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The Morning After, Part 9: UCLA vs Oregon State

The Bruins put up a big win over the Beavers, which is what should have happened if we played well, which sort of makes it not all that big a deal, right? Well, sort of.

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that was better. Right?

Last week the Bruins got away with a win over Colorado when they were dominated in virtually every category except the final score. After that game, I wrote about differences between the angry frustrated winners and the happy hopeful losers and wondered if on some level, it would be better to be a Colorado fan last Saturday.

As I get older and run into complicated life issues more and more, I value contentment and happiness more and more. Peace of mind is a very good thing, and U.C.L.A. football isn't always conducive to that.

But given the choice, I'd still rather be the Bruin fan, warts and worry and all, because the frequent frustration is a result of the higher expectations and higher level of the program, and that's a good thing. I want to be on the side that, within reason, sets the bar high, understanding that doing so makes it automatically harder to reach those goals and therefore ensures more struggles, less contentment, a rarer peace.

One benefit of those higher expectations is they can inspire greater effort and greater performance, and even if those goals aren't met, the end product is better than it would have been if the aim was something easy. And if you're looking for Wooden's definition of success, those bars have to be set as high as you can imagine.  Aim to be perfect and we'll see just how far we can go. So let me be the sometimes frustrated discontented Bruin fan. We'll go farther that way.

I feel I can say this because I've been both the Colorado fan and the Bruin fan this year, albeit it in a different sport and a different age group. It's why I'm writing this from a hotel in Chicago after watching the game on my iPhone, a far cry from the comfort of home and a big screen high def TV. Oh yeah, and the kegerator.

I've mentioned before that my kids play hockey. A lot of it. I have two kids that play on 3 different teams (my daughter plays on 2) because their parents apparently aren't very good at setting reasonable boundaries. My son's team is an interesting story. He currently plays for a AAA program that has been around for a while but hasn't always enjoyed an elite level of success, particularly compared to another rival program in town. In fact, that other program has had a lot of national success and my son's program has typically been the "other team". Sound a bit familiar? The not-so-coincidental parallels between the two programs and the two major college football teams in Los Angeles continues right on down to the relative character issues of integrity and arrogance and entitlement.

But then things fell into place this year that brought pretty much all the top players in the state in my son's age group together on the same team for the first time, and the outlook for them changed. The high level of talent on the team made everyone better and got them excited about what they could be. This program which had struggled to compete with the local arrogant big shots blew past them and started the season playing perennial top 5 teams in the US and Canada to one and two goal games. We were like Colorado fan in those early meetings, only mildly disappointed in the record and proud of how far things had come for this brand new group and excited that we seemed to have found the right formula of players and coaches and systems to make this a very special team. Sound familiar again?

Once that outlook was validated by those early games, expectations changed, and they changed for everyone, not just the parents. They changed for the players and the coaches first. The intensity at practices increased. Enthusiasm for games and tournaments stepped up. The level of commitment grew and the players bought in. You could see the kids pushing for something they haven't really had a look at before. And as a result of it all, the quality of the team's play got better and it got better more quickly than we would have expected. And the best part, though I can't vouch for every kid on the team, the higher performance expected on the ice has carried over to school. The three kids in our carpool are taking a lot more responsibility for their classwork and performance at school than before, and they're challenging each other. The kids are eating healthier. You can see that no one wants to let anyone else down. And that's the best reason of all that we shouldn't ever settle for low expectations.

Now, fortunately, there is no blog following my son's team, so there are no angst-ridden posts criticizing the coach or program director or questioning why the usual breakout pattern doesn't work against the left wing lock. Hmmm, then again, maybe I should register that domain name now while I can. Nah. I already don't have enough time for this site. Of course, it's still just a youth sport. Our game has its share of crazies that you find in any youth event, but for the very large majority of parents, we realize they're still just kids, which is partly why we went to get chocolate cake shakes at Portillo's after last night's game.

There are obviously huge relative differences in the scale of things between my son's hockey team and U.C.L.A. football, but the processes share a lot of similarities. Better circumstances leads to higher expectations, which then affects our perception of the outcomes. I think it's fair to say that yesterday's win over OSU feels a whole lot better than last week's win over Colorado, even though they both count for exactly the same number of Ws in the record book.

It was good to see the Bruins come out with an intent to right some of last week's wrongs. The defense that bent nearly to the point of breaking last week pitched a shutout. The offense moved the ball efficiently. We didn't suffer any obvious serious injuries (and cheers for the OSU player who was taken off in an ambulance but checked out well and is going to be fine). Even penalties which were major problems the last few weeks didn't ring up as much yardage or prove as costly, and from the sound - literally - of things, some of those false starts might be partly understandable this week.

The problem, of course, is that Oregon State just isn't very good right now, and they were even worse off with a backup quarterback trying to make throws in the rain. But the point is, 41-0 is exactly what you are supposed to do to a team that isn't very good why you yourself are supposed to be very good, and that idea takes a bit of the joy out of it, doesn't it? It's ok to celebrate a win and also analyze it to gain some context. Compare yesterday's win to dropping a 41-0 beatdown on Southern Cal or Utah or Stanford, and you tell me that any of those wouldn't be any more gratifying than yesterday's win?

I hope we get to find out.

Bruin fans are fortunate that we can have the luxury of looking at style points and not just at the final outcome. It says we, like Coach Jim Mora does himself, have higher expectations for this team and program. So in the end, I'm willing to endure the frustration and questions and concerns that come with beating Colorado by 4 when we really didn't deserve that good an outcome, or the happiness that is still tagged with a big "What if" after a dominating game against OSU. I think it would be a shame if we were satisfied with last week's game or thought last night's game was the be all end all. We should have higher aspirations, even if it colors and even taints some of the performances along the way.

See? It's a good thing so many people were pissed last week. We've electively made it a bit harder to enjoy some of the things we see along the way, but the higher standards for this football team are reasonable, and aiming for them will pay off in the long run, even if it's not on the scoreboard.