After a down 2008 season, when the Bruins failed to be bowl-eligible for the first time since 1999 (yes, that does include the whole Karl Dorrell era), they bounced back in 2009, recording a winning season and their first bowl win since 2005, taking down Temple. In 2010, they're hoping to take another step forward, though after the loss of a number of key players from 2009's squad, they're more likely to take a step backward before hopefully making a good move in 2011, which will likely be the "judgment season" for the Neuheisel era.
The UCLA offense returns a bunch of starters from a unit that has struggled a lot the last few years, and should be improved in 2010, though it probably won't be good enough to be a serious strength.
The passing game should be the main weapon of the Bruins, as they've got a pair of good receivers in Nelson Rosario and Taylor Embree, plus two returning quarterbacks with some experience, Kevin Price and Richard Brehaut. However, Kevin Price has been battling some back injury issues over the summer, and if this affects him going into the season, they could be in for trouble, as Brehaut has very little experience and didn't show much in 2009 when given the chance. The offensive line also has some "injury" issues, with Stan Hasiak and Jeff Baca ruled academically ineligible for 2010.
The running game should improve from 2009's poor showing (good against Kansas St and Wazzu, a non-factor in most other games), with Jonathan Franklin having an extra year of experience under his belt, and a number of talented backs pushing for playing time. If the line can hold up (a big if), this might not be as big of a weakness as most would project.
As usual, defense should be UCLA's strength in 2010, though it seems likely that the unit will take a step back in 2010 after suffering a number of personnel losses.
The run defense looks like a concern, having lost key defenders Reggie Carter, Brian Price and Korey Bosworth. However, there is still plenty of talent left, led by linebacker Akeem Ayers. This unit should be a bit below average for the league, but maybe not by much if the newcomers at defensive tackle and linebacker can hold their own.
Last year, the pass defense was pretty good, never giving up more than 350 yards and yielding a boatload of picks (including an amazing TEN by Safety Rahim Moore). They will lose star corner Alterraun Verner, but they keep Moore, and Hester and Price should be a good pair of corners. This won't be the Pac-10's best pass defense, but it could be pretty close.
Potentially Huge Upset Win:
Washington. The Bruins have had a lot of success against the Huskies this decade, and this matchup is closer than it looks at first glance. UCLA should have a strong secondary, and has a shot of turning the game into a 13-10 type of contest. With a couple key plays here and there, they could be on the winning side end of that one.
Potentially Huge Upset Loss:
Only Washington St would even qualify as a "huge upset loss", and I don't see that one happening in 2010. That said, did you know that from 2001 forward, UCLA is a mere 3-5 against Washington St, and that they've lost that game every time the Cougars have been even close to as good as the Bruins? If UCLA takes a step back and the Cougars improve, then that could conceivably be bad news, though even so it seems like a big reach to me.
My original take on this team was that the offense should be a bit better, the defense a bit worse, and that they'd be about as good as 2009 with a similar record, probably a game less due to a substantially tougher non-conference slate (a repeat of 3-0 is highly unlikely in 2010), and two of their closest league matchups (U-Dub and ASU) on the road. However, recent news has made me less optimistic about this team. They should still be decent, but a .500 record is a reach against this nightmare of a schedule. I'm projecting them to drop two wins and go 4-8; that said, I wouldn't be surprised by anything between three and six wins for this team, so a bowl game is at least possible if enough breaks go their way.
It may be an overstatement to say that in 2010, the USC Trojan football program is at a crossroads, but it's easy to see why many think that is the case. They are facing severe sanctions from the Pete Carroll era that (if not changed on appeal) could severely affect their roster the next couple seasons. They suffered a very lackluster 2009 campaign, including ass-kickings at the hands of Oregon and Stanford. They're bringing in a whole new coaching regime, with Pete Carroll out and Lane Kiffin in. They lose a bunch of starters, and in many ways need to start from scratch. On the other hand, they still have an enormous amount of talent, and are still very much a force to be reckoned with. More than any other Pac-10 program, USC is the big question mark that really could go either way this year.
Even without Joe McKnight, Damian Williams, Anthony McCoy and a bunch of linemen, there's still a great deal of talent here. Quarterback Matt Barkley didn't have a great freshman season, throwing 15 TD's and 14 picks, but ought to be better in 2010. While the leading receivers are gone, the ones left should still be pretty good. The big question is the offensive line; without most of the starters (and now without potential starting tackle Seantrel Henderson), it's hard to say whether or not this will be an effective unit. If they do well, Barkley should be fine, but if they have issues, the passing game could even take a step back from last year's unusually down performance.
The run game is much the same story. Losing Joe McKnight hurts, but Allen Bradford is very good, and there are plenty of other talented backs who will, as usual, push for playing time. If the line is good enough, this will be a very strong running game. And if the line isn't, it'll be pretty mediocre.
Despite a number of losses (especially star safety Taylor Mays), the defense should still be very strong. The front seven will once again be elite on the national level, led by a fantastic linebacker corps, with Smith, Galippo and Morgan all being very good players. The line should also be strong, led by star tackle Furrell Casey and end Nick Perry.
The pass defense will take a step back, but should still be quite good. TJ Bryant and Shareece Wright aren't corners with a great deal of experience, but they're both quite talented, as are the starting safeties. Like the line on offense, the secondary is raw but talented, and how they go will ultimately determine how good the defense is.
Potentially Huge Upset Win:
Not applicable. If Oregon was on the road I'd say that would qualify, but at home that should be somewhere around a tossup.
Potentially Huge Upset Loss:
USC has an interesting three-game set against Washington, Stanford and Cal before their first bye. Each of those teams could potentially take advantage of USC's secondary and/or offensive line if there are issues in either units. Each individual game should be a win, but 2-1 in that set is entirely possible. Another potentially tough test is at Oregon St, who's beaten USC the last two times the game was played in Corvallis. It's a late-season game, which means that Katz should be decent by then, and there's an enormous amount of talent and speed on that team, so that could easily turn into a loss.
USC has clearly slipped a bit, but until proven otherwise, they are still a major power in the league. The talent is a bit too raw to project them to win the league, but it's definitely possible (though of course they won't be eligible for the Rose Bowl even if they do finish first). It's likely that they improve only slightly from 2009's record this year with a bigger improvement in 2011, but you should never count out this program.
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