Chiccoa: Living in the Present

BRO's football columnist Charles Chiccoa comes to some Zen-like balance in dealing with the UCLA football program...

This may get a bit eccentric, but then things have been pretty strange around here lately.

I must have mentioned I'm not much for football prognosticating, and I've also never taken the vain, self-admiring media very seriously either. I don't bet on football, and I don't care how Dan Patrick, Colin Cowherd or Jim Rome (let alone a name=dropping, celebrity hound like Pat O'Brien) "break it down" for me." These sorts of people are for entertainment purposes only – and precious little of that.

I get particularly annoyed when I hear their sweeping declarations, optimistic or otherwise. It's like being lectured to by some adolescent future pedagogue or relentless telemarketer trying to sell me something I have no use for. Maybe anger is a better word than eccentric. I would hope you, too, may be skeptical of those who overuse the declarative voice. Very often their declarations are either obvious (the conventional wisdom) or, on closer inspection, hair-brained. Some of these people are simply expressing strong emotions of the moment: love, hate, anger, frustration, despair, exhaustion. But, worst of all, are the declarations which are the product of a personal agenda combined with an overweening ego.

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I make it out to Spaulding Field several times a year (though increasingly less so) and, contrary to what some might think, there are actually things to be learned from spring football and preseason practices. But it cannot tell you the most important thing of all, which is how your team will stack up with its regular season opponents. This is due to the nature of the college game, i.e., the fact that coaches and recruiting classes come and go; players develop nicely, year by year… or not; players fall by the wayside, transfer out, or quit the sport because of chronic injuries or for personal reasons; and while some four- or five-star players gradually burn out, some three-star players shine and wind up with a shot at the holiest of holies, The National Football League.

Perhaps the most useful thing to be gleaned from watching practice - that is if you're paying attention and not just b.s.ing the afternoon away - is how certain players compare to their teammates, especially those at the same position. You might also pick up on the difference between "gamers" and practice players. And this stuff doesn't have to coincide with what the coaches appear to believe.

As we never tire of repeating, coaches get themselves booted every year. They make mistakes just like us ordinary folk, not like the intimidating demigods some naïve souls believe them to be. They're also not competing with the collective wisdom of their most ardent fans, which, shorn of sentimentality and naked self-interest, can occasionally, surprisingly, be closer to the mark.

Coaches properly compete with their peers, particularly in their own conference. And in the end, of course, it all comes down to winning.

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While we're going on in this roundabout fashion, I'm sure you've heard the notion, commonly misunderstood from a 19th century philosopher, that history must somehow repeat itself… you know, like Groundhog Day. For example: the circumstances that one war, in all its various particulars, must inevitably repeat those of the last war, or the next war. In so far as we're talking about Bruins football, all I'm saying is why not watch this season unfold naturally - week by week - gradually clarifying over time, instead of declaring that one, two, or three wins is all we can hope for?

A lot of the anguish we're feeling today about prospects for the next ten games, and beyond, are inevitably tied to our expectations coming out of spring and preseason. Loyalists tended to be naturally optimistic, cranks naturally skeptical. So it is and so shall it always be.

For any number of reasons, we're not dealing here with some ordinary football program. UCLA has long been damned as a handy symbol for soft and underachieving west coast football. Today, after decades of fulfilling that stereotype (a dead .500 program since "Miami"), the Bruins are now an afterthought, buried by the media down there with Washington State and Colorado. That UCLA football has been extraordinarily star-crossed no one wants to hear, especially since a great deal of its bad luck has been self-induced.

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A few things we may have learned from San Jose State:

(1) Losing a winnable opener, especially in these dark days, can be a killer at the box office. Patience has run its course. The pitchforks are out.

(2) Rick still doesn't trust his personnel. For good reason? Guess we'll have to see.

(3) Derrick Coleman may be owed a huge apology. Many of us, me included, have been calling for his carries to be cut back and shared out with the other talented tailbacks behind Johnathan Franklin; Saturday night he looked like he should be starting. Sure, it was just SJSU, but no other Bruin played nearly as well. His performance was an eye-opener. To be completely fair, some of us did mention how, along with Joseph Fauria, Coleman was the most improved player out of pre-season.

(4) Richard Brehaut may not be a better option than Kevin Prince, something a lot of us, me included, did not believe. After SJSU, I'm strangely curious to see what Prince can do with another chance. (I can't believe I just wrote that.) To say Prince is prone to injury is like saying a moth is drawn to the flame; but there's no reason to believe Prince isn't smarter than a moth. Perhaps the chance of another start, the possibility of which might have been nil had Brehaut played great Saturday night, might result in Prince wising up. If he does get the start this week, which I suspect he will, perhaps it might work towards him getting down and out of bounds more safely: Slide, Kevin, slide! Bitter experience may also help develop instincts… of a sort. Yeah, Brehaut's performance definitely spooked me.

(5) Joe Tresey may not be who we thought he was, which was a pressure guy rather than a coverage guy. Maybe Rick should have got it in writing. The first red flag came with Tresey's statement to the effect that he prefers not bringing additional pass rushers if he can generate sufficient push from his front four. His liberal use of a four-man rush, even a three-man rush on 3rd-and-long situations, seems to have validated that notion.

(6) The defense didn't seem to make much progress from game one to game two. It doesn't take me to tell you the defensive middle still looks soft, the flanks are still being easily turned, and only Sheldon Price looks dependable in coverage. (The rest of the secondary seems like a hand full of strong safeties.) Despite what J.J. Stokes may think, Tony Dye does not look like a free safety. He completely butchered that pass play at the goal line.

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And so we come to the gloomy atmosphere currently hanging over this program. Can the players really be as undistinguished as they've looked so far? Will Tresey be one and out? (I hope not.) And whose offense is this, anyway? I'll assume Mike Johnson, the OC, is calling the plays (with some "help" by Rick), but the offense does look suspiciously like it may belong to Rick, who has long since become an "unreliable narrator." Whether or not Rick turns out to be hopelessly, deadly conservative, whether or not he's speaking out of desperation and for effect, is beside the point. Because nobody but true believers are still tuned in.

Here's hoping things begin turning around on Saturday. I can't think of a more deserving guy to beat than Mack Brown.


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