Quarterback Brett Hundley/ photo credit Lisa Horne
by Lisa Horne
In 2010, a 2-0 football record would have been cause to celebrate in Westwood.
Instead, the UCLA Bruins went 0-2 in their first two games of that season against Kansas State and Stanford. They finished with a 4-8 record.
The Rick Neuheisel era was a football cocktail of two parts cautious optimism and one part resignation with an angst chaser by week four or five of the season. It was shaken and stirred, year in and year out. The hangovers were epic.
Alas, those were the old Bruins, I was informed this summer.
Head coach Jim Mora is in his third year and expectations are sky high. I bought into the preseason hype hook, line and sinker because these are the new Bruins. I followed the protocol despite an ominous flood on the UCLA campus and the injury bug infecting the O-line.
Predict UCLA makes it into the College Football Playoff? Check. Include Brett Hundley on my top five Heisman watchlisters? Check. Laugh off criticism from my East Coast brethren for going all in on the Bruins? Check, check and check.
My mom is a Bruin. Powder blue blood surges through these veins. I really like those kids in Westwood. They're smart, respectful and engaging. I admire the school's academics and athletics. Although I'm a Trojan alum, no one can justly accuse me of any bias against UCLA.
At some point though, UCLA football has got to help a girl out. What have you done for me lately, Bruins?
UCLA was ranked No. 7 in the AP's preseason poll and quarterback Brett Hundley was a consensus Heisman Trophy candidate. Good, I thought. The media has seen the light and I've been vindicated.
After beating Virginia 28-20, the Bruins dropped to No. 11. Despite a 2-0 record, UCLA has dropped in the polls for two consecutive weeks and is now No. 12. Winning but dropping in the polls... where have I seen this before?
Last year the Florida Gators were ranked No. 10 in the AP preseason poll. By week 8, Florida had dropped to No. 22 with a 4-2 record. It finished the season at 4-8. If UCLA continues to win by underachieving slightly less than its opponents, it could become the first undefeated team to finish unranked.
Pollsters aren't convinced UCLA is a very good team. Neither am I.
The talent is there. Hundley is one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Miles Jack is one of the best athletes in the country. Eric Hendricks is one of the best linebackers in the country. The problem is that UCLA is not one of the best teams in the country. And it should be.
The Bruins had to hang on to get a 42-35 win over Memphis, a 3-9 team last year.
Memphis has appeared in six bowls—seven if you count the 1956 Burley Bowl—since bowls were introduced in college football. UCLA has played in six bowls since 2006. Memphis is not a powerhouse football school yet the heavily favored Bruins made them look like one while playing in front of 72,098 subdued fans in the Rose Bowl.
My bartender ran out of angst by halftime so I just repeatedly slammed my head on a table to achieve the same desired effect.
The old Bruins would have lost to Memphis so I suppose this victory is improvement. But why apply the standards of success for a mediocre team to a team expected to contend for a championship? Is beating a mid-tiered American Athletic Conference team considered improvement when the victor was previously ranked in the Top 10? Would Alabama fans be happy to beat Memphis 28-20?
If you want to soar with eagles, you don't cluck about beating turkeys.
Bruin fans aren't looking for any more baby steps—they have watched this program take one step forward and two steps back for far too long.
Last week the defense looked vastly improved. This week's version couldn't force one turnover. UCLA is last in the conference in sacks and sacks allowed. Blame the offensive and defensive lines. They cannot protect Hundley and they are giving opposing quarterbacks too much time.
The Bruins' defense finally got its first sack of the season against Memphis but its lack of constant pressure on quarterback Paxton Lynch resulted in him going 27-of-41 for 305 yards and one touchdown.
UCLA needs to turn this around quickly because the Bruins play Texas on Saturday in Arlington. You don't mess with Texas but apparently BYU did not get the memo. The roster-depleted Longhorns were destroyed by the Cougars 41-7.
A cornered dog is a dangerous dog, more so if that dog is a 5-star stud who is tired of getting kicked in the teeth. The Bruins may be 2-0 but marching into Jerry's Palace with the stench of overconfidence wafting behind them is not a good recipe for success.
One team's season will be over when this game ends. A win only proves that someone had to win, a loss validates what we already knew.
2014 is supposed to be the Bruin revolution. That implies a total change in the fans' mindset as well. This team is special and should be challenging for the College Football Playoff, not resting its laurels on regional triumphs.
Mora is 2-0 against USC but the Trojans have not been at full strength for several years due to scholarship reductions. Are those victories against USC really signature wins?
Last year the Trojans (10-4) finished the 2013 season ranked below UCLA (10-3). In the previous year, USC (7-6) was blown out of the Sun Bowl. Meh.
How about Nebraska and Virginia Tech? Are those signature wins for UCLA? It depends on how far up you set your sights, doesn't it?
Last year Virginia Tech lost to Boston College, Duke and Maryland. Nebraska lost to Minnesota and Iowa. No further explanation is needed.
If UCLA does not drastically improve by this Saturday, a 6-6 season is likely. Cal (2-0) and Utah (2-0) looked like gimmie games in the preseason but both teams appear to have prolific offenses. The Bruins are now down to two chalk games: Colorado and Washington.
Mora understands how crucial this week is. "We can't wait to get things fixed," Mora told local media including InsideSoCal's Jack Wang in a Sunday teleconference. "We have to fix things now."
Wang also noted that the Bruins' performance against Memphis was the second straight game where the Bruin offense had not outscored its opponent in the second half. UCLA must finish.
Hundley will be off to the NFL in 2015. Class of 2015 quarterback commit Josh Rosen may rethink his decision to play at UCLA if the Bruins cannot protect its Heisman candidate.
UCLA's last two games of the regular season are against USC and Stanford. The Bruins also host Oregon on October 11. Winning two of those three games would be a "turn the page" moment for UCLA. Lose two of the three and there won't be enough alcohol to numb the pain of this season.
The Bruin revolution is officially on the clock.