Photo credit Lisa Horne
by Lisa Horne
After a devastating 31-10 beatdown from Stanford, UCLA fans are reflecting on the state of their football program.
The Bruin Revolution was nothing more than a temporary uprising. UCLA will watch two other teams borrow its home stadium to play for the Roses. It is a 15-year tradition.
If there is a bright spot, it's that one of those teams is not USC. Hooray for small victories.
The Bruins have enjoyed three consecutive nine-win regular seasons. Head coach Jim Mora is 1-1 in bowls and 0-2 Pac-12 Championships. While the Bruins have not yet proved they belong on the big stage, they have shown improvement.
In Rick Neuheisel's last three years as the Bruins' head coach, UCLA lost 15 of its 19 regular season games on the road. Under head coach Jim Mora, UCLA lost only four of 18 away from the Rose Bowl. That's a mind-blowing statistic which should make UCLA fans smile. But with the good comes the bad.
UCLA has lost to Stanford with everything on the line twice in three years. The optimist will say that at least UCLA was in a position to contend for the conference title. The pessimist will say that UCLA cannot win big games.
The youthful Bruins trucked Arizona State and USC but rolled over to five-loss Stanford. It's hard to digest. The Cardinal were very beatable, even more so playing on the road and without Ty Montgomery. That did not matter and now some fans are calling for Mora's head.
Maybe the UCLA should fire its fans, instead. Before you start calling me names, hear me out.
I have Bruin blood running through my veins. My mom graduated in the mid-seventies from UCLA. My dad is a Michigan State undergraduate alum as well as a double-Master alum from USC. My twin brother and I are USC alumni. If my daughters were accepted into UCLA, I would probably do somersaults. I have a lot of respect for UCLA.
For Bruin fans, beating cross town rival USC is a big deal. It's an elite program. But USC has not been nationally relevant since the NCAA's scholarship sanctions diluted its potency from 2011-14. UCLA beating USC was like Maryland beating Penn State. Totally foreseeable. The Nittany Lions, like the Trojans, had depth vulnerability due to NCAA sanctions. But some fans don't understand the minutia surrounding a win.
A Bruin comment on BruinsNation.com:
"We have never been a powerhouse in football, so for me, beating USC is the measure of success. [Mora] has accomplished that."
If this is the standard of success in Westwood, then UCLA will never be a football powerhouse. Imagine if Auburn fans had that type of attitude after an Iron Bowl win. Would the Tigers have ever won a BCS Championship? Probably not.
Two years after Auburn head coach Gene Chizik won a BCS Championship, he was fired. Fans got fed up with mediocre results and had a come-to-Jesus moment—quarterback Cam Newton probably won that 2010 BCS Championship, not Chizik.
See, when you sell out your football games and roll some trees after a win, your voice has power. If you scream for a coaching change, the suits listen.
Nebraska recently fired Bo Pelini despite turning in another nine-win season. That isn't good enough anymore for fans that have sold out Memorial Stadium since, well… forever.
Back to UCLA, the school that has won more national championships than any other school. It's the school of champions. Winners go to UCLA and graduate from UCLA.
But do they attend the football games?
When UCLA beat USC at the Rose Bowl on November 22, the stadium was full (for UCLA standards) with 82,431 fans. The school celebrated the third time this season the Rose Bowl exceeded 80,000 fans for a Bruin football game. The stadium capacity is 91,136.
One week later, only 70,658 fans showed up to cheer on a Bruin team that controlled its own destiny for a Pac-12 Championship berth. There were empty sections in the majestic Rose Bowl. It was only filled at 76 percent capacity.
It was embarrassing.
For what it's worth, Oregon State (5-7) sold out Reser Stadium on Saturday for The Civil War. Oregon State lost 47-19 to the Oregon Ducks and will not be bowling this year. The fans showed up anyway.
On that same Saturday, 79,586 fans attended the USC-Notre game. The mostly partisan crowd showed up despite it being a big holiday shopping weekend. Despite a lingering stench from the previous week's shellacking by UCLA. Despite no New Year's Day bowl berth on the line. The Coliseum was filled to 86 percent capacity.
USC fans, renown bandwagoners, showed up and made a statement. They wanted to say goodbye to the kids who chose to stay-and-play instead of transferring to another school after the NCAA doled out its sanctions four years ago. The fans came to show respect.
They came to cheer on their team despite that loss to their cross town rival. USC ended its season with a bang. UCLA ended theirs with a whimper.
The Mercury News' Jon Wilner put out his bowl projections and he has USC in the Alamo Bowl and UCLA in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Nothing against the Las Vegas Bowl, but that's a slap in the face to the Bruin football program. UCLA has a better record than USC and should go to the better bowl. Maybe it still will.
But when you don’t support your team at home as well as you should, important people notice. And because UCLA fans didn't sell out the Rose Bowl, the lack of fan support was duly noted by other bowl officials.
Those seniors deserve better. So does Mora.