Frank Haynes from the Sports Network has an interesting overview on UCLA football's upcoming season. Due to national distribution the story is popping up bunch of different places including as far as the Chicago Tribune and in the Sacramento Bee.
The headline - "Playing second fiddle in the City of Angels" - is a jarring reminder of what the UCLA program devolved into under the incompetent leadership of the current athletic director and athletically tone-deaf bosses such as Gene Block and Al Carnesale. Still the article is a useful reminder of what UCLA program was before it was completely ruined by Chianti Dan (emphasis added):
Having been relegated to little more than an afterthought in the nation's second most populous city, the UCLA Bruins are hoping yet another change in leadership will get them headed in the right direction.
In its history, UCLA is credited with having won 17 conference championships and one national title, but the former was last accomplished in 1998, and the latter way back in 1954. So to say the Bruin faithful are chomping at the bit to see a consistent winner trot out on the field week in and week out, is an understatement.
Since Bob Toledo led UCLA to consecutive Pac-10 Conference crowns in 1997-98, the Bruins have posted just five winning seasons. Despite winning a big game here and there, both Karl Dorrell and Rick Neuheisel failed to deliver on their promise to establish UCLA as a dominant team in both the Pac-10 (now Pac-12), as well as on the national stage, so the administration made the move to bring in Jim Mora, Jr. to hopefully get the program over the hump.
The article also affirms a contention we have been making since the start of BN, which is recruiting for UCLA football "[b]ased solely on what the university itself has to offer," shouldn't really be a problem (which is why we have to raise questions when tracking stories like this). And, it reminds everyone the intensity of rivalry between UCLA and Southern Cal, and how in our recent history we had the upper hand, before Chianti Dan's incompetent regime destroyed any sense of pride and dignity in this program:
As if facing the teams dotting the schedule year to year isn't tough enough, battling the Trojans for local headlines and more importantly, regional respect from a recruiting standpoint, is UCLA's toughest challenge. With the two schools separated by only 12 miles, the rivalry between them is one of the more intense in the country. USC, which is 46-28-7 all-time versus UCLA, has won 12 of the last 13 meetings, including a 50-0 shellacking of the Bruins last season, although both the 2004 and 2005 wins were later vacated due to NCAA sanctions. Prior to that though, UCLA had won eight straight (1991-98), which is the longest winning streak in a series that dates back to 1929.
So with that context the concludes that given that UCLA boasts "several guys with starting experience on both sides of the ball," Bruins "should be in decent shape in terms of experience." With the influx of talent coming in from good recruiting classes last few years, the Bruins should show "significant improvement" as the season goes on. So what exactly does significant improvement entail?
IMHO folks should pay close attention to the thoughts of bluebland from yesterday's thread discussing predictions from next year from College Football Matrix:
Most good coaches OVERachieve in their first year. That website obviously can't take into account any predictions of Mora's goodness, but our own standards must take that into account.
Over-achieving in 2012 means winning 11 games. That would give us high hope about our new staff (though it wouldn't guarantee anything).
Achieving up to talent + home field advantage means 10 games. That would be a strong and healthy start, and reason for cautious hope. (Erickson won 10 games his first year at ASU.)
8-9 games means an underachievement, any way you look at it. If that underachievement comes early in the season, with some growing pains stumbles, and we finish 5-0 with a victory against SC...I wouldn't be too depressed. But if it's the result of a patchwork of wins and letdowns, it would offer no evidence that Mora is any better than average. And average won't get us anywhere.
Given how recruiting has shaped early this season in which UCLA has fallen way behind Southern Cal (and now also behind Washington), the game against the Trojans is shaping up as a must win for Jim Mora (along with winning 8 to 9 games this season).
Simply put winning just 7 or 8 games through a roller-coaster "growing pains" season is not going to be good enough, after we have had to accept and hear the "young" and "growing" experience for more than 10+ years. As further discussed in yesterday's predictions thread Brady Hoke from Michigan is a great example of what a successful first year looks like for a new head coach.
Hoke inherited a program with legendary tradition in disarray and demoralized after years of getting punched by its arch rival Ohio State. He took over from a coach who ran a different offensive system. Yet by taking advantage of a schedule that featured 8 home games, he parlayed that into an 11 win season, setting Michigan up for a revival on par with its program standards.
We have to have similar high expectations for a program, which has a track record of 17 conference titles and the longest winning streak in our rivalry with Southern Cal. We get that it is unrealistic to expect a conference title in Mora's first year, but it is realistic to expect a big season given that we have 7 games at the Rose Bowl and a schedule where except for Southern Cal, the road game against Washington State shapes up to be the toughest game of the year.
We should expect Mora to go into the Southern Cal game with an 8 or 9 win team (which is improving through the season) and then ride the emotion of 70-80,000 Bruin fans in the Rose Bowl (it will be up to Chianti to make sure that he puts together an outreach/campaign plan so that we have that many fired up Bruins at the Rose Bowl) to get Bruins over the hump against Troy. That will be the only way Bruins can finally begin to undo the decade of damage inflicted on Bruin football tradition by Guerrero and rest of the incompetent leadership at UCLA.
Anything less than that - Bruins will continue to play "second fiddle in the City of Angels." If we don't meet those expectations, then Chianti should resign in disgrace, bringing in a competent athletic director who can finally make smart decisions to revive this struggling program.