UCLA/SC football is not really more important than life or death, but that proposition may be closer than you think. I couldn't be more grateful for what the Bruins presented us with last Saturday. It's just that that's the way things ought to be. I'm not saying UCLA should dominate SC the way the Bruins have been these past twelve years. It would be nice but not very likely. It's that these embarrassing losses we've all lived through need to stop. And, today, Jim Mora looks to be the guy to make it stop.
I certainly don't expect to see a series of Trojan crucifixions, which, though desirable, is nearly impossible to imagine given SC's relentless recruiting machine (not to mention their habit of quickly burying their coaching mistakes). This infernal recruiting not only cleans up the prep scene, it extends into the junior colleges, transfers from other programs, and in-house recruiting. I mean, what school, other than SC, could've retained a Heisman Trophy winner, sure-fire Heisman candidates, sure-fire high, #1 draft choices, etc. Look, Red Sanders isn't descending from the sky any time soon. What I think we're all looking for is some kind of parity with these obnoxious people, something along the lines of Dick Vermeil's short incumbency or Tommy Prothro's half-dozen seasons. If something more transcendent happens, so much the better.
Talking to younger Bruins - or reading their thoughts on BRO - I often wonder if they have a proper understanding of what UCLA football was before Pete Carroll took a wrecking ball to the program. (Thank God for the greediness of the Bush family.) Since memories are short, and the "illusive front page" is so hard to find, allow me to quickly review a couple of important points:
1) SC was "The Thundering Herd," winning national championships, defeating Rockne's Notre Dame power-house in South Bend, then being greeted as conquering heroes by 300,000 Angelenos upon their return home. Meanwhile, Bill Spaulding's nascent program was still playing Cal Tech, Whittier, Pomona, LaVerne and Santa Barbara State. That's quite a competitive head start. Think horses vs. mice.
2) Not until Sanders' arrival from Vanderbilt would UCLA football, for the first time, become dominant over SC. From that point, 1949 through 2000, the year before Pete Carroll's arrival, the UCLA/SC series stood at 25-24-3 in the Bruins' favor. That's quite a fair and representative sampling; fair because it takes into consideration SC's dominant head start up until UCLA's abject failure to always "comPete."
So, contrary to the Trojan party line, which the ignorant, celebrity-obsessed media is only too happy to repeat, UCLA is not, and has never been - until Pete Carroll's Masterplan - merely "a basketball school." On the other hand, calling SC a football school is entirely justified as their basketball program, vis a vis UCLA and nationally, has seldom risen above mediocrity since John Wooden made it irrelevant. Their one and only great basketball season, 24-2, was spoiled by you know who. Not so, UCLA football, since the Bruins have been a player, both locally and nationally, post WWII, which is to say the modern age.
As I'm writing this, three days have passed since 38-28, and most of the talk has been about SC/Notre Dame, and what are Max Wittek's chances against the Domers highly-rated defense; haven't watched much of Notre Dame so I can't say. (SC once threatened Notre Dame with cancelling the series if they signed a "yearly" home and home with the Bruins. Wonder what would happen if UCLA and Notre Dame called SC's bluff. I mean, the times are changing, right?) But I haven't yet seen any serious consideration of UCLA/Stanford, which is also a pretty big game. Then again, the Irish are #1 so it's really no surprise. If SC wins, it should help UCLA in the polls; if they lose it'll warm a lot of hearts around here.
It looks as if three-point favorite, Stanford, is finally starting the right quarterback in Kevin Hogan. Stanford appears to have the better defense, UCLA the better offense. Stanford's rush defense is #3, nationally, and #18 in total defense. The Bruins are #16 in total offense. Make of these numbers what you will. My guess is the winner will be decided by which red shirt quarterback and senior running back has the best day; in other words, Bret Hundley and Johnathan Franklin vs. Hogan and Stepfan Taylor. Both Hundley and Hogan are about the same size, and neither is a statue. Franklin's about twenty pounds lighter than Taylor, but faster and more elusive. And of course the Bruins are playing at home. Flip a coin. It will certainly be a great game.
While SC fans were still trying to get their mind around the loss (and get the Kiffins out of town), that witless fanboy, Steve Mason, was blithely going on about how much more talented SC is compared to the Bruins. His buddy, the only slightly less inane John Ireland, enthusiastically seconded the notion. Had either of them spent a few minutes thinking before talking or, better yet, say fifteen minutes watching the replay, they might've noticed SC's offensive and defensive lines getting consistently abused. This was one of the few times in this series UCLA had a decided size and strength advantage. SC was the finesse team, the Bruins the power team. Sure, if the game had been three on three at the park, or a seven on seven drill, SC would've had the advantage.
UCLA has some unquestionably tough assignments coming up, and the Bruins badly need to have the SC win validated, their ticket punched for next season. But big games are won with big time players, and UCLA has more than a double handful: Franklin, Hundley, Joseph Fauria, Shaquelle Evans, Xavier Su'a-Filo, Jeff Baca, Anthony Barr, Datone Jones, Cassius Marsh, Eric Kendricks, Jordan Zumwalt, Owamagbe Odighizuwa, not to mention two or three true freshman receivers.
The media still hasn't grasped the fact Jim Mora is serious about focusing on the next opponent… and that every opponent is beatable. The usual media romance is not "in his orbit," and he's obviously not prepared to "settle" and call it a good season. He, and by extension his players, want more celebrations, more locker room dance contests, and it may be hard for some "Battered Bruin" fans to make the leap into this "orbit," which seems to be rotating faster and faster. Heck, Stanford's not that scary, and Oregon, which has been demystified to some extent, still must beat Oregon State in Corvallis right after the Beavers drove a 62-14 nail into the unlamented Jeff Tedford's coffin on Saturday night.
Seems to me all the balls are still in play.