The UCLA Bruins were one of the biggest surprises in college football this season under first year head coach Jim Mora. Long considered the “little brother” in Los Angeles with a history of falling apart in big moments, UCLA showed resiliency and toughness in winning the Pac 12 South division title and coming within a field goal of getting to the Rose Bowl. However, after getting blitzed in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl by the Baylor Bears, the Bruins showed they still have a long way to go to be considered one of college football’s best.
Mora has done a fantastic job turning around the culture in Westwood and putting his stamp on a team that had failed to live up to expectations in recent years. He put his foot down from day one and cut out any nonsense, like the tradition of seniors going “over the wall,” and held fall camp in the sweltering heat of San Bernadino to build character. Practices were early in the morning and Mora spared no player sharp words of criticism when they needed it, and the results were immediate.
UCLA opened the season with impressive wins over the Rice Owls, Nebraska Cornhuskers and Houston Cougars before opening conference play with a loss to the Oregon State Beavers. They bounced back, however, and won six of their next seven games with wins over then No. 22 Arizona Wildcats and then No. 18 USC Trojans, the latter of which announced that LA was no longer to sole dominion of Trojan football.
However, the Bruins then went on to lose their last three games, two of which were to the Stanford Cardinal in the regular season finale and the Pac 12 Championship game and then the Holiday Bowl blowout. The Bruins failed to show up against the Bears, struggling to block, tackle or do any of the things that pushed them to nine wins this season.
The team took major strides this year under Mora, but couldn’t avoid the end-of-season swoon that has been their trademark. Granted, their last three losses were to the top-10 ranked Pac 12 champs and the hottest offense in college football. Still, if Mora and the Bruins truly want to be considered as one of the best teams on the West coast and in college football in general, they have to have a stronger showing on a national stage.
As it stands, the Bruins fell flat on a national stage and missed an opportunity to turn around their image. Hopefully for the school, Mora will pass on the advances of the NFL this offseason so that he returns to Westwood to continue the turnaround process started in 2012. The initial steps have been taken to restoring UCLA’s legitimacy in college football, but there is still plenty of work to be done.