While other college football programs celebrated National Signing Day on Wednesday, UCLA faced a national day of reckoning.
The Bruins are in a bad spot politically and practically, by far the biggest “loser” with the Rams and Chargers having returned “home” to gobble up what precious news-hole space remains in our local metropolitan papers.
The sports editor of the L.A. Times is now greeted some mornings with more football teams in town than available sports pages. It would not surprise me in the least if a top editor ordered the Wednesday section be reduced to three pages: Sports: “But that’s impossible! What’s on the back of page 3?” Top brass: “Make it work.”
Sports also has the Lakers, Clippers, Dodgers, Angels and two hockey teams to consider. Yet, my weekday paper most days is thinner than the La Habra Star, a paper I delivered as a boy in 1968.
So where do you think UCLA football ranks on the priority list?
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1: USC (defending Rose Bowl champions)
2: Rams (Bad first year but still, potentially, very embraceable ewes)
3: Chargers (Risky moving up from San Diego, but also plenty of upside)
4: St. John Bosco High (Reigning Open division state champions)
5: Mater Dei High (perennial prep powerhouse with phenom quarterback J.T. Daniels)
6: San Clemente High (Defending CIF and state champion and USC’s new pipeline for quarterbacks: Sam Darnold, Jack Sears)
7: L.A. Galaxy (Five-time MLS Cup champions)
8: UCLA (Last Rose Bowl victory: Jan. 1, 1986)
Bruin Football has always been suspicious of its treatment by the home-town paper relative to cross-town USC, never equating the Trojans’ sometimes disproportionate coverage to its 25 Rose Bowl victories and 11 national titles.
Why would THAT kind of program get more prominent treatment?
These days, however, UCLA’s football paranoia is justified, except the people the Bruins imagine chasing them are in front of them.
The worst time for UCLA to ever go 4-8 is, without doubt, any year USC wins the Rose Bowl and two NFL teams move back to Los Angeles.
UCLA has seemingly missed its chance to seize on USC’s NCAA probation, reduced scholarships and the circus firings of Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian.
Jim Mora started off strong, defeating USC his first three years, but has since lost two straight and control of the narrative.
His prized quarterback, Josh Rosen, has been injury-plagued and out-gunned by USC’s less-heralded star.
Rosen has one more junior year to get it right, but has reportedly rubbed many in Westwood the wrong way. Some believe he even orchestrated the ousters of offensive coordinators Noel Mazzone and Kennedy Polomalu.
Let’s hope Rosen likes new coordinator, Jedd Fisch, better than a carp.
Other negative news: UCLA released top recruiter Adrian Klemm in January, two weeks before signing day, amidst a show-cause penalty for committing NCAA violations. I hope UCLA did well in recruiting on Wednesday, but one of the perks of “retirement” is I don’t have to chronicle this dog-and-phony, made-for-cable, charade of four-stars.
The town is always, indisputably, better when the Bruins can stand up to the Trojans.
UCLA, however, seems at the precipice of crisis. And if that crisis happens now, the metaphorical visual might look like an astronaut losing his tether while out on a space walk. The Bruins have big needs to fill at offensive line, running back and receiver. They lost defensive stars in Eddie Vanderdoes, Fabian Moreau and Jayon Brown.
USC, conversely, appears fully recovered from NCAA purgatory. The Trojans will be preseason top-five next year with a leading Heisman candidate in Darnold.
And my guess, and it’s just a hunch, is that USC will “clean house” in Wednesday recruiting.
(Post-signing day update: USC did clean house in recruiting, finishing No. 5 nationally according to a USA Today composite average of rating services 247Sports, ESPN, Rivals and Scout. UCLA did not fare poorly, finishing No. 20 in the average, yet failed to sign a running back or a receiver. The Bruins needed help at both positions. "Last year was awful," Mora was quoted as saying in the L.A. Times. "To go 4-8 and secure a class like this says a lot about UCLA and what it has to offer.")
Mora’s hole card entering 2017 is that athletic director Dan Guerrero, who is approaching retirement, doesn’t want to make another major move while headed out the door.
Who knows, though, maybe desperation and competition will push the manic Mora to dig deeper--and maybe even defeat Stanford.
He’ll have to get it done, though, in a very crowded sports landscape. He might have to do it in stories located next to the tire ads. Mora is not only competing against USC. He’s competing against Rams, Chargers, Newport Beach and Tinseltown.
As any working waiter on La Cienega might tell you, the worst thing in Hollywood is not being panned.
The worst thing is being ignored.
UCLA needs to get its actors together or it risks fading from blue and gold, to black and white, on the very north-campus street where dreams are born, and also forgotten: