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UCLA Football: Bruin Nation's End of the Season Roundtable Discussion

With the regular season behind us and just the Alamo Bowl left to play, the writers and editors of Bruins Nation discuss the 2014 regular season, the highs, the lows, and the players who stood out this year.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

1.  The Bruins finished the regular season at 9-3, coming up short in the race for the Pac-12 South division crown and relegated to the Alamo Bowl, when they were just two wins away from a spot in the College Football Playoff.  Would you call this season a success?  Or does it come up short in your mind?

Achilles: It comes up short. If the season was truly being graded on a pass/fail scale I'd reluctantly say "pass" because I just can't "fail" a nine win team that went unbeaten on the road. But if we were giving letter grades, I'd say C- and maybe a win over KSU in the Alamobowl gets it to C+. Maybe. We passed, but barely and we should have done much better. The Stanford game continues to haunt me. Not that we lost. We aren't good enough to really be "shocked" by a loss. But the way we lost, getting blown out in a game that meant so much ... it really feels like a complete setback. If they had beaten us in a tough, hard fought game, I'd be disappointed but not devastated. Now, I'm reconsidering everything I thought I knew after the SC game.

IslandBruin2: The season comes up short. I don't think that Brett Hundley came back for the 2014 season because he wanted a chance to play in the Alamo Bowl. He wanted to play in the Pac-12 Championship Game and beyond (this is all just a guess on my part). We had the most all-conference returnees of any team in the conference. And what this season demonstrated is that we still are a step behind when it comes to being amongst the truly elite. A 9-3 record and playing in the Alamo Bowl would have been a success in 2012. In 2014? Not so much.

AHMB:  It's not really the record or falling short of the Pac-12 South crown that bothers me, it's that the team struggled for most of the season and only showed flashes of how good it could be.  There were some moments were great; Jerry Neuheisel beating Texas, stomping Arizona St., Arizona, and Washington, and of course, beating Southern Cal for the third straight season.  Yet, we struggled against Berkeley, Colorado, Memphis, and Virginia, and lost two winnable games against Utah and Stanford.  This team really just coasted in neutral for too much of the season, and for that reason, it came up short.

UCLAluv:  I agree with AHMB (among others).  We came up short, not so much because of our record, but that we didn't play to the level of our capability on anything like a consistent basis.  The first part of the season, the record looked good, but you could see this team struggling.  The struggle caught up to the team when it couldn't put Utah away, and then was totally exposed against Oregon.  I thought after that, something in our team changed and it was as if we had a new season.  I would say this second season was a success.  But there we were again.  The early season's team re-appeared, with the bad play calling and lack of focus coming with it.  This was terribly disappointing.  I think losing to Stanford would have been disappointing no matter what with the chance at a championship in sight.  But the way they played, the way plays were called, made that game disappointing in a more fundamental way.  We did not look like the team we could be and had been.  Because of this, we came up way short.

gbruin: The season was not a success, simply because we did not accomplish what the team  themselves set as goals, given the tools and opportunity they had at hand. Coach would agree. That doesn't mean it was a wasted year or a bad year. It just wasn't all it could have been.

2.  Who is your offensive MVP for this season?  Why?

Achilles: It's really tough to pick one because honestly I don't think anyone stood out on offense. I'm tempted to pick Conor McDermott because the offensive line improved when he started playing regularly. Brett Hundley would be the obvious choice, but I'm not feeling him as an award winner. Paul Perkins had a good season, but it wasn't an MVP/Maurice Jones-Drew/DeShaun Foster type season. None of the wide receivers deserve an MVP. I'm going with Jake Brendel -- he seemed to have a consistent season and we missed him when he didn't play.

IslandBruin2: Brett Hundley. With no disrespect to Jerry Neuheisel's performance in the Texas game, it is hard to imagine the beat-downs that we administered when we clicked, like the $C game, without Brett at QB.

AHMB:  Paul Perkins.  I could go with Hundley, but I think he took a step back this season.  Perkins, on the other hand, went from a part time player to conference leading rusher.   He rushed for 1,381 yards and 7 touchdowns on only 231 attempts, and added another 201 yards and 2 touchdowns receiving.  Pretty damn impressive considering running back was one of the biggest question marks for the Bruins coming in to the season.

UCLAluv:  This is tough.  I hate giving MVP's in team sports, especially in football because you can see how each element is crucial.  Without Jake Brendel and Conor McDermott, Brett has no chance of moving the offense, as we saw early in the season.  Without Brett, we might have won 2, 3 games.  Paul Perkins was a beast and brought the running game back as a real strength to this team.  I just wish that the O.C. would have continued to ride his talent when we would cross the 50 yard line.  I think Jordan Payton did have an incredible season and I think Thomas Duarte would have had he not been injured.  So, I have to choose...I am going to go with Brett.  The whole team mattered when the offense was performing well,  but Brett won games for us that we were going to lose (I'm remembering Colorado).

gbruin: I love Achilles' choice of Conor McDermott, because his return to the OL really changed the dynamic of the line play and the subsequent offensive production, but I would have to say Paul Perkins is my MVP. Brett Hundley was great, but that was expected. Perkins was the one player on offense who truly stepped up and produced far better than expected this season.

3.   Who is your defensive MVP for this season?  Why?

Achilles: Eric Kendricks. Best linebacker in college football and one of UCLA's all time greats.

IslandBruin2: Eric Kendricks- seconding Achilles' motion, for the same reasons.

AHMB:  Eric Kendricks with an honorable mention to Owamagbe Odighizuwa.  Kendricks has been phenomenal throughout his career at UCLA.  He's an every down MLB, which is rare enough, but he really excels against the run and pass equally.  He'll be missed.  I have to mention Odighizuwa as well because when he started to get going, our defense took a big step forward.  I don't think he was fully healthy to start the season, but he had a 4-5 game stretch where he seemed to be in the backfield on every play.

UCLAluv:  I agree wih AHMB again.  Erik gets it with honorable mention going to Owa.  I think Eric was the leader on defense and was incredibly important especially in the early going.  I will also never forget the onslaught of the defense against Virginia this year, with Eric, Ish, and Randall each getting their turn at scoring.  That was fun!

gbruin: I'll say that Owamagbe Odihizuwa was our defensive MVP. The reason I don't say Kendricks is more for semantics, because I said at the end of last season that EK was the best ILB in the conference and was as or more valuable to us than Anthony Barr. I'm sort of punishing him for being so good and dependable. Unlike EK, Owa is the one who stepped into a void as a bit of a question mark and was coming off hip surgery, so his contribution and performance was a much bigger surprise.

4.  Which returning Bruin football player do you expect to come out and surprise people with a monster season next year?

Achilles: Thomas Duarte. We missed him so much in the middle of the season and we were so much better when he returned to the lineup. With him, our passing game could go over the middle, without him, we couldn't. I think he's going to be huge for whoever is our new quarterback -- a big, strong, fast sure-handed receiver who knows how to get open. Also, Jaleel Wadood. I thought he was a stud this year as a freshman and I expect after an offseason in the program he'll only get better. I wouldn't be shocked to see him get a few snaps on offense, either. He's the guy catching the ball in Josh Rosen's junior highlight reel. It's unlikely, but it wouldn't surprise me either. Finally, Simon Goines. I don't think enough has been made about the fact that a starting tackle missed the whole season.

IslandBruin2: Deon Hollins. He showed flashes of brilliance in his first year as a starter.

AHMB:  Ellis McCarthy.  He's been a bit of an enigma since coming to UCLA.  He's incredibly gifted, but he has yet to put it all together.  I think he'll end up putting together a Datone Jones type senior season and it wouldn't surprise me to see his name called in the first round of the NFL draft.  He has the tools to dominate, and I think it happens next year.

UCLAluv:  Thomas Duarte, no doubt.  He would have been the breakout player this year, but the injury kept that from happening.  He really is always open!  I also agree about Jaleel Wadood, one of my favorite players.  I love his energy and his competitive spirit.  I think many of our linebackers will have exceptional years, what a group.  Eddie has always been good, but I think he will really step up next year to a whole new level.  I will add Nate Starks and Jordan Lasley.  I think Jordan could become that break out wide out we've been waiting for.  I am also hoping that Josh Rosen has a big year!

gbruin: Everyone named so far, Starks, Duarte, Wadood, Goines, EFM, are great suggestions. I'll add Kenny Young to the list. He was solid as a true freshman, and will step into a bigger role next year with the graduation of Eric Kendricks, and I think he's poised to do great things.

5.  Who would you want to take over as the offensive coordinator in Westwood next season?  Is getting any of these names feasible?

Achilles: I wish I knew the names of college offensive coordinators, but I really don't. I'll just say that if it were me, I'd think outside the box. Gus Malzahn was a high school coach when Arkansas hired him. Chip Kelly was coaching at a lower division college (New Hampshire) when Oregon hired him. Getting someone like this would definitely be feasible, too. For the record, I would bet anything that the Mazzones are back next season. Mora seems big on loyalty. I know it's a quality that many people admire, but loyalty also gets you in trouble sometimes.

IslandBruin2: It is easier to say who I would not want- Any Mazzone or Lane Kiffin. One name which intrigues me from a non-power conference  is Lincoln Riley, OC at East Carolina, who played for Mike Leach and was on his staff before going to East Carolina. Maybe it is time for a bigger stage. Another name is a young coach from a power conference team-  Jake Spavital, who just finished his 1st year as OC at Texas A&M. He graduated from Missouri State, but it was well after TIARA left. And he is too young to have a college age son. So any nepotism teachings from TIARA would not have rubbed off on him. If we are going to think outside the box, how about Scott Frost at Oregon? He did not get the Nebraska job, and Mark Helfrich doesn't seem to be going anywhere else soon. He would be less feasible than the other two, because Mora is not going anywhere else anytime soon, so why would Frost jump to be in 2nd place for a potentially long haul? But he can't say yes, if he isn't asked the question.

AHMB:  I may be in the minority, well, I know I am, but I want Mazzone back.  There's no question that the offense needs improvement.  The offense gets out of rhythm too often and can be overly simple.  But the design of the offense is good in my opinion.  It's very balanced and challenges defenses to defend the entire field.  If Mazzone can adjust the protection and diversify somewhat, I think the offensive scheme will not be an issue.  I wouldn't mind seeing some fresh blood come in to push Mazzone, and if that comes in terms of a "passing game coordinator" or "co-offensive coordinator", then so be it.

UCLAluv:  This time I don't agree with AHMB.  Mazzone is too stuck in his ways to change.  But that is not what we're discussing here.  I do not know enough about the people out there, and I am concerned that Mora doesn't either (although I'm betting he knows a lot more about the folks out there than I) to make any suggestions.   I don't know who it will be but it needs to be someone with knowledge and commitment.  I am still so depressed at how our amazing talent was watered down this year by terrible play calling.  I would have Kennedy calling the plays in the Alamo Bowl.  It seems like he is the one that worked to turn around our return game and is intricately involved with all of our skill players.  He has a good knowledge of what our players can do and has been around enough successful programs to know what works.  However, I wouldn't make the mistake Mora did when he moved a successful position coach to a coordinator just because he is successful in his current position.

gbruin: IE Angel. But if he's too busy with his second job of writing for BN, then I'd see if Doug Meachem, the OC at TCU, were available. Granted, moving to be the OC at U.C.L.A. would not necessarily be a big vertical change in his career, but I'd love to see what he could do with our very good roster and solid skill position players. Unfortunately, I really don't see Noel Mazzone going anywhere at this time.

6. The extra point - fire away:

Achilles: I'm going to go back to something I wrote about early in the season, maybe in the preseason. We really need to upgrade at the wide receiver and running back positions. One of the reasons expectations were so high this season was because we had one of the best quarterbacks in school history. If I had to pick one quarterback to win a game with my life depending on it, I'd still take Troy Aikman or Cade McNown and probably even Tommy Maddox over Hundley, but Hundley is a top quarterback. But when I watch the teams in the college football playoffs ... I just don't think our backs and our receivers would necessarily have an impact on those teams. We were so weak at offensive line in prior seasons that it seemed like all the focus for Mora was to upgrade that position and we have done that. But now we need to go from good to great at the skill positions. We need some game breakers, a Foster or Jones-Drew, a Freddie Mitchell or a Danny Farmer or J.J. Stokes.

IslandBruin2: Going forward, we need to overcome two hurdles. First, we need to be able to beat Oregon and Stanford. Oregon is irrelevant the next two years for the regular season, as they have rotated off the schedule. But until we can beat them in a championship game, we haven't arrived. And Stanford- the losses in 2012 and 2013 were understandable, if depressing, because we lost to a BCS team. But in 2014 we lost to a BS team. Secondly, we need to be able to avoid having the inexplicable meltdown against lesser opponents, which happens at least once a season. The South is too competitive to count on others for help. In 2012, it was Cal. In 2013, it was Arizona State. In 2014, it was Utah and/or Stanford. We are better after three years of Mora than we were after three years of Dorrell or three years of Neuheisel. But that doesn't cut it. This program should be nationally relevant, which does not mean Holiday, Sun, Alamo, (fill in the blank with a repeat of Holiday, Sun or trip to another non-playoff rotation bowl, fill in the blank with a repeat or a visit to a new non-playoff rotation bowl).

AHMB:  UCLA football is at a crossroads.  Lots of programs are good for a few years when they have great quarterback play.  Is the program going to stagnate now that Hundley is graduating, or can Coach Mora turn UCLA into a real conference title contender?  Theres no doubt that the program is trending in the right direction.  Now Coach Mora has to show that he can not only keep the momentum, but exceed the results over the past three years and actually bring a Pac-12 title to Westwood.

UCLAluv:  I really don't have much to add so I will just say what matters most to me.  This team has players on it that work their butts off and are committed heart and soul to each other and to being the best they can be.  I want the same from the coaching staff.  Coach Mora owes it to these players to give them the best teachers, coaches, and coordinators he can find.  Obviously, we have the funds to hire the best, so there are no excuses for not giving our players the best chance to succeed.  As a teacher, I know when I would get students that were like these players, passionate about what they were doing, pushing each other and themselves, I felt responsible to raise my level as well. They deserved it.  So do these amazing young men.   I think Coach Mora and others on the staff do feel this responsibility and work extremely hard for this team.  However, I do not think this is true of all of the staff, either because they lack the knowledge or the attitude and work ethic.   I will never know what kind of quarterback Brett Hundley might have been in college.  The debate about why he wasn't as good on the field as we had hoped is pointless because we will never know what he might have been with a quarterback coach who had experience and knowledge and with a play caller that put the offense in the best position to succeed.  I remember thinking after the first few games that maybe he should just leave the team and work on his craft elsewhere.  But that is not who Brett is.  We need a qb coach and offensive coordinator that will never put a UCLA quarterback in this position again.  On a positive note, I will really miss this team.  I was able to go to more games, practices, and be around them more than any other and I have developed a real love for them.  Oh yah, and then there was another truly joyful game against Southern Cal again.  Go Bruins!

gbruin: It's hard to encapsulate this season. I loved this team. I am proud of this team. I was disappointed with this team. And I don't think any of those things contradicts the other. In the end, I want our team and our fans to experience real success, and I want Jim Mora to be the coach to get us there - to get us over the hump where we can beat an average Stanford team and compete with and beat an elite Oregon team. But I wanted the same with Karl Dorrell and with Rick Neuheisel. See, I'm about U.C.L.A. and not about a specific coach. I don't doubt Mora's sincerity or intentions. I just don't know if Mora and staff have the skill to get us to that next level. The one thing I have some hope for is that the college game is still relatively new to coaches like Mora and Ulbrich and Klemm (if not Mazzone) and that those guys will continue to grow and evolve into great coaches at this level. If they can do that, then we're talking, because U.C.L.A. has all the other qualities needed to be a truly elite football program.

Well, that's it for the regular season folks. We'll have one last talk after we take on Kansas State in the Alamo Bowl. For now, fire away in the comment thread with your thoughts on the regular season, who your offensive and defensive MVPs are, and who think will break out for UCLA next year.