Prediction: California 34, UCLA 30
The last time the Bruins played a close game was back on Sept. 28 against the Wildcats.
That matchup between UCLA football and Arizona over two months ago was the last time the final point differential was in single digits, but despite that, I have continued to predict one-possession games week in, week out.
I’ll lean toward a close game again this week, just for old time’s sake.
However, part of me thinks the Bruins are at risk of getting blown out because of defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro’s consistently poor pass defense and some drama behind the curtain. Rumors have swirled all week about coach Chip Kelly potentially parting ways with UCLA after several heated discussions about changing up his coaching staff.
The validity of those reports is up in the air, and they were dismissed by other sources Saturday morning, but it isn’t exactly hard to believe that higher-ups would be looking for a change on defense.
California could line up at the UCLA 1-yard line and have quarterback Chase Garbers throw a screen pass to a receiver, only for that receiver to run 99 yards the other way for an intentional safety, and the Bruins would still end the season allowing the most passing yards per game in program history.
Garbers could run that play four times, and that would still be the case.
Cal’s offense isn’t good enough to score seven touchdowns like USC and Utah did, but with Garbers back at full strength, the Golden Bears will be able to do a notable amount of damage.
Sophomore quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson played well enough against the Trojans to convince me he’ll have another good performance Saturday, and redshirt senior running back Joshua Kelley is sure to end his UCLA career on a high note, but I don’t think they will do enough on their own for the Bruins to come away with a victory.
Football beat reporter
Prediction: UCLA 27, California 17
My predictions have been way off this season, but I’m confident in this one.
Even after being eliminated from postseason eligibility, the Bruins are going to be motivated against the Golden Bears because they owe this game to the seniors.
UCLA’s senior class is loaded with guys who are easy for fans to root for, such as redshirt senior linebacker Josh Woods and redshirt senior running back Joshua Kelley.
Woods has battled all the way back from a season-ending knee injury in 2018 to play in every game this year, while Kelley has never failed to maintain his signature smile – regardless of what is happening with the team on the field.
This year’s senior class also played an integral role in helping the program transition from former coach Jim Mora to its current coach Chip Kelly, a switch that led a number of other former Bruins to jump ship.
But not these guys.
While the wins haven’t been all too frequent in the past two seasons, these seniors have left an imprint on the future of UCLA football.
They set the precedent for how players should prepare and the type of mindset one should have when playing in this still-early phase of the Chip Kelly era.
They’ve persevered through injury and have fought through losing seasons, but ultimately they have still become important role models to a young football team with a bright future.
It’s hard to build a winning program in college football, but it starts with the little things. These seniors have laid a solid foundation and I expect them to be rewarded on Saturday for their work.
Assistant Sports editor
Prediction: California 38, UCLA 31
The Bruins have had their good moments this season, but the cards aren’t stacked in their favor Saturday – on offense or defense.
California boasts one of the best linebackers in the country in Evan Weaver, and his average of 14.9 tackles per game will likely stifle UCLA’s offense, especially if sophomore quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson is forced to sit out of the contest because of the injury he suffered against USC.
On the other side of the ball, quarterback Chase Garbers is finally healthy and hitting his stride, having accounted for over 350 all-purpose yards in the Golden Bears’ victory over Stanford on Saturday. Those numbers don’t bode well for a Bruin defense that surrendered 643 total yards to the Trojans on Saturday, especially considering UCLA might be without key defensive players such as senior linebackers Krys Barnes and Lokeni Toailoa.
All this spells trouble for UCLA’s chances, so while I predict the emotion of Senior Day will push the Bruins higher, it won’t be enough to overcome the Bears.
Prediction: UCLA 28, California 24
Much like Taylor Swift’s rocky road to her Artist of the Decade American Music Awards performance, the Bruins’ season leading up to this game has been a rollercoaster ride with an uncertain outcome.
My understanding of football has been lacking for most of my life – and it definitely still is – but with my recent sports training and over a year of copy-editing sports under my belt, I’ve gained enough confidence to predict a win for UCLA in its season finale against California.
Last season, it was the Bruins’ win against the Golden Bears that brought them out of the woods and snapped their season-opening five-game losing streak. This year’s matchup follows back-to-back losses, but if the Bruins just shake it off, they can avoid a fate they know all too well.
Cal’s offense has been lacking this year, only scoring 19.4 points per game to UCLA’s 27.5. Since this is the last time the Bruins will play this season, I can only hope their lacking defense is overshadowed by their offense enough for a victory. This game can also put UCLA over a .500 conference record for the first time in four years.
Call it what you want, but I think the Bruins’ reputation has been improving from last season, which means we should expect a win against the Bears on Saturday night – and I’m ready for it.