Mora coaches UCLA, but he is not of UCLA. So this week doesn't mean as much to him -- even though in terms of aggregate consequences it may be the most important regular-season game of his coaching career. The Bruins are 8-2. The Trojans are 7-3. Saturday's winner will claim the Pac-12 South Division title and play the North champ (probably Oregon) on Nov. 30 for the league title. Of more long-term significance, recruits across talent-rich Southern California will be watching. The Bruins have a prime opportunity to prove their program is on the way up and poised to zoom past USC, which is still dealing with the consequences of NCAA sanctions. Mora seemed skeptical this week that the result of one game might sway a recruit, but he considered it only from the short-term perspective. "I don't know if you win a game or lose a game that a recruit just flips," Mora said. He's probably correct on that point. A class of 2013 player probably will not change his mind based on the outcome of Saturday's game. But the Bruins could influence the members of the classes of 2014 and 2015 and help tilt the balance of power in Southern California and beyond.
There is another way to look at this. For those of you who can remember think back to the 2001 season. That was the season UCLA was going to contend for the national championship while the Trojans were looking to get back some form of respectability with Pete Carroll.
Remember what took place? gbruin gave us a little reminder last week when clowns like Plaschke were dancing on our bandwagon. Bruins started the season hot and made it almost to the top of BCS rankings before falling flat in Stanford. We never recovered and self-destructed in the following games with off-field issues implicating DeShaun Foster and QB Cory Paus. And then we played the Trojans, and Carroll stuck the dagger in Bruin hearts by stomping us on the Coliseum turf in an embarrassing 27-0 shutout.
Now the Bruins have the chance to take that dagger and stick it deep into the Trojan psyche with a huge win this Saturday. We are not going to have an opportunity like this any time soon. It is cowardly to pre-emptively spin a moral victory this Saturday and look for silver linings in a close loss. It is cowardly to angle for next year waiting for the Trojans to get weaker with departure of Matt Barkley.
Trojans have great players but they are not invincible. They have been beaten by a team we dropped 60+ points on in our own house. They had a hard time putting away freaking Syracuse.
Bruins are not going to have a chance like this. They are not going to have an opportunity to set the Trojan program back for years and vault back into national prominence - where we were 10 years ago.
So, yes you can say this is the biggest regular season game in Mora's college career to date. It is the season defining game for his first year. A win on Saturday will be the difference between an average Jeff Tedford like season at Cal and a "good UCLA season" we were used to back in the 80s and 90s. All season long we have maintained Bruins have enough talent to pull off a good season by UCLA standards. Let's hope Mora gets it done on Saturday.