Bumped from a fanpost - BN Eds.
After finishing their non-conference schedule with a 2-1 record, the UCLA Bruins begin Pac-12 play on Saturday when they welcome in-state rival Stanford to town. The game, which is the prime time matchup this weekend on ABC, will serve as a barometer for the UCLA Football program as a whole.
However, the person with the most on the line this weekend is UCLA head coach, Jim Mora. Mora is 39-17 during his time in Westwood, but despite his success he has been unable to beat Stanford in his five matchups with the Cardinal. Mora is heading into his fifth year as the head coach of the Bruins, and some of his most devastating losses have come at the hands of the powerhouse from Palo Alto.
Back in 2012, the Bruins lost to Stanford twice in a row to end the year. The first time they lost was at home to end the regular season, and the next week they came up short to the Cardinal in the Pac-12 championship game, which cost them a birth in the Rose Bowl. In the three following years, UCLA has fallen to Stanford in their annual matchup.
Perhaps the most devastating of these losses came back in the 2014 regular season finale. The Bruins were 9-2, fresh off a blowout of rival USC, and simply had to beat a uncommonly struggling Stanford team at home to win the Pac-12 South and advance to the conference title game. Instead, the Cardinal shocked the Bruins, 31-10, in a debacle that would also end up serving as Brett Hundley’s last game at the Rose Bowl.
There is no doubt that Jim Mora has taken UCLA Football to the next level since his arrival. Mora has already posted two 10-win seasons in his first four years. Before that, the Bruins had only had one 10-win season since 1998, (2005). In the four years before Mora’s arrival, the program had put up a 21-31 record. Whether it be the culture of the program, the recruiting, or the play on the field, Mora has taken the team to a level that UCLA fans hadn’t seen in the 21st century.
However, the narrative for UCLA Football, both locally and nationally, is the question of whether or not this program can take the next step. Every year, Jim Mora’s team posts a couple of impressive wins, only to be met with equally disappointing losses. The Bruins have been the darlings of the national media at times, only to fall apart when the eyes of the country were upon them.
Stanford is the model of what UCLA could have been over the past four years, the programs have posted similar records since the start of the 2012 season. Stanford has gone 43-12, while UCLA has gone 37-16 in that time. The difference between the two teams have come down to must win games. Stanford’s victories have led them to three Rose Bowl wins over the past four years, while the Bruins losses have held them back from appearing in a major bowl game for the first time since 1998. While Jim Mora and Stanford head coach David Shaw have had similar seasons over the past four years, Shaw’s success has brought him into the conversation of the top college coaches in the country. While Mora is a respected coach, he has yet to grab his signature win as the leader of the UCLA Football program.
With the loss against Texas A&M in the first week of the season, another loss for the Bruins would most likely rule them out of an appearance in this year’s college football playoff. While a defeat on Saturday wouldn’t be the end in terms of their Pac-12 title aspirations, the narrative from the past couple years of UCLA Football would continue. There are no excuses this year for the Bruins, they have the quarterback, they have the playmakers, and they certainly have the defense to compete for a Pac-12 title. With the country watching on Saturday night, now is the time for this program to take the next step. Head coach Jim Mora has been the only constant for this program over past four years, and a win on Saturday would help change the national conversation surrounding UCLA Football. A victory against the team that has held you back is the type of win that takes you from a good program, to a national contender.