Note: This was written on Friday. There's a reason I need to point that out. One day I'll share it with you.
Greetings from sunny LA, where I've actually decided to blog as the locals set aside their hysteria for LeBron, the impending all-LA Super Bowl that some dude on TV here was bloviating about this morning, and the heated NL West race, to focus on this weekend's UC/UCLA tilt at the Rose Bowl.
This is only my third time in Los Angeles, the first being for last season's UC/UCLA basketball game, but I'd imagine the feeling of anticipation that's in the air for tomorrow's game is similar to what it feels like here the night before the Oscars.
I've been looking forward to this weekend ever since the schedule aligned to have the Dodgers at home the same weekend the Bearcats would be visiting, allowing me to finally cross two sports venues of my bucket list, the Rose Bowl, and Dodger Stadium.
I saw the Dodgers and Diamondbacks last night, in what's a beautiful setting to watch baseball, even if it's a pain in the ass to get in and out of, and despite the beer being priced similarly to a mid-sized SUV. Dodger Stadium's sightlines are beautiful, and the scenery around the park is fantastic. It's not my favorite yard by any measurement - Wrigley Field and PNC Park still occupy the top spots - but it is among the coolest places I've ever taken in a sporting event in, and I'm pumped to get a chance to go back tonight.
Based on last night's experience, the reputation Dodgers fans have for arriving late and leaving early is deserved. This picture above was taken in the first inning, but the third, the place was nearly full, and by the seventh there had already been a mass exodus out of the ballpark.
Oh, and Dodger Dogs are terrible. Don't believe the hype.
Let's get to a few other matters before the obligatory picking of games commences....
*The Bengals played their final preseason game last night. I could lie to you and claim that I found a way to access a pirated stream of the game because I'm just that much of a fan, but I barely paid attention to what was happening at Paul Brown Stadium last night, because little of it mattered.
The lingering questions after the preseason finale seem to be about what depth the Bengals can add at corner once teams begin making their cuts, and whether AJ McCarron will make his return, since he seems to be the odd man out in the Bills' QB competition.
I would be okay with this.
I don't think AJ McCarron is a franchise quarterback, which the NFL agrees with. I do believe he's a better backup than Jeff Driskel.
I do wonder if there will be better backup options available than both AJ McCarron and Jeff Driskel.
*The Bengals announced that Marvin Lewis was coming back for a 16th season on January 3rd. Since that day, nearly every piece of Bengals-related news has been good (keyword: nearly). They made some smart moves before the draft, they had a productive draft, they got through training camp relatively healthy, they've laid the groundwork for an insanely good pass rush, and the ended the offseason by signing two cornerstone players for the remainder of their primes.
*Wow. That Reds game on Wednesday was crazy.
That's all I have to say about that.
*And speaking of The Athletic, I had an email exchange about this year's UC football season with UC beat guy Justin Williams. I think you'll like it, if you like the Bearcats. Or maybe you won't, I have no idea. But still, you should read it.
Which takes us to this week's guesses....
UCLA (-14.5) over Cincinnati. First the mandatory disclaimer: I want to be wrong about this. When the number was 16.5 prior to six Bruins being suspended, I was ready to pull the trigger on the Bearcats. I think the Chip Kelly factor is mitigated by the fact that UCLA's roster doesn't look that good and the fact that underwhelming Wilton Speight is Kelly's starting QB this weekend. I believe UC can run the ball effectively enough to shorten the game, and even if he doesn't play every snap, I think Hayden Moore can be counted on to not make the kind of mistakes that add up to a blowout.
But I just can't pick the Cats here, not with so much unproven at wide receiver and in the secondary, and not in a game like this until I see the kind of creativity that was often lacking last season.
So yeah, from an entertainment perspective, I'll lay the points and take the home team, even if I'll have nothing more than a rooting stake in what happens.
As for the season itself, I have the Bearcats going 5-7, with a split against the two MAC opponents, and wins over UConn, Tulane, and East Carolina and Alabama A&M. Their bowl eligibility will come down to either being able to sweep Miami and Ohio, or grabbing a road win against either Temple or SMU, with the Mustangs being the easier of those two opponents.
I went into greater detail about some of these things in the email exchange with Justin, but more than anything this season, I want this team to make me completely forget the Tommy Tuberville era, which was defined by things like a lack of competitiveness and a team that often looked unprepared, both physically and mentally. Those same things showed up last year, through what I think is no fault of the current staff, and to a lesser degree than they did when Tuberville was still at UC, but they did show up. Luke Fickell has generated a lot of excitement with his recruiting, and it'll be fun to start seeing some of his guys hit the field, but there's still a ton of youth and not a lot of depth. The Bearcats were maybe three plays away from being a 1-11 team last season, and while I think they will be blown out less while winning a little more, I think it's quite a leap to go from being this close to a one-win team to one that wins as often as it loses.
Seriously, there's a lot more in-depth UC football stuff in the email exchange, so if you couldn't tell already, I really want you to read it.
Ohio State -39.5 over Oregon State. I believe the Buckeyes will win the Big Ten, play in the College Football Playoff, and solidify Urban Meyer's position against a school president who I'll bet he hates. OSU has an elite roster that, despite some attrition on defense and a new QB, is absolutely loaded with playmakers. The Penn State game is going to be must-watch TV, and it will approach comical levels when Jim Harbaugh loses to his school's main rival again.
Also, I'm Urban Meyer-ed out.
Central Michigan (+17) over Kentucky. With a darkhorse Heisman candidate, a quality offensive line, and a few guys on defense who will play in the NFL next season, it's time for Mark Stoops to win more than seven games in a season. Also, I'm too salty about the way Stoops cost me a three-teamer in the season opener next year to lay the points in the season-opener this year.
Miami +2 over Marshall.
Dayton over Robert Morris.
Also, for entertainment purposes...
Notre Dame (-1) over Michigan.
Army (+14) over Duke
Florida International (+10.5) over Indiana
Miami (-3.5) over LSU
UNLV (26.5) over USC
Enjoy your weekend.