It's only May but the buzz around Jim Mora's UCLA football program is getting noticeably louder. Back in March, before we got to enjoy those weeks of spring football, the feeling in Westwood was one of unbridled optimism: that UCLA was on the verge of taking the next big step forward, returning to the national elite for the first time since that disastrous collapse in 1998. As we said before spring practice got underway:
We're no longer looking for "next year" - this is the year for UCLA football to take the step into being a nationally elite team. The pieces are in place for the Bruins to make a serious run at winning the conference and playing in the inaugural college football playoff. So mark it down: 10+ wins, a solid win over Southern Cal, and UCLA's first conference title since 1998. If we do those things, a slot in the inaugural college football playoff is sure to be ours for the taking.
2014 - it's the Year of the Bruin. It's time for Mora to step UCLA up to the national elite. Anything else will be squandering one of the best opportunities for UCLA in a very long time.
Well, spring practice has come and gone, and the return of warm-weather spring ball has done nothing to damper expectations; in fact, an increasing number of national media outlets are looking for the Bruins to really challenge with the elite teams in college football this year. Back in January, Jason Kirk at the SB Nation mother-ship projected the Bruins to finish just outside the college football playoff (with Oregon getting our spot, presumably with a win in the Pac-12 title game) but heading to Arizona for the Fiesta Bowl against Baylor:
For that fourth spot, either Michigan State, Ohio State, or Wisconsin (please look up Wisconsin's conference schedule, for a giggle) should emerge from the Big Ten in shape to contend. I swapped all three in and out of that fourth Playoff spot. But we'll go with the Buckeyes for now, as they're only now becoming fully Urban Meyer in terms of talent. Auburn, Georgia, and UCLA would probably be next up at this point.
Likewise in January, Steven Lassan at Athlon Sports not only slotted our Bruins in at the top of the Pac-12 South (with the Bruins projected to meet Oregon in the conference title game), but would not be surprised to see UCLA do something special with Hundley back in the fold and a schedule tailor-made for an elite season:
Could 2014 be a special season for UCLA? Quarterback Brett Hundley turned down a shot at the NFL for one more year with the Bruins, and a challenging schedule will allow Jim Mora’s team to make a compelling case for one of the four playoff spots. Hundley’s return is a huge plus for UCLA, and the junior should have more help from an offensive line that shuffled a handful of players into the lineup due to injuries. Replacing linebacker Anthony Barr and end Cassius Marsh will be the biggest obstacles to overcome on defense. However, Mora has recruited well, and Myles Jack and Eddie Vanderdoes are two players poised for a bigger role in 2014. As for the schedule, UCLA has crossover games against Stanford, Oregon and Washington, along with a non-conference test against Texas. But two of those games (Oregon and Stanford) are in the Rose Bowl, and the Bruins host Arizona and USC in key Pac-12 matchups.
Not to be left out, ESPN compiled a 2014 preseason college football power index, ranking every Division I-A program. Of course, the defending national champion Florida State Seminoles finished at the #1 spot, but to no surprise to well-informed and savvy Bruin fans, UCLA checked in at #5 in ESPN's index, finishing between Alabama at #4 and Ohio State at #6. In other words, we're expected to win out or lose no more than a single game - in short, to re-join the ranks of the dominating, elite programs. That's some pretty elite company to be rubbing elbows with. Now it's just up to Jim Mora and his players to turn these predictions and projections into reality.
The buzz is growing. The #BruinRevolution is coming. Let's get it done - no more waiting for next year, this is the year, the year of the Bruin.