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Mailbag: UCLA concerns

Welcome to the halfway point of Week 2 (or the eve of Week 2, depending on what colors you wear).

Lots of UCLA questions and concerns this week. So let's get to it. As always, follow me on Twitter.

All Hype? In Oakland writes: I know only time will tell...but Hundley's decision to return to school may hurt him financially, a' la Matt Barkley and have him slip in the draft considerably. Ironically, SC/Barkley also had high expectations and was a Heisman candidate. A bigger concern, may be whether Hundley can remain healthy throughout the season, especially if the O-line & receiving corp doesn't improve! Hundley wishes he had a couple of Cal's receivers. Time will also tell if Virginia's D was actually good or if UCLA's offense was really that bad. This should Not have been close considering Virginia went 2-10, 0-8 (conf.) last year.

Robert in New York writes: As ugly as the game was for UCLA on Saturday, everything else aside, I still think that UCLA would have covered the spread if it weren't for so many penalties. The Bruins have been one of the most (if not, the most) penalized teams in the Pac-12 and the country under Jim Mora. In previous interviews, he's brushed the penalty issue aside... Do you think this is something Mora needs to start taking seriously? And how exactly do you do that as a coach?

Kevin Gemmell: A couple of UCLA questions, but I can blend them together in one answer.

First, let’s start with the question of Brett Hundley and his performance. And I think we can all agree that most teams in the country would like to have Cal’s receivers. (And we’re not on the bandwagon … we’ve been hyping this group since May ’13.)

No doubt, the injuries on the offensive line played a bigger role than we thought. That Jake Brendel, Simon Goines and Conor McDermott were not available definitely played a part in the offensive mishaps. But only a small part. Because Hundley’s wide receivers didn’t do him a ton of favors.

And still, he completed better than 60 percent of his throws (20 of 33) for 242 yards with no interceptions (or touchdowns) and he ran for 39 yards and a score. Not eye-popping Heisman numbers. But not horrendous on a stat sheet.

Let’s not be too knee-jerky with the Bruins (or anyone else after Week 1, for that matter). They went across the country and beat a Power 5 team on the road. There’s still something to be said for that. They took the appropriate drop in the national and Pac-12 blog power rankings. Let’s see what happens this week and then in back-to-back games against Texas and ASU.

Regarding his decision to come back, the Pac-12 blog will never, ever, ever criticize a young man’s decision to either return to school for another year or leave early. (OK, one time Ted did criticize a player for leaving early … which was justified … and then he re-worked his thoughts the next day … which was also justified.)

He wanted to get his degree, have another year of playing with his teammates and try to help finish what he started. That’s admirable. Just as it was admirable when Matt Barkley made his decision to return. He felt like he owed the program one more year. Who are we to criticize them for their decisions in life? And just because Barkley wasn’t a first-round draft pick, doesn’t mean his career is a complete failure. The NFL is the ultimate proving ground. If he was good enough to be a starter, he’d be starting. Plus he’s got a four-year deal worth $2.7 million with almost half a million guaranteed. It’s not like he’s panhandling on the streets of Philly.

The NFL is enamored with dual-threat quarterbacks right now. And Hundley is one of the most athletic individuals I’ve ever seen. He’s a special player. I don’t see him dropping simply because the players around him fail to perform.

Injury is another animal. We can’t predict those. We know Hundley has been on his back 92 times in his career (including the five sacks from the Virginia game). He knows how to take a hit. But there are a lot of injuries that can’t be controlled. So let’s stay classy, regardless of fan base, and hope for the best for all players.

Now, on to those pesky penalties that Robert was inquiring about. There are some coaches who believe penalties are a reflection of discipline – and thus a reflection on themselves. Todd Graham is one of those guys. Mora isn’t. He doesn’t like them. He tries to correct them, but he doesn’t spend a ton of time worrying about them.

It’s like in basketball. Some teams are good at shooting free throws, others aren’t. The ones that aren’t practice like crazy (I know, because I’ve sat through practices for seasons at a time watching bad free throw teams practice) and they just don’t get better.

I don’t have a good explanation. Is it likely that one time that might come back to bite the Bruins in the backside? Maybe. Maybe this was just a bad first week all-around and we’ll see improvements in Week 2. Does he need to take it seriously? I don’t know. However Jim Mora coaches his team, it seems to work. He’s 20-8 and has a South Division title.


David in Calgary writes: Hi Kevin! Great to see CFB back on my Thurs-Sat docket. Based on how USC/Stan/UO/MSU played last week, which game do you find more intriguing? USC/Stan or UO/MSU?

Kevin Gemmell: Obviously, the rest of the country is huge on the Oregon-MSU game. And I am, too. Can’t wait to watch it.

But history tells us the Stanford-USC game has an opportunity to be epic. Four of the past five games have come down to the final minute. Three times it’s come down to the last play. You throw in the David Shaw/Steve Sarkisian verbal fisticuffs from last year and the stage is set for high drama.

If Oregon wins, they probably move into one of those top two spots. If the Ducks lose at home, I could see them falling into double digits. Whoever wins the Stanford-USC game pops into the top 10. So the national ramifications of both games are obvious.

Here’s the thing: If Oregon beats Michigan State but falls to a conference opponent along the way, how much will this win sway the selection committee? The best way to punch a ticket to the College Football Playoff is to win your conference. Oregon can’t do that by beating Michigan State. Then again, neither Stanford nor USC will win the conference with a Week 2 game. But they could wind up in a hole. That’s what makes that game more intriguing in my mind.