If you're a super-casual fan of UCLA football, you might look at the 2-0 record and think "so far, so good" - yet, nothing could be further from the truth. The Bruins entered the season as the preseason #7 team in the nation, led by fourth-year QB, Heisman hopeful, two-time Sports Illustrated cover boy Brett Hundley, buoyed by a beat-down of Virginia Tech in the Sun Bowl to end last season - setting up the perfect storm of circumstances for UCLA to finally make an elite run in Mora's third year at the helm in Westwood.
So far, nothing really has changed - the Bruins are still in a position to put together an elite run. Assuming this coaching staff can figure out what is going wrong for UCLA, if the Bruins run the table, beat Arizona State, Stanford, Southern Cal, and Oregon (or at least lose a close game to the Ducks - an actual elite program), but end up winning the Pac-12 title at Levi's Stadium, they'll still be playing in the Rose Bowl as part of the first-ever College Football Playoff. Yes, we're 2-0, an yes, UCLA can still accomplish those goals.
Are those goals likely? Based on the performance we saw from this football team against Virginia and Memphis, we're more likely to be playing in the Emerald Bowl or Las Vegas Bowl than the Rose Bowl when the regular season is done and dusted. There are some major problems and questions with this UCLA team: will Jim Mora's coaching staff put together a complete game on both sides of the ball? Can Mazzone get consistent offensive production from his unit, especially when the quality of the opponents' defenses goes up? Will Ulbrich ever call a blitz? Can UCLA find a way to not play down to their opponents?
Before the season started, when you looked at the schedule, the Bruins weren't expected to get much of a test early: opening against a Virginia program led by a coach on the hot-seat, hoping to just make bowl eligibility, followed by taking on Memphis, a joke program with just eight Division I-A wins over the past four seasons. Most people tabbed taking on the Texas Longhorns in "neutral" Dallas as the Bruins' first true test of the season - but then over the summer, the wheels starting falling off with six players suspended. Then, things went from bad to worse - watching the Horns through the first two weeks - UCLA should have no excuses for not picking up a big win over a very weak, thin, beat-up Texas team. The Longhorns are a big-time program and they have one of, if not the, classiest fan bases in the nation - they deserve an elite team, but unfortunately, that's not happening this year.
First, Texas is a beat-up, thin team - due to both injury and players being suspended/dismissed (now up to eight by my count) - which means the Bruins should be primed to beat the Horns. When you look at the list of Longhorns who have either been suspended or dismissed (a list that continues to grow as Strong wields some tough discipline on a program that had gotten off the rails a bit). That's a lot of guys who aren't suiting up for Texas, many of whom were experienced and key contributors to the squad. Even if they were all youthful reserve players, the lack of those bodies will hurt Texas in a sport where depth is key to success. Much like how sanctions really hampered Southern Cal, Texas will be hurting this year with their thin roster.
Second, BYU gave UCLA the blueprint for how to go to Texas and give the Horns a beating - you'd be hard pressed to find an objective scout who would say BYU's QB Taysom Hill is better than our own Brett Hundley. So, when you check out the clips over at Burnt Orange Nation of Hill just torching the Horns defense with his legs, it's not hard to imagine our own #17 doing the same. Charlie Strong is a good coach and he will get Texas back to national prominence - but that will be a long road. The simple reality is that this Longhorns team is just not very good right now - they will get better, but hopefully not against us.
Third, it's not just BN who thinks UCLA should be able to take care of Texas at "neutral" Dallas. Our friends at the very good SBN blog Barking Carnival (yes, Texas is so big, they get two SBN blogs) had this to say:
On to UCLA, who will attempt to do many of the same things to us with a much more highly-regarded array of athletes. If you want to see them attempt it in person, tickets shouldn't be terribly hard to come by. Just make sure to stick it to Jerry and sneak in a flask. There are actually several reasons to do this.
It's always darkest before the dawn, and the hope right now is that it's 5:45 AM rather than 10 after midnight. Things may not get worse before they get better, but with our OL in its absolute infancy as a unit things might not get good for a while.
Hang tough, Horns.
Yikes. We can never wish ill on the Horns, who really are the UCLA of the South (like how Michigan is the UCLA of the Midwest), and who have an outstanding group of classy fans (many fond memories of the trip to Austin and how classy they were), but we'll leave it with this - we hope their revival begins the week after they play the Bruins.
In short, there's no excuse for anything than a complete victory for the Bruins in Dallas. Texas is a proud program and they're playing more or less at home (the equivalent would be if we played a "neutral" return game in San Diego or San Francisco), but the Bruins have way too much talent on both sides of the ball to not replicate what BYU did with inferior talent (although you could make a very good argument that they have a far superior coaching staff). Right now the Bruins are in the middle of a two game slide of mediocrity and playing down to the opponent - UCLA needs a complete victory in all facets of the game to get things going for what is supposed to be an elite season and a run at the Pac-12 conference crown. A total win won't answer those questions given the level of the opposition, but it will be a nice momentum building win for what is shaping up to be the Bruins first real test of the year - a road game against a very good, well coached Arizona State team in Tempe.
No excuses in Dallas.