UCLA’s upset of Southern California in its regular season finale last year was so hyped that it’s easy to forget the Bruins were later embarrassed by Florida State in the lower-tier Emerald Bowl.
However, with 10 starters back on each side of the ball, the Bruins look to not only improve on last year’s 7-6 record but also compete with their crosstown rivals for the Pac-10 title.
“With the experience that’s coming back into our program, we have great expectations for the season,” said coach Karl Dorrell, who is entering his fifth year in Westwood. “We have a great deal of experience back on both sides of the ball. That gives us a great chance … of being the type of team we can be.”
The Bruins were the type of team Dorrell thinks it can be in 2005 when it capped a 9-2 regular season with a Sun Bowl win over Northwestern. But they slid back to mediocrity last season — except on that one magical day in the Rose Bowl when they upset the Trojans 13-9.
If anything has slowed the Bruins’ accent under Dorrell it’s been inconsistency on offense. UCLA scored just 23 points per game last season and this summer brought in its fourth different offensive coordinator in Dorrell’s five seasons.
After a long pursuit, Dorrell finally landed former Raiders assistant and Nebraska offensive coordinator Jay Norvell as his offensive play caller.
“He and I speak the same language,” Dorrell said. “It might be a little bit long, but he’s the only one who understands exactly what my expectations are … He’s very demanding and he’s going to get our offense up and going.”
In his attempt to resuscitate the Bruins’ offense, Norvell will have a pair of veteran quarterbacks available to him.
Highly recruited junior Ben Olson started five games last fall before suffering a season-ending knee injury to open the door for fellow junior Patrick Cowan to finish the year. Neither distinguished himself as a sophomore, but Olson won the starting job in the spring.
He will have plenty of veterans surrounding him as the starting lineup suffered only the departures of the center and a defensive end from last year. That sort of experience tends to give a team an advantage — at least on paper.
“It’s not just about what’s on paper that wins football games,” Dorrell said. “It’s also about being able to perform at a consistently high level if you want to be a team that is a factor in who wins this conference.”
2006 record: 7-6, 5-4 in Pac-10
Head coach: Karl Dorrell (29-21 in four seasons)
Returning starters: 21 (10 offense, 10 defense, one kicker)
Five guys to eye: S Chris Horton (Sr.), DL Bruce Davis (Sr.), RB Chris Markey (Sr., 1,107 yards, two TDs), OL Shannon Tevaga (Sr.), CB Trey Brown (Sr.)
Schedule: Sept. 1 at Stanford, Sept. 8 vs. BYU, Sept. 15 at Utah, Sept. 22 vs. Washington, Sept. 29 at Oregon State, Oct. 6 vs. Notre Dame, Oct. 20 vs. California, Oct. 27 at Washington State, Nov. 3 at Arizona, Nov. 10 vs. Arizona State, Nov. 24 vs. Oregon, Dec. 1 at Southern California
UCLA will succeed if: Junior quarterback Ben Olson plays to the level expected of him when he was a hotly recruited prep prospect.
UCLA will fail if: Its offense continues to struggle under its fourth coordinator in five years.