The Battle for the Golden State
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California beat Washington State 66-3 Saturday – on the road. Southern California beat Virginia 52-7 last Saturday – on the road. And UCLA beat Tennessee in a thrilling OT game in Rick Neuheisel’s first game as Bruin Coach, igniting a celebration to a fan base and program just waiting to explode. The state of California has three very good football teams at the moment, and the Trojans of USC are going to have to fight for the state title this year!
Obviously, Pete Carroll and Southern California are the class of not only the state of California, but also the Pac-10. They have appeared in the national championship game several times in the Carroll era, bringing home the crown in 2004 and playing for it twice more. The Trojans are a national contender every season, and this will be no different in 2008. USC was more than impressive against Virginia, 3,000 miles from LA. The game was over quick and easy with USC racking up well over 500 yards of offense and quarterback Mark Sanchez throwing for three scores and 338 yards.
UCLA has been second fiddle college-football wise to USC since Carroll arrived in LA in 2001. The Bruins have defined mediocrity the last 8 seasons, averaging 7.5 wins per year. The lone big year was 2005, when the Bruins went 10-2 and won the Sun Bowl. Neuheisel, a UCLA alumnus, looks to do better than his two predecessors. Bob Toledo, who went 49-32 from 1996-2002, and Karl Dorrell, who guided UCLA to a 35-27 mark from 2002-2007, were not the solution for the Bruins. The last Bruin Pac-10 title came in 1998, when they went 8-0 in Pac-10 play, and won the second of back- to-back Pac-10 championships.
The talent at UCLA isn’t bad, but it isn’t what exists across town. QB Kevin Craft looks to have the guts it will take to lead the offense, however. Playing his first ever game in the gold and blue, Craft rallied his team with drives of 80 and 78 yards late in the second half in the season opening win over Tennessee. That kind of poise is what Neuheisel is looking for in his quarterback. The win over UT will do wonders for the confidence of this program. The SEC is clearly the top conference in America, and for UCLA to get a win over a big-time school from that league such as Tennessee is huge for the Neuheisel rebuilding effort.
And speaking of teams who defeated Tennessee to open the season, let’s not forget about Cal, who beat the Vols to open the 2007 season. The Bears, who were in the top 5 until they hit a mid-year slide a year ago, seem to be ready to take their frustrations out on this year’s opponents. They placed a 66-3 beat down on home-team Washington State Saturday after defeating Michigan State, 38-31, the week before. Cal has signified that they have some players and are ready to play. Jeff Tedford, who arrived in Berkeley in 2002, has a record of 51-26 as the leader of the Bears and is coming off of a 42-36 win over Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl. Still Cal, just like UCLA, has yet to breakthrough since Pete Carroll raised the bar upon arriving in the Pac-10.
So, who will take the state title of California in 2008? The easy money is to take USC, and that is who I think will win it. But my second choice would be Neuheisel and UCLA. The Bruins knocked off Southern Cal just a couple of seasons back, and have the talent to do it again. And if Cal continues to put up the offense they have, don’t count them out either. This will be a great round-robin to watch in the Pac-10 in 2008!
When they play:
October 15th – UCLA at Califronia
November 11th - California at USC
December 6th – USC at UCLA
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