Jim Mora neatly encapsulated UCLA football history at recent Pac 12 media days in July.
“We are coming off a season that was, in our estimation, a little bit disappointing for us, especially the way it ended,” he said.
The way it ended was UCLA dropping the Foster Farms Bowl to a Nebraska team with a losing record.
So there you have it: “UCLA Football: Not a disaster, not a train wreck, not a total Chernobyl meltdown, but a little bit disappointing.”[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
The program that has, in the past, gone looking for excuses didn’t need any last year. The decimation on defense due to injuries was real and season-defining, with the Bruins losing top-liners Eddie Vanderdoes (line), Myles Jack (linebacker) and Fabian Moreau (corner).
Losing Jack was like losing two starters because of his contributions on offense.
Jack left for the NFL but Vanderdoes and Moreau return to lead a defense that could be better than most think.
The opener at Texas A&M will be revealing in so many ways.
The Bruins’ key on offense this year will be the ability of star tackles, Conor McDermott and Kolton Miller, to keep Josh Rosen’s uniform clean.
Texas A&M boasts the nation’s best set of defensive ends in Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall, who have combined for 35.5 sacks the last two years.
And UCLA’s solid secondary will be tested by the Aggies’ elite corps of wide receivers.
All Westwood eyes are on Rosen, the Chosen One, who in 2016 makes the most important transition any college quarterback can make: freshman to sophomore.
Last year Rosen was surrounded by talent but needed another year of decision-making under his belt. This year he’s poised for stardom even if he does start over with a new set of talented receivers.
Rosen is an impetuous kid, a son of privilege who is prone to bouts of peevishness. And the best news is UCLA has him for two more years.
The “F*ck Trump” hat he wore at a golf outing did not go over well with upper management, but it’s not like he set the Constitution on fire in front of the library.
Mora reminded folks this was the same UCLA that produced free thinkers named Kareem and Walton.
“He’s a young man, he’s got his own thoughts, and we want to encourage that,” Mora said of Rosen. “But at the same time we want to be socially responsible.”
What we’ve learned: the sun still shines in Westwood, UCLA is a bastion of free speech but the quarterback really needs to cool it. The uniforms remain gorgeous, the sun shines in Westwood and no fan base lays out a better pre-game spread of crackers, spiced jellies and zin from Paso Robles.
And on the field? A half of a national championship, in 1954 and no Rose Bowl appearances since 1999 (and the Bruins cried going into that one after the heartbreak loss at Miami cost them a national title bid).
UCLA remains a talented, tormented, hot mess of broken promises.
The Bruins haven’t fallen down, but they’ve fallen short. UCLA hasn’t defeated Stanford since 2008 and Oregon since 2007.
It seems odd that Mora, entering his fifth season, should be surprised to be picked to win the Pac South by a media contingent he would just as soon not exist.
Is it time to start wondering whether Mora is the Chosen One?
Stewart Mandel of Foxsports.com recently revealed his list of top 20 college coaches. Three Pac 12 guys made it: David Shaw (Stanford), Chris Petersen (Washington) and Kyle Whittingham (Utah).
So will there be cheers, or boos, as fans in the Rose Bowl’s east-facing stands squint into a blinding sun? Will it be the sound of the eight-clap chant or the sound of one-hand clapping?