With all due respect to our outstanding Olympic sports (and to islandbruin2 and bruinette88 who - unlike our AD - have done an outstanding job talking about the teams and giving them their much deserved appreciation) today's Bruin Bites is all football.
It's that kind of day.
With U.C.L.A. stalking a Pac-12 South division championship, and possibly more, the media coverage this week has been turned up, and even seems more intense than it has been in recent years. Some of that can be attributed to the standings of the two teams, with the Bruins currently #9 and the trogans #19 in the latest CFB poll. CBS Los Angeles looked back at the last 6 matchups between the two teams when both were ranked in the top 25 of the AP Poll. Good news...the Bruins are 3-2, with cheating $c having the vacate the 2005 meeting.
That media scrutiny is heightened because the Bruins, despite some pretty big bumps along the way, still find themselves with a chance to fulfill their high preseason expectations of getting a look at the College Football Playoff. David Lombardi of ESPN wrote about the Bruins up and down season and how the defense will need to come up big to keep things pointed the right way for Coach Mora and U.C.L.A.
Jim Mora acknowledges that UCLA's trajectory of improvement this season has been complicated.
"For us, if you were going to do a graph, it's been rather jagged, but always trending upwards, even when it didn't seem like it," he explains.
The entire gamut of feelings and evaluations have checked in with the Bruins over the course of 10 games so far -- lofty hype, bitter disappointment, maddening inconsistency, and mercurial play all come to mind.
Ultimately, the smell of success is lingering even as the dust of the chaos begins to settle. UCLA is 8-2, and with only two games remaining, they have traversed the Pac-12 South minefield well enough to control their own destiny -- not only for a conference crown, but also (potentially) for a College Football Playoff berth.
The Business Insider broke down the chances of the top 9 teams, all of whom have a legit shot at the CFB Final Four.
UCLA has the longest shot and needs the most to happen but they are also the dark horse that could sneak in. This is also the scenario you are rooting for if you love chaos.
Follow along: If UCLA wins out, including wins over top-25 ranked USC and Oregon, they would be Pac-12 champions and would almost certainly finish ranked ahead of Oregon.
If TCU and Baylor each lose one of their remaining games (not impossible) and if Ole Miss beats Mississippi State (very possible), the top three would most likely be Alabama, Florida State, and Ohio State.
The committee would then have to choose between a 2-loss non-SEC champ (Ole Miss or Mississippi State), a 2-loss Big 12 champ (TCU or Baylor), or a 2-loss Pac-12 champ that has a win over Oregon (UCLA).
Yes, that scenario is getting ahead of things, but the possibility is certainly drawing a brighter light on this game than it might otherwise. Of course that road all begins with a win over the trogans tonight, so let's start there.
Jack Wang wrote an outstanding piece on our mid-season addition, DE Takkarist McKinley. McKinley was fortunate to have the love and support of his grandmother through a difficult childhood, and as he does everyday, he will have her in mind on Saturday.
Takkarist McKinley is trying to think of his favorite childhood memory, and at the moment, he's coming up empty.
His earliest, haziest recollections are of a trip to Mississippi to meet a man he thought was his father. A paternity test later proved otherwise. He remembers all the nights he spent on couches or floors around the East Bay, having given up the bedroom to his younger cousins in a crowded house. He thinks of the T-shirts left on the streets, marking the spots of gunned-down bodies.
No, he's found it now: watching wrestling with his grandmother. The two loved nothing better than to huddle in her bedroom, turn on the television, and drink up the part-sport, part-stunt spectacle that was the WWE. Her favorite character was Booker T, a dreadlocked hulk of a man best known for the "spinaroonie" move and a boisterous catchphrase: "Can you dig it, suckaaaaa?"
Myrtle Collins died in 2011, succumbing to heart complications. McKinley has not watched wrestling since.
"I think about her every day," he says, sitting on a bench on the edge of UCLA's Spaulding Field. "She motivates me not to give up."
Seriously. Read this article.
Our friend Chris Foster at the LAT has been busy this week covering a bunch of different angles on the Bruins. Of course Brett Hundley has been a major focus of the Bruins all season, and even more so this week. So far, only Cade McNown beat the trogans three times in his U.C.L.A. career - he actually did it four - and Hundley will try to become the second Bruin on that list tonight. He'll likely have to rely on both his arm and his legs to do so.
"That's what I do," Hundley said. "It'd be nice to sit in the pocket and be Peyton Manning back there. Teams structure a game plan for what you're doing most. It's a game of cat and mouse."
In recent weeks, Pac-12 defenses have dared Hundley to run by dropping eight or nine players into coverage. And they have paid a price. Hundley has gained at least 89 yards rushing in four of the last five games. He has run for 564 yards and seven touchdowns this season - and 1,683 yards and 28 touchdowns in his UCLA career.
Another good piece by Foster focused on the wide receivers and the importance of their unheralded role - blocking in the running game.
It is no secret that UCLA's offense purrs when quarterback Brett Hundley is on the move. An improved running game has also pushed the Bruins along this season.
UCLA receivers have had a hand in both areas, becoming skilled at down-field blocking, which can turn short gains into long ones.
"We like being physical," receiver Eldridge Massington said. "Defensive players like to hit us. Most of the time, receivers don't like to hit back. We do."
Line wins games, right? These guys are part of that, too.
Speaking of the running game, Ryan Kartje, who has done a great job covering the U.C.L.A. beat all season for the OC Register, wrote a great article on the man behind it all, Coach Kennedy Polamalu. This rivalry is nothing new for Polamalu, but this will be his first time on the sideline for the good guys, and the great improvement in our running game this season can be traced back to his hire.
"It's not that anything needed to change necessarily," Mora said. "There's just a general feeling you get sometimes as a head coach that you need to make an adjustment. Maybe a different type of personality would impact the players in the way you'd like. That's not to say anything negative about the guy before, but it happens with coaches a lot. A guy comes in and he invigorates an entire squad."
That certainly has been the case with Polamalu, who, in less than a full year with the program, has turned UCLA's running game around completely. Through 10 games, this year's Bruins are averaging more rushing yards per game (215) than any UCLA backfield since 1986. At the core of that success is Perkins, who has evolved into one of the Pac-12's best all-around backs, upping his average to 6.17 yards per carry and giving the Bruins a legitimate every-down threat out of the backfield.
It's not just current coaches and players who are the focus this week, but plenty of Bruin alums are talking about this game. Bruin greats Jarrad Page and Bruce Davis have joined forces for an awesome weekly podcast and this week's episode focused on the Bruins hatred of their rival. They were joined this week by two other Bruin legends, Marcedes Lewis and Anthony Barr. Give it a listen here.
Foster spoke to a couple of former Bruin QB's this week about the rivalry. Tommy Maddox faced Southern Cal twice, and he started that great 8 consecutive victory streak in 1991.
Former UCLA quarterback Tommy Maddox remembers his one victory over USC. Yet, he has total recall on his one loss.
Maddox threw for 212 yards in guiding the Bruins to a 24-21 victory over the Trojans in 1991. It started UCLA's eight-game winning streak in the rivalry.
"The one I won was a lot more enjoyable," Maddox said.
Former Bruin QB Wayne Cook, who owns two wins over the trogans as a starter himself, weighed in on the rivalry, too.
Cook, now a sideline reporter for UCLA radio broadcasts, said, "I've listened to them talk how they dominated the series. Go back and look at the 1980s and 1990s. I'm sure UCLA won both decades. That's two decades."
UCLA had a 5-4-1 record against USC in the 1980s and 8-2 record in the 1990s. As for USC's dominance under Coach Pete Carroll in the 2000s, Cook cites the Trojans' probation.
"The Carroll years are tainted," Cook said. "They even had to vacate a couple wins.