UCLA

The Fifth Quarter: Week 1 Rewind

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As is the case each and every season, each and every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.

WACK-12
The Pac-12 came into the 2015 season looking to challenge the SEC for conference football supremacy.  While that may end up still being the case, it was a rough Week 1 in myriad regards for the Left Coast league, particularly its northern division.

First and foremost, No. 21 Stanford went into Evanston as heavy favorites only to be upended and upset by Northwestern.  And it wasn’t just that one of the preseason favorites in the North was beaten, it was that they were roughed up by the Wildcats and seemed to play timid on both sides of the ball.  More embarrassingly, a couple of hours later Washington State lost to FCS Portland State, which came into the game a 30-point underdog.

The South contributed to the first-week malaise as No. 15 Arizona State, viewed by some as a darkhorse playoff candidate (sheepishly raises hand), capped off the night with a 20-point loss to unranked Texas A&M.  At least that, though, was a loss to a Power Five school, and one from the stacked SEC West no less, in what was essentially a home game for the Aggies.

Add in Washington’s loss to Boise State — no shame in that — and Colorado’s loss to Hawaii Thursday night — a whole hell of a lot of shame in that — and it turned into a horrific lost weekend for the conference.  That said, remember how many were writing the Big Ten off a year ago at this time?  Yeah, it wouldn’t be wise to repeat that history.

WEAK 1?
If you thought that the Week 1 schedule, especially Saturday, was especially lacking when it came to compelling on-paper matchups, you’re not alone.  In fact, the raw data is sitting right along side you.

Opening weekend, and including the two still remaining, there were/are 87 games involving FBS teams.  Of that, 11 pitted Power Five vs. Power Five (for this exercise, I’m considering BYU a P5); another 47 — more than half — featured FBS teams playing an FCS team.  There were 22 Power Five teams that opened their season against an FCS team, with the ACC far and away leading the cupcake way with seven.  The Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 had four apiece, while the pastry alley that is the late-season SEC lagged behind with three.

There were also 23 games played between Power Five and Group of Five teams.  The SEC accounted for eight of those games, while the Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 saw four each.  The FCS-heavy ACC had three such games.

It wasn’t just the Power Fives feeding on the FCS, though, as 25 Group of Five teams opened against the former Div. 1-AA.  The remaining six games saw Group of Five squads squaring off against each other.

While most of the FBS feasted on their FCS cupcakes, a handful choked on them.  Two that lost to FCS teams were Power Five members in the aforementioned Wazzu and Kansas (South Dakota State, more on that below) and two were Group of Five teams in Army (Fordham) and Wyoming (North Dakota).

BAD BLOOD CHEAP SHOT?
Vernon Adams transferred from Eastern Washington to Oregon earlier this offseason and ultimately earned the Ducks’ starting quarterback job.  As luck would have it, Adams’ current and former teams squared off in the season opener in Autzen Saturday night, and there was one interesting development in UO’s 61-42 win.

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Josh Rosen shines as No. 13 UCLA handles Viriginia

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Behind a true freshman quarterback that played anything like it, No. 13 UCLA cruised past Virginia for a 34-16 victory at the Rose Bowl. Josh Rosen, a California native and No. 1 quarterback recruit in the class of 2015, played flawlessly in his debut, hitting 28-of-35 passes for 351 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions before leaving the game midway through the fourth quarter with victory well in hand for the Bruins.

Virginia opened the scoring with a 42-yard Ian Frye field goal at the 9:19 mark of the first quarter, but Rosen took over from there. He hit Devin Fuller for an easy four-yard scoring strike in the first quarter to give UCLA a lead it would not relinquish, nailed Thomas Duarte for on a gorgeous 30-yard rainbow to put the Bruins up 14-6 midway through the second, and then found Kenny Clark for a three-yard score to push the lead to 31-9 late in the third quarter.

The Cavaliers moved the ball well in the first half but stalled on all three of its scoring opportunities, leading to three Frye field goals and a 17-9 halftime deficit. UCLA’s talented defense, led by lineman Eddie Vanderdoes and linebacker Myles Jack, tightened the screws in the second half. Virginia would not score until the 3:33 mark of the fourth quarter as Matt Johns hit Taquan Mizell for on a 19-yard wheel route to provide the final score.

Mizell provided most of the offense for Virginia, rushing 16 times for 45 yards while also leading the club with eight grabs for 100 yards and the aforementioned touchdown. Johns completed 21-of-35 passes for 238 yards with a score and a pick.

Another true freshman, Soso Jamabo, led UCLA in rushing, racking up 79 yards on his nine mom-up carries. Pac-12 leading returning rusher Paul Perkins totaled 59 yards on 14 attempts while leading the club with 58 yards on his five receptions. In addition to making good decisions with the ball, Rosen spread the wealth; 11 different Bruins recorded receptions on the day.

UCLA (1-0) heads to UNLV next week, while Virginia (0-1) heads home to face, gulp, No. 11 Notre Dame in the second of three games against ranked foes in the month of September.

No. 13 UCLA leading Virginia at the half

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No. 13 UCLA leads visiting Virginia 17-9 at the midway point at the Rose Bowl.

True freshman Josh Rosen has looked every bit like the No. 1 true freshman in the country, hitting 17 of his 23 passes for 175 yards and both of UCLA’s touchdowns. Pac-12 leading returning rusher Paul Perkins has added 30 rushing yards on six carries and 58 receiving yards on five grabs. Thomas Duarte has two grabs for 46 yards, including a 30-yard touchdown on a beautiful Rosen lob.

UCLA had a chance to extend the lead to 21-9 just before the brake, but Rosen overshot an open Duarte from the Virginia seven with seven seconds remaining, leaving the Bruins to settle for a 25-yard Kai Fairbairn field goal.

For Virginia, Matt Johns has completed 12-of-15 passes for 133 yards, and Taquan Mizell has led the Cavs’ ground and air efforts with 10 carries for 29 yards and five grabs for 64 yards. Virginia has moved the ball successfully (177 total yards) but stalled each time it neared the end zone, leading to three Ian Frye field goals.

 

CFT 2015 Preseason Preview: Pac-12 Predictions

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As the 2015 season draws near, we peek into our crystal ball and guess project how each of the five major conferences will play out. Today, we will be examining the home of the defending national champion, the Big Ten. 

And while we’re at it, check out some of our other Power Five conference predictions HERE (ACC) and HERE (Big 12) and HERE (Big Ten) as the CFT team continues to take its month-long glimpse of the upcoming season.

PAC-12 NORTH

1. Oregon (Last year: 13-2, lost to Ohio State in College Football Playoff national championship game)

First thing’s first, replacing Marcus Mariota is not exactly easy for Mark Helfrich. The Heisman Trophy winner from a year ago leaves big shoes to fill. Fortunately, Oregon added one of the top quarterbacks in the nation to transfer schools this offseason with Vernon Adams leaving FCS powerhouse Eastern Washington to join the Ducks (he is now listed as the starter). The transition will go well enough for Oregon’s offense to continue making big things happen, especially with Royce Freeman looking to join the young crop of running backs expected to have a big season. The good news is Adams has a pretty solid offensive line back with starting experience, but road trips to Michigan State and Arizona State will be tough to return home with wins. Oregon finishes the season with two wins, which puts last year’s national runner-up on the fringe of the playoff conversation at the end of the season.

2. Stanford (Last year: 8-5, beat Maryland in Foster Farms Bowl)

Stanford will once again be Oregon’s biggest threat in the Pac-12 North this season, while Washington takes some time to rebound and Cal’s defense a major work in progress. Defense will be the consistent key to the Cardinal this season even though it returns just a small handful of starters from last season. The biggest concern for Stanford last season was a slow-starting offense. The offense finally started to click at the end of the year and must get off to a better start this year. Kevin Hogan has nearly his entire starting offensive line back this fall, and Stanford should have a decent running game to work with. Stanford gets Oregon at home and an early road trip to USC could be a toss-up.

3. Washington (Last year: 8-6, lost to Oklahoma State in the Cactus Bowl)

I still believe good things are coming to Washington under Chris Petersen. I just think this is a step back before the Huskies start stepping forward. There are just too many holes on the roster right now after losing a load of talent to the NFL. Give Petersen some time though and Washington should be an improved team in 2016. This season could get off to a rough start on the road against Boise State and a home game against Utah State. Good for the Mountain West Conference. Not so good for the Pac-12. Washington also gets USC, Oregon and Stanford in consecutive weeks in the middle of the year. Ouch.

4. California (Last year: 5-7)

No win total will justify how fun this team will be to watch this season. The offense is there with Jared Goff leading the offense. The defense is a different story, as it will struggle to slow down anybody. Cal suffered some close calls last season. Getting to six wins is not impossible if the Bears can get off to a fast start. I’m just not sure if they will do that. A 1-3 record before hosting Washington State is what I’m seeing in the cards, and that cannot happen if Cal is to go bowling this season.

5. Oregon State (Last year: 5-7)

Mike Riley left for Nebraska, and he may have taken the good vibes with him this season. In steps Gary Andersen, fresh off a 59-0 beatdown at the hands of Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game last year. Andersen is a good enough coach to make Oregon State do some good things, but his defense returns just two starters and he inherits an unstable quarterback situation lacking in experience. They may be up and down in the first half of the season but they run into a wall starting with, believe it or not, Colorado.

6. Washington State (Last year: 3-9)

The Mike Leach experiment at Washington State may come to a close soon if things do not show promise and progress this season in Pullman. After winning just three games last season, the Cougars added some junior college experience to the roster this season. If Leach can channel his inner Bill Snyder (whom Leach once called a sorcerer), maybe the Cougars can scratch together enough wins to reach the postseason. I’m not sure I see enough of those wins though, especially in Pac-12 play.

PAC-12 SOUTH

1. Arizona State (Last year: 10-3, beat Duke in Sun Bowl)

The Sun Devils do few things extraordinarily well, and getting out of the Pac-12 South unscathed will be difficult for every team in the division. So it must be the schedule, right? You may actually like Arizona State’s chances in the opener against Texas A&M in Houston, and they get USC at home a few weeks later. Tough road tests at UCLA and Utah before the bye week are not automatic losses, although those games could spell trouble. Fortunately for Arizona State,they score an upset at home on a Thursday night after a bye week against Oregon (setting up an eventual rematch in the Pac-12 championship game) and they will not lose again in the regular season. Quarterback Mike Bercovici finds a comfort level with receiver D.J. Foster as the Sun Devils put a streak together at the perfect time. While all that is happening, cannibalism within the division will help place Arizona State on top of the pile.

2. USC (Last year: 9-4, beat Nebraska in Holiday Bowl)

The Trojans were tabbed the media preseason favorite at Pac-12 media days. Sure, USC looks attractive, but don’t we need to see some more consistency out of Cody Kessler and to see Steve Sarkisian win a big game before buying into the hype? Throw in the fact this is a tough division, is anybody sure USC gets out of it without a couple of losses along the way? That said, they are in the running for the Pac-12 South crown, but I do not see them getting by Arizona State on the road the week after hosting Stanford. I have USC splitting those two games, but it could just as well end up being an 0-2 setback heading into the bye week (sure, I suppose it could also be 2-0). I also think USC comes back from South Bend with a loss to Notre Dame and a road game at Oregon is a probable loss as well.

3. Utah (Last year: 9-4, beat Colorado State in Las Vegas Bowl)

Utah is my wild card team in the Pac-12 South this season because they play what may be the best defense in the division, if not the conference. Utah will be extremely difficult to beat at home, but three tough road games ultimately hold Utah back from reaching the Pac-12 championship game (Oregon, USC, Arizona). I do think things get off to a good start at home against Michigan, spoiling Jim Harbaugh‘s debut as head coach of the Wolverines, and the next week against Chuckie Keeton and Utah State. They even get a chance to knock off Arizona State at home in the middle of the season. Potential is there, but the offense needs to keep its foot on the gas to make any run.

4. Arizona (Last year: 10-4, lost to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl)

After coming up small against Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl last season, the Wildcats still look to be moving forward. Anu Solomon is one of the top quarterbacks in the conference and should be ready for a big season with Caleb Jones back as his go-to receiver. The offensive and defensive lines have some holes to plug, but the Wildcats have linebacker Scooby Wright III at linebacker to pick up the slack in the middle of the defense. What I do not like about Arizona is the schedule. Arizona plays 12 straight games without a bye week. It will be a grind, but Arizona is capable of being in the hunt in this crazy division and may be welcoming that bye week at the end of the season if things fall into place again this fall. I think the final four games could be hitting a wall for Arizona though, as I have them losing three of the final four games (three of the final four on the road).

5. UCLA (Last year: 10-3, beat Kansas State in the Alamo Bowl)

The Bruins were the trendy pick last summer. Now it seems we are taking a much more scaled-back stance on UCLA. But why? UCLA returns a ton of starters from a year ago and has added a new defensive coordinator in Tom Bradley that should help. The talent is there with just one key position to address; quarterback. If Josh Rosen can step right in and have an impact, UCLA will be a contender in this competitive division. But freshmen, even the great ones, can make mistakes. Rosen has the hype, and there is a good chance to get comfortable early on with home games against Virginia and BYU and a road game at UNLV. UCLA can play itself into controlling the fate of the Pac-12 South coming down the stretch, but back-to-back road games at Utah and USC to end the season is not an easy draw.

6. Colorado (Last year: 2-10)

Colorado is not going to return to its 1990s powerhouse form in 2015, but we should see some signs of continued progress with the program under Mike MacIntyre. Colorado has a chance to enter October with a winning record, which would be a promising start. The Buffs return nine starters on defense and six on offense, so the hope is experience helps develop some talent to continue being competitive. Colorado lost some close calls last season. If they can turn a couple of those close games the other way, Colorado and a bowl trip is not out of the mix. Seriously.

PAC-12 CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

Oregon over Arizona State

Oregon remains my team to beat, and they could be hitting a stride just at the right time by the time the conference championship game comes around. Oregon would be playing in the title game for the third time in five seasons while Arizona State would be in the game for the second time in three years. Oregon’s offense once again leads the way, but Arizona State gives them a run.

The Rosen One: Bruins hitch hopes to hyped QB cub as starter

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If UCLA is to live up to the lofty post-Brett Hundley preseason expectations, the Bruins, at least offensively and initially, will do so with a very raw youngin’ under center.

Even as it involves a true freshman, Jim Mora confirmed what many had expected as he officially anointed Josh Rosen as his starting quarterback Wednesday night. Less than a year removed from high school, Rosen will make his first collegiate start Sept. 5 at home in the Rose Bowl against Virginia.

Rosen had been in a competition with redshirt juniors Jerry Neuheisel and Mike Fafaul, but it became apparent to the coaching staff throughout spring practice and on into summer camp that the trigger should be pulled on the young gun.

“At some point it just becomes apparent to you,” Mora said. “You get a gut feeling. You’ve seen enough. You say it’s time to make a decision and let’s go.”

When it comes to recruiting pedigrees, it’d be hard to find one more distinguished than Rosen’s.

A five-star 2015 recruit who enrolled early and went through spring ball, Rosen was rated as both the No. 1 pro-style quarterback in the country as well as the No. 1 player at any position in the talent-rich state of California. Overall, Rivals.com had the St. John Bosco product as the No. 2 player in the country regardless of position.

While Rosen’s FBS baptismal will come at home against a suspect Virginia, his feet will be really put to the fire by, after a Week 2 matchup against UNLV, a four-game stretch that opens with a defensively-stout BYU in the Rose Bowl followed up by back-to-back-to-back Pac-12 games against ranked opponents: at Arizona, home against Arizona State and at Stanford.

Even if Rosen struggles through that gauntlet, Mora has let it be known that this is the freshman’s offense and he doesn’t have to worry about looking over his shoulder.

“I made it very clear I’m a one quarterback type of coach,” Mora said. “I like to put a guy in that position, support the heck out of him, hope he has success, and rally around him if he’s struggling.”

(Photo credit: UCLA athletics)