the offensive line, where he said was one spot where UCLA actually has good depth now. Then one question about defensive consistency, then the one that pushed him to bring up the 2011 loss to USC.

So it doesn’t seem like the actual questions on Sunday set him off. More likely, he had read/heard what people thought of UCLA’s struggles over the past couple of weeks despite its wins and some frustration bubbled over.

Q: To what extent do you think UCLA’s participation in “The Drive” has put a target on their backs, with opposing teams wanting to look their best on a show the entire Pac-12 is watching? It seems UCLA is surprised by what their opponents are bringing to the field every week.

A: I don’t think the show itself has been a significant factor in UCLA’s struggles. But all the preseason hype about being a playoff contender? Definitely. Reaching the four-team playoff was always going to be a best-case scenario even before this team’s flaws got exposed once the season started, but when ESPN started picking them to win the national title — that’s when it got completely out of control. The bar was set too high, though this team is still underperforming considering the amount of talent on the roster. Continue reading

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