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Elite Expectations: Hundley and a Favorable Schedule Make National Title Possible for UCLA

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To kickoff Bruins Nation's Football Fall Preview, we first take a look at our expectations for this year's team.

Expect Coach Mora to Be Bringing Home the First National Championship Trophy of the CFP Era.
Expect Coach Mora to Be Bringing Home the First National Championship Trophy of the CFP Era.
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Sixty years is a long time unless you're measuring it against the dinosaurs or if you are Neil DeGrasse Tyson walking across the Cosmic Calendar.

Believe it or not, it has been sixty long years since UCLA won its one and only National Championship in Football. (It isn't included in the UCLA NCAA Title count because it was awarded by the UPI Coaches Poll, not the NCAA.)

There have been some great years since that 1954 and there have been plenty of mediocre ones too.

But this year, the expectations are probably higher than they've ever been and there are several very good reasons for that. This year, there is a confluence of several factors which have created the expectation that UCLA will be one of, if not, the very best teams in college football. Let's look at those factors.

They say it takes 3 to 4 years to truly rebuild a football program. In his first two seasons, Coach Mora has won 9 games and 10 games, respectively. He has had three very solid recruiting classes. And, while no UCLA team has EVER won more than 10 games in a season, this year should be the year that this is finally accomplished.

"Wait a second...." you say. "Just last week, I read a detailed analysis about UCLA's ceiling."

Well, I'm here to tell you that, even though that was an in-depth statistical analysis, there is more the game of football than any statistical analysis can consider.

The first reason why the expectations for UCLA this season are high is simple: Brett Hundley.

In his first two seasons, Brett has proven to be our best quarterback since at least Cade McNown and possibly since Mr. Aikman, whose first name I'm omitting for obvious reasons.

Brett Hundley was Jim Mora's single biggest recruit after last season and Coach Mora was successful at convincing Brett to come back for this season. I do expect that this will be our last season with Brett as our QB (unless the unthinkable happens).

Assuming Brett stays healthy, this is almost certainly the last season we will see him in a Bruin uniform.

It's been fun watching him grow as an athlete. From all reports, he has done the work both on and off the field to lead the team to a very special year. His Heisman hopes definitely depend on how UCLA plays throughout the season. If UCLA is in the picture for the National Championship, Hundley will be a strong contender for the Heisman Trophy.

The second reason expectations are so high has to do with the favorability of the schedule. Let's face it. UCLA has always (and should always) have one of the strongest schedules in the country. Part of that comes from playing in the Pac-12. A nine-game conference schedule means that you are required to play more conference opponents per season than you would if you were playing in a conference that rhymes with Mouth Beastern, But, our strength of schedule also has to do with the fact that you will never find the Little Sisters' of the Poor facing off against us at the Rose Bowl. UCLA is one of three schools in the FBS that has never played a game against an FCS school. Notre Dame and the University of Sleazy Cheaters are the other two.

There are potential pitfalls each and every week when you play in the Pac-12. If you get caught looking past a team, it can and probably will end up costing you a W.

Our three toughest road games this year will be Texas, Washington and Arizona State. Texas will be tough because this "neutral site" game is being played in Arlington. We've has plenty to say about how this should have been done as a home and home and how you don't schedule a neutral site game where your opponent has a large fan base.

Washington will be tough because they actually significantly upgraded their coaching staff when Steve Sarkisian returned to the University of Sleazy Cheaters and the Huskies lured Chris Petersen from Boise State.

Arizona State will be tough because they are the defending Pac-12 South champs and, last year, they beat us in a game we could have and should have won.

But, the real reason the scheduling gods are smiling on us is that our three toughest opponents will all be visiting the Rose Bowl -- Oregon, Stanford, and the University of Second Choice. While that's no guarantee of victory, it makes the possibility of beating each of them easier than if we had to play them on the road.

Looking at the schedule, it is very possible that we could make it to November undefeated. At worst, we should only be looking at one loss before the game against just$c. That means we should expect to be playing in the Pac-12 Championship Game for the third time in four years against either Stanford or Oregon.

This means that the minimum expectation for this season is a Pac-12 Conference Championship. Normally, that would mean going to the Rose Bowl. However, this year the Rose Bowl Game is a national semifinal game.

And, while winning the conference is no guarantee of making the new College Football Playoff, I believe that the CFP Committee will have to give a hard look at whatever team wins the Pac-12 because of the 9-game conference schedule plus conference championship as one of the four teams to play for the National Championship.

It is questionable as to whether the CFP Committee will give UCLA what should be a de facto home game by allowing us to play a national semifinal at the Rose Bowl rather than shipping us off to the Sugar Bowl to play there.

Regardless, if we win the conference with one loss or less, the National Championship should be an attainable goal even if we have to play in the Sugar Bowl.

"But, what about the holes UCLA has at [fill in the blank]?" you ask.

It would be easy to nitpick and find places where UCLA has holes. Some would argue that the single biggest hole is still at running back. That was an area of concern last season. The solution is already in place and it has little to do with uber athlete Myles Jack. It does, however, start with coaching and adding Kennedy Polamalu as Running Backs Coach was a great start. Of course, the backs most discussed are usually Jordon James, Paul Perkins and Myles Jack, but the guy who is currently on the radar is the guy I think will ultimately be our top running back and that's Craig Lee. He was absolutely explosive during Spring Ball and expect that trend to continue into Fall Camp. Consider this whole filled.

And the same goes for any other position where we may appear weak, or weaker than last year, on paper, like linebacker. Anthony Barr has graduated and gone on to play for the Minnesota Vikings and many will wish we still had him, but we still have Eric Kendricks and Myles Jack behind a D-Line that brings back Owamagbe Odighizuwa, Eddie Vanderdoes,  Ellis McCarthy and Kenny Clark. If there's a hole there on defense, it is going to be pretty small with those guys playing.

The offensive line? No problem. The issues of depth on the O-Line have been solved by three solid recruiting classes and the transfer of Malcolm Bunche from the University of Miami.

The holes from years past have been filled. This team is looking like a very special one. Of course, they must play up to their potential each and every week. The coaching staff cannot afford to make a mistake like they did against ASU last season by only using Myles Jack on offense.

Mistake-free football is difficult over the course of a game, much less an entire season. But, the experience of the coaching staff and the experience and depth that this team has should allow them to overcome any mistakes along the way.

So, mark my words. Book your hotel rooms for Dallas in January. Our season will include two trips to Jerrysworld this year and, unlike our first visit, the return trip will be a true neutral site game.