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The Morning After, Part 5, UC Berkeley

After an uninspiring performance nets a 27 point win, UCLA will need to find some real inspiration to take the next step to reach an elite level.

The chance for Shaq Evans and the Bruins to prove they belong is here.
The chance for Shaq Evans and the Bruins to prove they belong is here.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Berkeley? Well, we played mostly uninspired and sometimes sloppy and we won by 27. Check.

Moving on.

Dallas Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones said something incredible last Sunday, following their dramatic last minute 51-48 loss to the Denver Broncos.

"This is a moral victory. It's not a loser talking here. We can build off this. I feel as good as you could possible feel at 2-3. We are going to win enough games to get where we want to be and get knocking on the door to where we want to be. This was a moral victory today for us, yes.

On Sunday morning I am usually looking a day back to try to find some meaning in the previous game to help put our football program in perspective. But today I think perspective is all about looking forward. Yesterday's result, if maybe not the way it was accomplished, was expected, so I'll leave it to The Eye Test and the Roundtable to break down the details of the game.

Instead, I'm looking at Stanford and Oregon today and there aren't any signs of moral victories in sight. This is a very good thing for U.C.L.A. football.

Many of you know that I've been a Broncos maniac since my childhood days. I was properly brainwashed by my Colorado resident grandparents with Craig Morton jerseys and Super Bowl dreams when I was young and impressionable. My tabula rasa was painted orange and, other than adding a lot of powderkeg blue and gold, it has stayed that way. It worked out well, because my life long passion for the Broncos has been one of the fortunate benefits of exile here. Things are going pretty great these days in Denver, and it is a pretty rare double bonus that both my football teams are playing at such high levels right now. As a result, expectations for both the Bruins and the Broncos are pretty high. But higher expectations leave fewer options for satisfaction, and so there is room only for real victories, and none for moral victories right now.

However, I absolutely do believe in moral victories.

I also believe in immoral victories, like when Reggie Bush and Joe McKnight were playing at *$c or every time the SEC beats an FCS team. But I digress.

I believe that moral victories exist and are valuable, but only if the circumstances are right. Now everyone may have different criteria for this so I don't want to get caught up debating exactly where to draw the line, but to me, one of the absolute circumstances for claiming a moral victory is that there is no reasonable expectation for an actual victory in the first place. There may always be a dreamer's prayer for a victory, but when any semblance of logic tells you that there is no legitimate chance of winning, then I think it is actually healthy and worthwhile to celebrate a performance that defies the odds and exceeds expectations, even it the result is still an L in the loss column.

I look at Akron nearly beating Michigan a few weeks back and think the Zips should be justifiably thrilled with their performance. Colorado State went to #1 Alabama a few weeks back and played a closer-than-the-score 31-6 game. and there were a lot of things for CSU to be proud of and celebrate in that game. In a few hours, I'm going to be tailgating at Mile High as the Broncos get ready to host the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the Broncos will go into the game with the single largest point spread on an NFL game in history. The betting public expects Denver to win by 4 touchdowns. But if the hapless Jags (sorry MJD and Marcedes!) play out of their minds and push Denver to the end and wind up losing by only 3, don't you think Jags fans should be able to call the game a moral victory? Markpav44 and I may not be so excited, but the Jags fans would definitely be entitled to be happy.

I have even read at various times around the UCLA related internets that last year's Pac-12 Championship game - when U.C.L.A. went to Stanford on a cold wet night, one week after being pushed around and dominated by the Cardinal in the Rose Bowl and when no one expected much of a game, but then played lights out save for two bad plays in the game and ran all over them and came within a long field goal at the end of the game - was a moral victory for the Bruins.

But I'd draw the line before I got to that game. I would never call that game a moral victory. The reason I can't say that is because I knew beforehand that we could have won that game, and the game itself proved that to be absolutely true. If that long INT return doesn't happen, we probably win that game. If their late TD pass is thrown a foot shorter, it isn't a TD and we probably win that game. I don't think you can claim a moral victory when you had a legitimate shot at an actual victory in the first place. It's a subtle distinction, and everyone will set his or her threshold differently, whether it's a 10% chance of winning or a 1% chance or an 0.01% chance. At some level, if a team can win a game but doesn't, then it is just a missed opportunity and a loss. And there's nothing moral in that.

That's why it shocked me to hear that statement from Jerry Jones because it tells me he didn't think his team could win. Not would - with a W - win. Could - with a C. The former is just a decision made on comparing two teams and location and making a rational decision as to who would win the game more often than not. And it was reasonable to presume that the way the Broncos and PFM1000 have been going that Denver would win in Dallas. Makes sense. But did anyone really think that there was no legitimate way the Cowboys could win the game? That it wasn't a realistic possibility. Well, sounds like the owner was thinking that way and that tells you more about his team than any stats or analysis can. There was a time not too long ago when Bruin fans thought that way. Remember the first Pac-12 title game 2 years ago against Oregon? Wouldn't we have been thrilled pushing the Ducks to the end in that game? That would have been a big moral victory for us.

The good news I have for you, Bruins, is that the time to think that way is over. Things have changed and we are no longer the kind of team that is merely happy to be included ad a good showing is good enough. I'm looking ahead to a pair of one the more brutal back to back games a Bruins team has ever faced and I'm asking, Can the Bruins win? Not WILL the Bruins win? But CAN the Bruins win?

And the answer to that question is absolutely - yes! They CAN win this game. Our Bruins are good enough and the potential is high enough that merely playing Stanford or Oregon close isn't sufficient reason to be happy or satisfied anymore.

They can win this game because we are a better team then the one that almost won the Pac-12 title game. Our players are a year older. A year stronger. And a year hungrier. Stanford is an well coached and disciplined team, and we know they rarely make mistakes. But there is no guarantee that they'll play a perfect game next Saturday like they essentially did last December. And Stanford just proved itself mortal on a field where we won a week before. On a Thursday even. Add in the pointy oval football and it's ability to bounce in funny ways and the SPTR's and their inability to see the obvious, and there are a lot of variables in the mix. So do I think UCLA CAN win? Hell yes, they can.

And that is what eliminates any possibility of claiming a moral victory against either of these teams. U.C.L.A. is done with moral victories. U.C.L.A. is too good to celebrate a close loss anymore. This team is either going to step up and start beating teams like Stanford and Oregon and announce they are ready to join the football elite in America, or they are going to get beaten and we'll find ourselves right where we have been all along with no progress to hang our blue and gold hats on. Any celebration of that absence of achievement would be immoral.

Let Dallas and Jacksonville, and hell, UC Berkeley celebrate their moral victories against apparently insurmountable odds.

Let Bruin fans celebrate seeing our team realize the potential we all know is actually there.