UCLA: Jim Mora

UCLA makes a statement against ASU

September, 26, 2014
9/26/14
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TEMPE, Ariz. -- UCLA's visit to Arizona State was popularly billed as a measuring stick game. It was a measuring stick for the Pac-12's South Division between the two teams that won it the past three seasons. It was a measuring stick for two teams that entered the game with as many questions as answers despite being unbeaten.

Apologies in advance for the unsubtle image, but UCLA took those measuring sticks and beat Arizona State over the head with them. The 15th-ranked Sun Devils jumped to an early lead but the No. 11 Bruins dominated for three quarters in a 62-27 victory.

Questions? The first one for UCLA was whether quarterback Brett Hundley would be healthy enough to play after getting knocked out of the win over Texas on Sept. 13 with a hyperextended elbow. Oh, he looked pretty healthy. He passed for 355 yards, completing 18 of 23 throws, with four touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed for 72 yards and was sacked just once -- the Sun Devils sacked him nine times last year.

All that work for Hundley amounted to a 97.7 QBR rating, per ESPN Stats & Information, which is pretty close to a perfect 100.

"He's a freak of nature," said receiver Jordan Payton, who hauled in an 80-yard TD from Hundley on the first play of the third quarter; the score came during a monstrous 42-3 run from the Bruins after they fell behind 17-6 early in the second quarter.

That run required less than 20 minutes of game time and was highlighted by big plays. Other than Payton's catch and scoot, there was an 80-yard TD pass to Eldridge Massington that was brought on by comedically poor tackling, a 95-yard interception return from Ishmael Adams that was a back-breaker for the Sun Devils just before halftime, and a 100-yard kickoff return from Adams midway through the third quarter that sent Sun Devils fans stomping out of their stadium.

The Bruins needed less than nine minutes to score 28 of those points. They won by 35 points despite running practically half as many plays as the Sun Devils -- 58 to 105 -- and converting half as many first downs (19 to 38).

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsThe Bruins had plenty to celebrate on Thursday night.
"I think we showed we had some grit to us," UCLA coach Jim Mora said.

Since Hundley went down versus Texas, Mora played coy with the media about his QB's status. While Hundley sported a sleeve and a brace on his left, non-throwing elbow, he seemed none the worse for wear, taking a number of hits and even hurdling flailing defenders. The strong implication after the game was no one in the Bruins locker room had believed Hundley would again give way to backup Jerry Neuheisel, particularly considering he was playing in his hometown.

Mora was asked after the game at what point did he know Hundley would play.

"I don't know how to answer that," he quipped. "I can answer it truthfully or I can lie."

The truth is this performance made a statement for the Bruins, a team which had yet to live up to its preseason hype as a national title contender. The truth also is this performance was far from perfect. While UCLA dominated, its defense also yielded 626 yards.

"I'm not happy with it and I don't think they are happy with it," Mora said. "We have to play better."

On the other hand, Arizona State scored only 10 points after the 14:24 mark of the second quarter and averaged just 6.0 yards per play. Eight Pac-12 teams have averaged more than that per play this year, and the Sun Devils entered the game averaging 7.6 yards per play.

UCLA averaged 10 yards per play on offense, something that didn't make Arizona State coach Todd Graham very happy.

"Tackling was atrocious. Very, very poor tackling," Graham said. "Fundamentally we looked bad and looked inexperienced. I am lost for words. I think we got worn down. I do not think our conditioning was very good."

Unlike UCLA, Arizona State was forced to use backup QB Mike Bercovici because of a foot injury to starter Taylor Kelly. Bercovici made plenty of plays, completing 42 of 68 throws for 488 yards and three TDs, but he also hurled two interceptions and fumbled.

"I think Mike did some great things but you cannot make turnovers," Graham said. "That was the story of the night. He did make some great plays and overcame adversity. For his first time starting, he really showed some promise."

Hundley spent most of his postgame session with reporters celebrating his offensive line and receivers and downplaying his elbow injury. When asked how close the Bruins are to reaching their potential he said, "Very close."

"We just keep getting better," he said. "The sky is the limit."

The "sky" was the lofty measure some ascribed to the Bruins in the preseason. After three unimpressive wins, however, more than a few pundits started throwing this team back to earth.

It's possible UCLA now will require a new measure after pounding the Sun Devils in their own house.


Neuheisel, Bruins find a way to slip Texas

September, 14, 2014
9/14/14
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video

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Without quarterback Brett Hundley, UCLA could not win. It didn't matter that Texas was beaten up and beaten down. It didn't matter that Hundley was just one guy. He was The Guy, the face of the Bruins, the biggest reason some touted them in the preseason as national title contenders. Moreover, to put it gently, the depth chart behind him was unpromising.

Backup Jerry Neuheisel? Son of Rick Neuheisel, the guy who was fired before Jim Mora built the Bruins into contenders? The guy who some suspected got a scholarship only because his dad was the head coach? No way.

So when Hundley was surrounded by trainers after going down with an apparent elbow injury in the first quarter against the Longhorns, you could sense impending doom. You could sense the Bruins, who had struggled to beat Virginia and Memphis with Hundley, joining teams such as Ohio State, Clemson, South Carolina, Georgia and Michigan State on the slag heap of exposed contenders.

[+] EnlargeJerry Neuheisel
Richard Mackson/USA TODAY SportsBackup quarterback Jerry Neuheisel got a hero's exit after leading No. 12 UCLA to a come-from-behind 20-17 victory over Texas.
Texas thought the same thing.

"[Neuheisel and Hundley] are two different quarterbacks," Texas cornerback Quandre Diggs said. "One guy is up for the Heisman and the other guy is someone we've never heard of."

Yet there was Neuheisel eyeballing Diggs' cornerbacking counterpart, Duke Thomas, in man coverage against receiver Jordan Payton with three minutes left in the game, sensing his moment had arrived.

"As soon as I saw [Thomas'] eyes, I thought, 'Oh, my God, this might just work,'" Neuheisel said.

The Bruins were down four on Texas' 33-yard line and pretty much hadn't allowed Neuhiesel to throw downfield since he came off the bench, but offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone expected man coverage and decided Payton might get free with a double move.

In fact, Thomas appeared to bite on Neuheisel's pump fake, and the ball arrived soft and sweet into Payton's hands. Touchdown. After the defense forced a four-and-done, the Bruins hoisted Neuheisel onto their shoulders. They'd won 20-17 without Hundley to improve to 3-0.

"I felt like it was going to be a little bit of a defining moment for us," UCLA coach Jim Mora said of when Hundley went down.

While it might seem to some like an ugly 3-0 for the nation's No. 12 team, it was a dream come true for Neuheisel. Literally. He told his teammates that at halftime. He grew up dreaming of following in his dad's footsteps as the UCLA quarterback, imagining throwing winning touchdowns in his backyard. The general expectation from fans and media, however, was the redshirt sophomore would remain on the bench behind Hundley, holding for field goals and then backing up whoever won the job next year when Hundley was off to the NFL.

Yet a point of emphasis from Mora and the Bruins after their victory was never doubting Neuheisel.

"We all expected it," Payton said.

Said Mora, "His team fricken' loves him. There was never any doubt."

Well, there was and is some doubt. What's next, for one, is a big issue. Hundley's status is questionable, to say the least. Mora would only say Hundley would be evaluated by UCLA team doctors back in Los Angeles. While beating a struggling Texas team with a backup QB is one thing, the Bruins visit Arizona State on Sept. 25 after a bye week. That's an entirely different deal, a critical South Division showdown. Of course, in an unfortunate twist of fate, both teams could be without their starting quarterbacks, as Taylor Kelly suffered a foot injury against Colorado on Saturday.

Neuheisel, who completed 23 of 30 passes for 178 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, could square off with Sun Devils backup Mike Bercovici in a game with major Pac-12, and even national, implications. The Bruins, however, were still operating inside the 24-hour rule Saturday, which means their primary concern is enjoying the present, not refocusing on the next foe.

Neuheisel is his father's son. He looks and sounds like Rick Neuheisel, and he's quick with a quip like his dad. When he walked into the postgame interview room, he noted, "Holders don't get this kind of publicity." After the elder Neuheisel led the Bruins to an upset of Illinois in the 1984 Rose Bowl, he cracked wise during a postgame interview about the Fighting Illini band blasting music behind him.

"I just talked to my dad," Jerry Neuheisel said. "He said, 'You did it. It's kind of a Neuheisel thing.'"

On a day when UCLA's crosstown rival, USC, wilted at Boston College, the Bruins found a way to dig deep, overcome adversity and win. UCLA might not be a beautiful 3-0, but it is 3-0 and that's what matters.

"They never flinched," Mora said. "They never blinked. That's kind of what we are trying to become. And we're getting closer and closer every day."

Grumpy UCLA eyeballs Texas, doubters

September, 11, 2014
9/11/14
11:00
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UCLA coach Jim Mora began his weekly spot on the Pac-12 coaches teleconference with a grumble and two harrumphs. Some might say there also was a dismissive snap or two. This was Grumpy Jim.

He was asked about his Bruins appearing on the Pac-12 Network series, "The Drive."

“I’ve never said the words, ‘The Drive,’ to our team," he said. "I’ve never heard our players talk about it. They’ve never asked me a question about it. It’s a complete nonentity to us.”

He was asked about his team not playing up to expectations.

"How do you know we haven't played up to our own expectations?" Mora said, adding that he's not going to "talk about what he talks to the team about."

He was asked about Texas' pursuit of him last year before he re-upped with UCLA and the Longhorns hired Charlie Strong.

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images"It's up to us to prove that we are a competitive, good football team to be reckoned with," Jim Mora said. "In the first two weeks, we haven't necessarily done that."
"You'll have to ask them if they considered me," he said. "I'm just excited to the coach at UCLA."

That's all he would say, even though a day later a story would appear on ESPN.com in which he provides great detail about the interview with Texas representatives.

A grumpy football coach isn't unusual, just as a coach who doesn't want to talk about his team's struggles or his flirtation with an other job isn't either. Yet after these tense initial three minutes, Mora transformed. He loosened up and became pleasant and expansive. His 10 minutes of allotted time stretched to 15. When he fielded a last question about changing a program's culture, you got the distinct feeling he was smiling while answering.

Call the analogy facile, but Mora showed that a quick turnaround is possible, and that's what he's hoping he gets from his team as it prepares to play Texas on Saturday in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. That transformation with reporters included significantly more insight about his and his team's thinking after some folks turned up their noses following unimpressive UCLA wins over Virginia and Memphis.

“We enjoy the role of underdog," he said. "We feel like we’re kind of back to where we want to be, which is people are doubting us. There’s a reason for that and we’re OK with that. It’s up to us to prove that we are a competitive, good football team to be reckoned with. In the first two weeks, we haven’t necessarily done that.”

Then Insightful Jim apologized for his insightful answer, "I hope you can get something out of that.”

We can. Mora is even more aware than critical reporters that the Bruins first two games haven't yet matched reasonable expectations for his depth chart. The good news is his team is 2-0. It's entirely valid to question, however, whether his team will prove to be the national title contender it was projected to be in the preseason. The early returns suggest not.

Mora went even further with his beat reporters Tuesday, admitting his players were "tight" the first two weeks. "I think we let the outside expectations become a little bit of a burden to us," he said.

In Game 1, the offensive line looked over-burdened by Virginia, yielding five sacks and producing little running room. In Game 2, that line surrendered four sacks, but the running game was better and the Bruins scored 42 points and gained 540 yards. Yet the defense yielded 35 points and 469 yards.

While it would be easy to say that if you combine the defense from Game 1 and the offense from Game 2, UCLA would be fine, the real issue is improvement on the offensive line, the team's most questionable area. This is not a new thing.

UCLA has surrendered 97 sacks since the beginning of the 2012 season, tied for second-most in the FBS, according to ESPN Stats & Information. It's particularly concerning that this isn't about blitzes. QB Brett Hundley has been sacked 51 times in his career on plays in which opponents have sent four or fewer pass-rushers, the most for any Power 5 quarterback in the last three seasons. Bruins QBs have been pressured (hurried or knocked down) on a Pac-12-high 24 percent of their dropbacks the last two seasons, including 24 percent this season.

And it's not just about pass blocking. UCLA is averaging 71.0 yards before contact per game this season, second-worst in the Pac-12 behind Washington State. The Bruins produced 130 plays the last two seasons that lost yards, third-most in the FBS.

Despite these worrisome numbers, Hundley and the Bruins have managed to score a lot of points, as they've averaged 36.7 points per game the past two seasons. But unreliability up front is where UCLA's 2014 great expectations might get the Miss Havisham treatment.

As for Mora and the Bruins, who have tumbled from No. 7 to No. 12 in the AP poll, the reality is being grumpy at 2-0 isn't such a bad thing. He noted that the worst thing that can happen to a team is its locker room becoming permeated with self-satisfaction.

So while a few gritty harrumphs for Texas on Saturday and Arizona State on Sept. 25 might quell the doubters, that grumpiness shouldn't ever completely go away.

Mora confident Bruins will handle hype

August, 27, 2014
8/27/14
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The 2014 preseason top 10 is laden with the usual suspects: Florida State, Alabama, Oregon, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Auburn, Michigan State, South Carolina and Baylor. While a couple of those teams aren't certifiable perennial powers, they all finished the 2013 season ranked among the top 13.

There is, however, a lone outlier: UCLA. It's ranked seventh in both the AP and coaches' polls, up nine spots from its final No. 16 ranking in 2013.

Lone outlier? That was UCLA's first end-of-season ranking since 2005, when it finished 16th in the AP poll and 13th with the coaches.

Lone outlier? The Bruins haven't been ranked in the preseason top 10 since 1998.

No team in the country is generating more buzz as a nouveau contender than UCLA. ESPN "College GameDay" pundits Lee Corso and Desmond Howard both predicted the Bruins would win the national championship in the first year of the College Football Playoff. Nine of 23 ESPN college football pundits picked the Bruins to at least make the playoff semifinals. Twelve picked them to win the Pac-12.

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
Icon SMI"I think we are a mature team, a focused team," coach Jim Mora said. "When you are a mature team and a focused team that practices hard, you get confidence from that."
Of course, college football history is full of teams that went rear end over tea kettle after being handed high preseason rankings. Florida was ranked 10th last year in the preseason and finished 4-8. USC was No. 1 in 2012 and finished 7-6. Sports Illustrated ranked Oregon State its 2001 preseason No. 1 but the Beavers tumbled to 5-6. Arizona started at No. 4 in 1999 but floundered to 6-6.

Bottom line: If you take a high preseason ranking and $1 to the bank for change, you'll still only get four quarters for your trouble.

Make no mistake, though, there's a good reason for these lofty estimations. A perusal of the Bruins' depth chart -- even if third-year coach Jim Mora insists he doesn't have one -- reveals a team with a lot of talent and few questions. It's not just Brett Hundley behind center. It's size, athleticism and experience just about everywhere. The Bruins are loaded with skill players and are physical at the line of scrimmage.

In fact, the most obvious preseason issue for UCLA isn't about personnel. It's about handling all the hype. While a high preseason ranking means Mora and his players have been doing something right, all the headlines, backslaps and gushing media accounts could become distractions. Players could become complacent, believing a high ranking means entitlement. As the klieg lights roll into Westwood, and the velvet ropes part at the hottest L.A. clubs, there's always a chance the team could lose its way.

No one is more aware of this than Mora. There's a sign posted in the locker room that Bruins players have alluded to throughout the offseason: "Don't listen to the noise." In other words, forget buzz. Remember the work."

"We focus on the day we are living in. We try to be great today and then we come back and try to be better tomorrow," Mora said. "If you don't concentrate and focus on the daily grind and being the best you can be that very day then you are going to lose track of who you are and where you are going."

While Mora is aware of the dangers of distraction, it's also pretty clear he's not obsessed with it like many coaches. While many elite programs shut down media access, UCLA is fairly open with reporters and has even allowed the Pac-12 Network to film a behind-the-scenes account of the Bruins' season, a weekly show called "The Drive," which focused on Arizona State and California last year.

Obviously, that accounted for decidedly mixed results on the field. The Sun Devils won the South Division, beating out UCLA, and Cal's season was a tale of woe.

"It won't be a distraction, not one single bit," Mora said.

Why does he believe that? Because of the culture that he believes has been established in his locker room. It's the foundation of his team's confidence, which comes from within, not without.

"It's probably maturity," he said. "I think we are a mature team, a focused team. When you are a mature team and a focused team that practices hard, you get confidence from that. I don't think you gain confidence from other people telling you you're good. Or other people putting expectations on you, labeling you as something. That confidence is internal. It comes from working hard every day."

Mora is a pretty bottom-line sort of guy. He knows that the hype -- and "The Drive" -- won't win the Bruins any games this year. Nor, for that matter, will it lose any. Whatever is going on around UCLA or the words used to describe the team, it's still all about talent, focus, preparation and executing on game day.

As in: The usual suspects.

Lunch links: Stanford's tough road

June, 25, 2014
6/25/14
2:30
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You're not a wartime consigliere, Tom.

Video: UCLA coach Jim Mora

June, 24, 2014
6/24/14
9:00
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ESPN.com reporter Kevin Gemmell talks with UCLA coach Jim Mora about expectations for the Bruins and what's happening leading up to fall camp.
Welcome to the mailbag.

You can follow me on Twitter by clicking here. One word: Nirvana. And I'm not talking about the band, though they would sound pretty good just about now.

To the notes!

Grant from Seattle writes: Ted, what are the odds that someone other than Cyler Miles starts a game at QB for the Huskies this year? And who would it be -- Lindquist or Williams? I've heard some really good things about Lindquist.

Ted Miller: The Huskies QB situation will be intriguing to watch this August.

While the overwhelming sentiment is Miles is the most ready to take over for Keith Price, there are no guarantees. You, of course, start with his off-field incident after the Super Bowl. While Miles wasn't charged, there is no question that he didn't conduct himself well. Even if it was all on wide receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow, which I find dubious, Miles' proper response would have been to grab his enraged teammate by his collar and say, "You need to shut up and chill out."

(Funny fact: I have a good buddy who might be reading this who was the captain of my high school football team and did that exact thing to me when I was acting like an imbecile. Perhaps more than once. Gemmell now has that job).

The reason I bring that up is that coach Chris Petersen has made a big deal out of OKGs -- "Our Kind of Guys." When I say big deal, I mean it's actually written in big letters beside his picture on the Huskies official website.

It's fair to ask how quickly Miles might earn OKG status, whether he's the most game-ready guy or not. My feeling with Petersen is he probably isn't going to make things easy for Miles, at least in the early going.

As for a pecking order between Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams, I haven't noted an appreciable separation, at least nothing that can't be quickly overcome in fall camp.

So, to answer your question, I'd rate it a 39-percent chance that someone other than Miles starts a game at QB for the Huskies this year.




0006shy from Los Angeles writes: hey ted, do you think the lack of conference championship games for the Big 12 and Notre Dame will hurt them when it comes to being selected for the playoff? Generally speaking won't teams that play thirteen games have stronger schedules?

Ted Miller: Yes and no.

A strong 12-game schedule will trump a weak 13-game one. An undefeated Notre Dame or undefeated Big 12 team is a very good bet for the four-team College Football Playoff because they will, more often than not, play a strong schedule.

On the other hand, it could hurt if the selection committee is comparing an array of one-loss teams, including Notre Dame and the Big 12 champion, and the SEC, Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12's one-loss champs are coming off impressive victories over ranked teams just days before. There is an unavoidable what-have-you-done-for-me-lately psychology there that might be difficult to overlook.

And an "extra" quality game would bolster a team's strength of schedule of metrics.

On the other hand, Notre Dame and the Big 12 also know that a conference title game means said conference's lead team is vulnerable to a season-ruining upset.

In the end, you are hitting on a point -- one of many -- that folks will be paying attention to when the committee starts making tough distinctions.




Ed from Placentia, Calif., writes: Why is your non-important article on kendricks on a Trojan website? As a Trojan fan, I don't care what he thinks or does to prepare for this season. Write and publish articles that are important to Trojan fans? Was this an error? I really don't want to read any more bRUIN articles. I paid money to read info regarding USC.

Ted Miller: I've received more of these sorts of notes from USC fans over the past year than any previous season. The meaning is simple. USC fans are officially concerned about UCLA's rise under Jim Mora.

In 2008, this was the sort of note a UCLA fan would write.

One of the unmistakable fan psychoses I've witnessed over the years is RUNT -- Rivalry Ululation from Niggling Team -- the often irrational petulance of fans whose team is struggling while their rival is thriving. (Kevin and I have been talking about this, and Chantel may take over the Pac-12 Blog's Department of Complaints this fall).

Ed, you are a fan of USC, perhaps college football's preeminent program. Act accordingly.

But feel free to worry privately about the Bruins' rise. That is completely rational.




Matt from Oakland writes: After losing one of the Robinson twins and Jake Rodriguez recently, should Oregon be concerned at the number of good players transferring away from the program?

Ted Miller: Absolutely. You should panic. That should be your perpetual state.

It sure seems as though a gaggle of Ducks fans love to cuddle with anxiety, obsessively wringing their hands over every single negative blip for the program.

Matt, you and Keith Dennis, who also asked this question, should band together for a trip to consult with the Oracle at Delphi. Only she can provide you the knowledge you seek!

Obviously, we've been here before.

Short answer: No.

Remember all the other sorts of offseason tribulations you've been through during the Ducks greatest run in program history? The departure of a few nonstarters is not something that should ruffle your feathers.

A loss to Michigan State, now that would be time to really panic.




Jake from MTL writes: Hey Ted. Whats your prediction for Arizona starting QB?

Ted Miller: Prediction? Paaaaaaaaainnnn.

Sorry, Clubber Lang took over the mailbag for a moment. He said to tell you he "pities the fool who thinks he knows what Rich Rodriguez is thinking."

Before spring practices began, I saw senior Jesse Scroggins as a long shot. Though I'd probably still take the field over him, I'd rate him a slight frontrunner, at least based on spring practices.




Tom from Portland writes: Inexperience. Reminds me of a secondary textbook I had in Economics 201: "Lying With Numbers".Having most of your lettermen back can sometimes be a very bad thing if, for example, those same guys went 1-8 in your own conference the year before.

Ted Miller: Yes, if your returning players are uninterested bloated zombies who drank beer and played video games all summer then their experience doesn't matter.

Another thing I've learned through the years -- so much wisdom today! -- is that folks who uproot Benjamin Disraeli's quote, "Lies, damned lies and statistics," often are having an emotional reaction to statistics that don't fall in their favor.

Getting a lot of this from Arizona State fans at present. Their offseason story is to judge it irrelevant that their team lost nine defensive starters and will be relying on a bevy of players on that side of the ball this season who haven't seen a Pac-12 snap.

Leaps of faith are great. Heroic even. But the available evidence suggests reasonable people should be skeptical about the Sun Devils defense this fall. Or any other unit on any other team in which inexperienced or generally unknown players will be taking over starting roles.

Folks, returning starters is simply one way we judge teams in the preseason. It's a straightforward measure of the known. It also takes the not unreasonable position that a freshman will be better as a sophomore and sophomore will advance as a junior, etc. Doesn't always work that way, but it's perfectly logical as a predictive model.

Consider this before/after photo of Washington State safety Deone Bucannon.

He kept getting better as a returning starter, no?

Sure, some teams seem to operate in a realm where returning experience doesn't matter, most notably during dynastic runs when top recruiting rankings are piling on top of each other -- see Alabama at present and USC from 2002 to 2008.

Again, noting returning starters and lettermen isn't the end-all of analysis, but it unquestionably is a useful piece of information.




Eric from Somerset, via Boulder writes: Ted, the best-case/worst-case cannot die. Not only are they hilarious, and well written -- even the ones you probably don't like after writing them, but more importantly, What will happen to Jon Embree's daughter's bike? I have a solution. Don't worry that it may mean more work for you. You no doubt have ample free time to fill anyway, writing and rewriting pieces you don't like. Have us -- we humble Pac 12 Blog fans -- submit them. Your time "could" be cut in half, just reviewing, editing and posting, vs. writing, reviewing, editing and posting. It might even end up not sucking. Just an idea. ... Long live the Pac-12 Blog, and hopefully the best-case/worst-case scenarios. Go Buffs.

Andy from Austin, Texas writes: Ted, I have a suggestion to appease folks asking for the best/worst case series to continue, hopefully without adding to your work load too much: Why not ask for fan submissions? As an avid UW fan I would love to spend a few days perfecting a 1000-word piece about my beloved Huskies going 12-1, dropping one on the road to the frequently pesky Arizona, followed by winning the Pac-12 championship game before losing a heartbreaker to FSU in the first round of the playoffs. Similarly, I'd relish the chance to craft a couple submissions about Oregon crashing and burning to 7-6 post-Mariota injury with Phil Knight having a crisis of conscience and deciding to refocus all of his financial resources on tackling child labor laws in southeast Asia, as well as WSU flaming out to 3-9 with Mike Leach jumping ship in favor of using his law background to defend actual Somali pirates in legal proceedings. It might take some time for you and your team to read through a lot of these submissions, but that may be more amenable (and hopefully more entertaining) than to have to actually create all of these yourself. Just a thought. Love the blog.

Brian from Cincinnati writes: Hi Ted, I read your comment about the Best Case/Worst Case piece and have an idea to keep it going. Launch a reader contest and have them submit their takes -- you select and publish the best or most relevant? I'd take a crack at Oregon's if you opened it up to us readers. Thanks for what you do. Keep it going!

Ted Miller: Did you guys get together and talk about this? Lots of notes suggesting this course of action.

First of all, thanks for the kind words. Gratifying to know some folks enjoyed the pieces.

I am intrigued. Let me give this some thought. Maybe I can set up an email box for folks to send in their work/ideas.

Going on vacation next week, so I can let this marinate.

Kendricks ready to lead UCLA defense

June, 12, 2014
6/12/14
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Things are good for UCLA this summer. For one, in advance of preseason practices, the Bruins can recline by the pool and reflect on having defeated USC in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1997-98. That span, by the way, is also the last time preseason expectations were this high.

As in Pac-12 and national championships high.

The reclamation project that Jim Mora has wrought, one that had Texas eyeballing him in the winter before he signed a new contract with UCLA, seems to be gathering momentum rather than peaking.

“It feels great, but at the same time, this is where I believe we are supposed to be," linebacker Eric Kendricks said of the swirling enthusiasm in Westwood. "All the hard work me and my teammates have put in, I feel like we were supposed to end up in this situation.”

Yet the 2013 season, a transformative one for UCLA, wasn't so easy for Kendricks. While the Bruins were asserting themselves, their star middle linebacker struggled through a variety of injuries -- kidney, shoulder, back and ankle. He played through most of them, but the bum ankle forced him to undergo surgery and miss the dominant Sun Bowl victory over Virginia Tech.

[+] EnlargeEric Kendricks
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks has 332 career tackles, even though he was slowed by injuries in the 2013 season.
Winning eases pain, but it doesn't cure it.

“Last season was probably the hardest season I’ve ever been a part of," Kendricks said of his personal travails. "It was a learning experience for me having to play through pain. It made me mentally tougher. I was playing for my teammates. That was the main reason I was out there trying to fight my butt off.”

Even with the injuries, Kendricks -- who has started 28 games -- didn't have a bad campaign. He still ranked third in the Pac-12 with 8.8 tackles per game. He again earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors. Still, when folks thought of a UCLA defense that -- finally? -- was developing some grit, they tended to start with Anthony Barr and true freshman Myles Jack, Kendricks' fellow linebackers, and then perhaps move on to a defensive front speckled with young talent.

Kendricks has been a tackling machine in the past three seasons with 332 career stops -- his 150 tackles in 2012 were the most by a UCLA player since 1978 -- but it's fair to say his junior season didn't play out how he would have scripted it. If his season had followed a logical progression from his sophomore production, he would presently be sharing top billing with Jack as the Bruins' defensive stars and probably would have earned preseason All-American attention.

Yet when asked about the finding himself outside the spotlight, Kendricks gives it a rhetorical shrug.

“I could care less," he said. "As long as I do my job, I think the film and the numbers speak for themselves. As far as attention I get from NFL teams, that will take care of itself. I don’t need any of the spotlight, honestly.”

A healthy Kendricks is an NFL prospect. For one, he's got good bloodlines. His father, Marv, led UCLA in rushing in 1970-71. His older brother Mychal, the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2011 at California, is a budding star for the Philadelphia Eagles. Both brothers are listed at 6-foot, but Eric Kendricks is a leaner version (230 pounds vs. 240).

As to who's faster, Eric said this about a 40-yard race between the two: “He might win one without pads, but I’d win one in pads.”

The brothers talk frequently, and Eric is eager to learn about the NFL game and what it takes to play on Sundays. The general gist he's picked up is that everyone is a spectacular athlete, so it's your focus and preparation that separates you from the competition.

That lesson also applies to the current Bruins as they eyeball big goals. Preseason expectations don't mean squat. They don't block and tackle and make plays. No one is ceding the South Division to the Bruins.

Of course, Kendricks and his teammates know that. That, however, shouldn't stop them from enjoying the burgeoning excitement.

Or expressing to each other on a regular basis what it means to presently own the series with USC.

"Yeah," he said laughing. "That is awesome."

Spring breakout player: UCLA

May, 20, 2014
5/20/14
5:30
PM PT
This week, the Pac-12 blog will finish looking around the conference at several players who really stood out during spring ball. It’s only 15 practices, but it’s enough time to catch the eyes of coaches and gain momentum going into the season.

We continue the series with the UCLA Bruins.

[+] EnlargeFabian Moreau
Ric Tapia/Icon SMIFabian Moreau, a converted running back, seems to be ready to make a leap as a cornerback at UCLA.
Breakout player: CB Fabian Moreau

2013 statistics: A starter in all 12 games he played in, Moreau ranked ninth on the team with 51 tackles and earned all-conference honorable mention. He also had four pass breakups.

The case for Moreau: The 6-foot, 200-pound Moreau might not be the traditional “breakout” player, as he received honorable mention accolades last season. But in this case, he’s a perfect fit.

Head coach Jim Mora is looking for leadership. The previous couple seasons the Bruins have had the benefit of players such as Johnathan Franklin or Cassius Marsh to serve as the voice in the locker room. UCLA has four of its six team captains from last year returning, but Mora said he believes Moreau is ready to step up and lead the secondary.

Mora told the Pac-12 blog in a recent Q&A that Moreau has some “special traits” and has the potential to be a great player. He’s also been equally impressed with Moreau’s maturation physically and at the position, telling the Los Angeles Times: “The way he is developing, that’s a sure-fire first-round pick. I’d pick him in the first round and I’ve coached some pretty good corners.”

That's high praise for a converted running back. Then again, UCLA has had a knack the last couple of years for turning former backs into defensive standouts.

The Bruins will have a high preseason ranking and a lot of expectations this season. Should they recapture the South Division and return to the conference title game, chances are Moreau will play a huge role.

Other spring breakout players:

Arizona: WR Cayleb Jones
Arizona State: LB D.J. Calhoun
Cal: RB Daniel Lasco
Colorado: WR Bryce Bobo
Oregon: WR Devon Allen
Oregon State: WR Victor Bolden
Stanford: DL Aziz Shittu

Mailbag: SEC scheduling, rivalry gripes

May, 2, 2014
5/02/14
5:45
PM PT
Happy Friday. With Pac-12 spring practices ending this weekend, the offseason is officially upon us.

Of course, there is no offseason if you follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes!

James from Washington, D.C., writes: Is there anything Larry Scott can do to force other conferences to adopt a similar schedule as the Pac-12's? It looks like the conference is severely hurting itself with nine conference games and a title game.

0006shy from Los Angeles writes: Ted, Bill Hancock came out and said the selection committee doesn't care whether a team plays eight conference games instead of nine; they just care about overall strength of schedule. Doesn't that mean, once again, the SEC has won the debate before it even really started? It's the beginning of May and the selection committee has already decided that it's fine for the SEC to game the system. What are the other conferences supposed to do? I'd personally like to see them black-ball the SEC so that they're unable to schedule the "mandated" out-of-conference games.

Brian from Colorado writes: Regarding the SEC scheduling brouhaha, I think Pat Haden's advice is appropriate: "Get over it." The SEC will not change of its own accord, because its scheduling format has worked quite well in the BCS era. The future is bright for the SEC because the poll voting will likely not change that rewards SEC teams in the Top 25. The coming year's playoff committee, just like the BCS, will be highly influenced by the rankings -- that is a stark reality. Why would the SEC change? In all likelihood, they will have one guaranteed seed in the playoff and a realistic shot at two seeds -- remember Alabama vs. LSU in the national championship game a few years back? The only way the SEC will change is if they suffer the same risk the rest of the conferences face -- being snubbed by the committee. Until that happens, we can expect the status quo will continue.

[+] Enlarge2009 Alabama
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesBecause of the SEC's success nationally, they feel no real pressure to play a nine-game league schedule while others will.
Stephen from Smyrna, Ga., writes: As a Tennessee grad and longtime ticket holder, I couldn't agree more with you. In fact, if a poll were conducted among SEC fans, I dare say the vast majority would also agree that a nine-game conference schedule is a must. It is simply a matter of time before the SEC leadership recognizes this is in their best interest. In the meantime, I can only hope that schools such as mine will schedule the UCLAs and Oklahomas as opposed to the WSUs and Kansas' of the world.

Bobby from Greenville, S.C., writes: I think your article on SEC scheduling is very shortsighted on many points. At one point it is stated that it's not a debate about Big Ten vs. SEC. Well, to that point, I think that exactly proves why the SEC stays at eight games. A little biased here, being a UGA fan. But let's look at it closer. Last year, UGA played how many teams that were ranked in top 15 at the time they played them? Now let's see a Pac-12 or Big Ten team do the same! Now let's add another SEC game, why don't we? Because the SEC IS THE BEST CONFERENCE. Whether too heavy or not, that was still like five or six teams UGA played that were top-15 at the time they played. No thanks -- I'll pass on another league game. Also, stories are very slanted on the SEC not playing quality nonconference opponents. Again, UGA played top-10 Clemson and Georgia Tech last year. I also refuse to lose Auburn as a yearly opponent. So that debate needs to leave forever. Now Alabama or Florida nonconference, I cannot defend. Maybe that needs to be looked at more as far as the ADs are concerned. Thanks for listening.

Ted Miller: As you might guess, we got a lot of response to our discussion about the SEC opting to play only eight conference games instead of nine, as the Pac-12 and Big 12 do and the Big Ten plans to do.

All the fans from nine-game conferences were frustrated to some degree, though often over different issues. Some of the SEC respondents said, "I hear you." Others defended the SEC decision.

First off, if you want to go with the "SEC rules and everyone else stinks!" approach, go away. I understand this day and age that it's fun to troll and to purposely say something that is ridiculous just to get a rise out of people, but this actually is an issue that goes beyond conference quality.

Further, if you're going to say that SEC teams already face a tougher schedule than the Pac-12, know that what you are saying is factually inaccurate. You can still say it, of course. Free country. But you will be saying something that is wrong.

OK. Now that we've covered the fatuous stuff.

What this is really about is simple: The SEC thinks it can get away with making things easier on itself. That's not my opinion. That is a fact. Anyone stating otherwise is either ignorant or disingenuous.

The SEC is not going to change this approach unless it is forced to, or at some point in the future it believes this approach no longer gives it an advantage. Let me give you an example of how the College Football Playoff Selection Committee can make that happen.

[+] EnlargeStanford
David Madison/Getty ImagesStanford would have had a strong argument for inclusion in the playoffs if the new system were in place in 2013. But would the committee have snubbed Alabama to get them that berth?
Say the selection committee is meeting right now. It has selected three of four teams. The fourth selection will be either Alabama or Stanford. In an extraordinary coincidence, Alabama and Stanford each have played the exact same schedule as they did in 2013 with their opponents ending up exactly the same. Weird, huh?
Committee member 1: Alabama has great tradition and it passes the sight test. And it's an SEC team. But was it really? It played just three teams that are presently ranked and it's best win came over No. 16 LSU, which has lost three games. It missed South Carolina, Missouri, Vanderbilt, Georgia and Florida.

Committee member 2: I know. It's like Alabama was in the SEC in name only last year.

Committee member 3: And then there's Stanford. It went 5-2 against teams that are presently ranked, with its marquee win being over No. 10 Oregon. Yes, it lost two games, but all the metrics suggest it was more difficult to go 11-2 against Stanford's schedule than it was to go 11-1 against Alabama's. Heck, the Cardinal played six road games and Alabama only played four.

Committee member 1: By every objective measure, it should be Stanford. Boy, that eight-game conference schedule is something, isn't it? You get to say you play in the SEC, but by missing five conference teams every season, scheduling quirks sometimes almost make it like playing in the ACC.

Committee member 4: But we're going to get barbecued by all those SEC fans.

Committee member 1: Screw 'em. They need to call their ADs and demand a nine-game conference schedule as well as a more robust nonconference slate.

Committee member 2: Can we at this point all agree that the Pac-12 blog is awesome?

All together: Heck yeah!

This isn't about the quality of the SEC, which every clear-thinking person acknowledges as the best college football conference. It's about aspiring toward an equitable playing field so the selection committee can do its job well.

  • If the Big Five conferences all play a nine-game conference schedule, it provides a broader picture of a conference's actual pecking order. Why? More games against each other, duh.
  • If the Big Five conferences all play a nine-game conference schedule, it makes it easier to compare teams across the country because they played the same schedule: Nine conference games, three nonconference games.
  • If the Big Five conferences all play a nine-game conference schedule, it helps balance the number of home and road games between the conferences.
  • If the Big Five conferences all play a nine-game conference schedule, it's better for the fans because they get to see, say, Alabama and Georgia play more often.

Again, other than Machiavellian self-interest, there is no argument that justifies what the SEC is doing. None.

[And now my mailbag fills with "The Pac-12 stinks!" notes.]


Wat from Parts Unknown writes: Why does the ACC get a pass when discussing the eight-game league schedule? Especially since an ACC team is the defending champs and the overwhelming favorite to repeat? I hate to play this card, but at least getting through the SEC means playing multiple talented, well-coached teams. But as for FSU, they bested their strongest regular season foe 50-14. (That foe's only other regular-season game against a ranked team? 31-17). Even better: their second regular-season-best foe (whom they crushed 45-7) went 10-4 with no victories against the top 40 and a pair of losses to 7-6 teams. So FSU gets to the national title game by beating Clemson, Duke and a bunch of unranked teams (including Nevada, Bethune-Cookman and Idaho out of conference), and it is the SEC that has you concerned with schedule strength? And not only is the ACC consistently a weaker league, but they do not even have the annual out-of-conference power conference foe requirement that the SEC just adopted. So what prevents FSU (or if they slip up, Clemson; or for that matter, longtime pretender Virginia Tech) from staking an annual berth in the four-team playoff? Now my aim is not to ACC-bash. Instead, it is to point out that if the schedule strength issue is not going to be discussed equitably, then it amounts to no more than mere SEC envy.

Ted Miller: Part of it is the ACC hasn't yet decided on the issue. It meets May 13 in Amelia Island, Fla. Of course, the SEC decision gives the ACC a pass to stick with eight games, which I suspect it will do.

The other part of the reason is the SEC is presently the bell cow in college football. It's won seven of the last eight national titles, falling just short of making it eight in a row in January. When the SEC shakes the ice in its glass, the media erupts with reports and analysis for the next month.

Further, there's a general feeling that the ACC, unlike the SEC, won't get the benefit of the doubt. Fair or not, the perception is most years that an 11-1 SEC team will get the nod over an 11-1 team from any other conference. But, again in general, an 11-1 ACC team wouldn't get the nod over an 11-1 team from the Pac-12 or Big 12.

For example, if Oregon or Stanford had gone undefeated last year, I strongly suspect it would have been ranked ahead of Florida State in the BCS standings.


J Dub from Los Angeles writes: Can you please explain to my USC friends that their sanctions have very little, if anything at all, to do with UCLA's resurgence? They can't seem to understand that UCLA plays 12 teams not named USC every year.

Ted Miller: The biggest reason for UCLA's resurgence is Jim Mora, his outstanding coaching staff and QB Brett Hundley, which means Rick Neuheisel deserves at least a tip of the cap.

That said, NCAA sanctions against USC have benefited every Pac-12 team, and most prominently UCLA. With USC down 10 scholarships in each of the past three recruiting classes (plus or minus), that means more talent for everyone else, particularly that coveted Southern California talent.

I can even point to one guy specifically: D-lineman Kylie Fitts. He's at UCLA because USC didn't have space for him.

With USC able to sign a full recruiting class in 2015, it will be interesting going forward to watch these bitter rivals battle to rule LA.


Kai from Bear Territory writes: Team (or teams) you will have marked improvement over last year?

Ted Miller: I guarantee your Cal Bears at least double their 2013 win total. Heck, they might even triple it.

So, Cal would win this question.

I think Colorado will be better next season. I think Oregon State is interesting. Could be a nine-win team. I think Utah returns to the postseason if it starts the same quarterback the entire season.


Chester from Tempe writes: Dear Bert and Ernie, I'm a die-hard University of Arizona fan. I think the media has swooned too much over Todd Graham while not giving enough credit to RichRod. Shock! My reasoning: Graham is a motivator, salesman and leader. I don't see him as a good game coach when all is equal. When the talent was equal on the field, he lost to Notre Dame and twice to Stanford. (I'll argue UCLA was young and hurt and USC was being "Kiffined.") I believe he was handed a roster full of experienced and talented players who lacked discipline. He infused discipline and structure with some good juco players. Texas Tech was the ultimate decider for me; they needed that win to continue the "Happy Days" parade and bandwagon. Instead, Graham and his defense COULD NOT adjust. It was just weird. RichRod took over a dumpster fire of talent. Hindsight being 20-20, Stoops stopped recruiting in 2008-2009. Denker? 210-pound Mike LB's? Who needs defensive linemen? A combination of RichRod and his coaching staff's ability, coupled with Ka'Deem Carey, enabled them to win 16 games in two years. I think that is impressive. I guessed we would go five wins in 2012 and then six wins in 2013. I'll hang up and listen.

Ted Miller: So just because Todd Graham does things a good college coach does -- infusing discipline and structure while recruiting good players -- doesn't mean he's a good coach?

Or you're citing the the Holiday Bowl face-plant as a justification for saying Graham isn't "a good game coach?"

Piffle.

I do agree he inherited more talent that Rich Rodriguez at Arizona, which is part of the reason Graham is 2-0 against Rodriguez and has won 18 games compared to 16 for Rodriguez, though it's also worth noting that the Sun Devils' nonconference schedules have been far more taxing the past two years.

I know this won't satisfy you, Chester, but my -- and most objective observers' -- impression is both teams have good coaches, and we won't know who is better until... oh, let's just say 2017.

UCLA spring wrap

May, 2, 2014
5/02/14
7:30
AM PT
Three things we learned this spring
  1. Raising the (next) Barr: All indications are that Kenny Orjioke probably has the inside track at outside linebacker to replace the departed Anthony Barr. Aaron Wallace (dealing with grade issues) and Deon Hollins are still very much in the mix. Several members of the staff said they were pleased with what they saw from Orjioke -- though it’s worth noting he didn’t play in the spring game for reasons not revealed.
  2. Welcome back, Owa: After missing last season with a hip injury, defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa (aka the scourge of spellcheck), returned with a very strong spring session that included a pair of sacks in the spring game. His return bolsters a pass rush that has to replace Barr and Cassius Marsh.
  3. Back depth: The staff has been very pleased with the progress of running back Jordon James. But they feel equally solid about Paul Perkins, Steven Manfro and redshirt freshman Craig Lee. Combined with the scrambling ability of quarterback Brett Hundley, the Bruins should build upon last year’s average of 196.6 yards per game.
Three questions for the fall
  1. Line-up: While the coaching staff feels pretty good about its offensive line, finding the right replacement for Xavier Su'a-Filo is still paramount. They think they might have it in graduate transfer Malcolm Bunche from Miami. But a couple of starting spots should still be up for grabs when the Bruins return for fall camp.
  2. Backup plan: A lot rests on the legs and arm of Hundley – a Heisman trophy candidate and presumptive top 10 pick in 2015. Whether it’s Jerry Neuheisel or Asiantii Woulard backing him up remains to be seen. Neither were particularly sharp in the spring game, with Neuheisel throwing two interceptions and Woulard completing just 4 of 13 passes.
  3. More D-to-O coming? We know about Myles Jack and the impact he made on offense for the Bruins last season. He didn’t get any carries in the spring, though Jim Mora said they’ll likely have some packages for him. Will we see others? Eddie Vanderdoes? Ishmael Adams? Not that they’ll give it away in the spring, but it will be fun to watch this fall to see how many defensive players see offensive time.
Way-too-early prediction: The Bruins will win the Pac-12 South for the third time in four years. With Hundley at the helm and an experienced defense, the Bruins not only have the fewest question marks among their Southern brethren, but they have plenty of talent to match on both sides of the ball. Staying healthy will be key, as will gaining some early momentum with critical conference games against ASU, Utah and Oregon in the first half of the season.

Pac-12 notebook from conference call

May, 1, 2014
5/01/14
5:45
PM PT
The Pac-12 coaches chatted about spring practices with reporters Thursday afternoon. The biggest news was Stanford coach David Shaw laying into the SEC for continuing to play eight conference games instead of nine, but there were some other worthy notes.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsStanford coach David Shaw, along with Oregon State's Mike Riley, was critical of the SEC's decision to stick with the 8-game conference schedule.
Here are a few.

  • Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said it's possible he'll use a receiver, where the Wildcats are deep, as a cornerback, where they are not. He also offered no further insight on what his pecking order might be at quarterback.
  • Arizona State coach Todd Graham said S Jordan Simone, a Washington State transfer, had a great spring. "He's been a blessing for us -- tremendous passion," Graham said. "One of the things that surprised me is how fast he was." Graham said he's in the mix to be the starting "bandit" safety. There was an "Or" between him and Marcus Ball on the post-spring depth chart.
  • When asked to name a redshirt freshman that stood out this spring, California coach Sonny Dykes mentioned CB Darius Allensworth, LB Ray Davison and safety Griffin Piatt. He also lauded his redshirt freshmen offensive linemen as well as WR transfer Trevor Davis.
  • Colorado Mike MacIntyre said that defensive linemen Samson Kafovalu and Justin Solis, who missed spring due to academics, are on track to rejoin the team this summer, pending exams.
  • Oregon took a bit hit when receiver Bralon Addison suffered a knee injury, but coach Mark Helfrich noted that a pair of redshirt freshman receivers, Devon Allen and Darren Carrington, have "both shown flashes of what we thought they were in recruiting." On defense, he took note of defensive back Tyree Robinson.
  • While Oregon State coach Mike Riley is typically mild-mannered in his opinions, he does share Shaw's strong view that the SEC is gaming the system by playing one fewer conference game in the regular season. He said, "I don't think it's right. There's got to be some equity here."
  • When asked to name a redshirt freshman that stood out this spring, Stanford coach David Shaw said outside linebacker Peter Kalambayi. "He had a great spring game, great spring session completely," Shaw said. "He's shown speed and size and on top of all that has shown a great understand of what to do."
  • When asked about young standouts this spring, UCLA coach Jim Mora cited defensive lineman Eli Ankou, offensive tackles Poasi Moala and Kenny Lacy and receiver Eldridge Massington.
  • USC coach Steve Sarkisian said frosh offensive linemen Damien Mama and Viane Talamaivao will play in the interior at guard or center and not at tackle, where the Trojans are more questionable. He also lauded redshirt freshman CB Chris Hawkins.
  • It appears that Utah's moving of Marcus Sanders-Willams from running back to linebacker is permanent. Said Utes coach Kyle Whittingham, "We're only a couple of weeks into the evaluation process of it but it looks like a natural move for Marcus. He's got a lot of basic instincts."
  • Washington coach Chris Petersen said he had no update on the status of suspended QB Cyler Miles. He said the QB competition remained wide open. When asked about redshirt freshmen who performed well this spring, he cited RB Lavon Coleman, CB Jermaine Kelly, LB Keishawn Bierria and QB Troy Williams.
  • When asked to name a redshirt freshman that stood out this spring, Washington State coach Mike Leach mentioned right offensive tackle Cole Madison and a pair of defensive linemen, Daniel Ekuale and Emmitt Su'a-Kalio. He also lauded the play of CB Daquawn Brown.

Bruins looking to break through

April, 30, 2014
4/30/14
9:00
AM PT
LOS ANGELES -- Jim Mora doesn’t have many tells. But on this occasion, he let his hand slip.

While sitting in his office a couple of weeks ago, Mora had just finished explaining how his UCLA Bruins have some goals and hopes for the 2014 season. But he doesn’t necessarily want them made available to the public. Some things are better kept in-house.

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsJim Mora is 19-8 in two seasons at UCLA.
A couple of minutes later, however, he was talking about quarterback Brett Hundley’s decision to return for another year, noting that “those 15 games will do wonders for him.”

15 games.

That would mean in Mora’s mind, the Bruins win the South, win the Pac-12 championship game and advance through the new College Football Playoff and into the national championship game.

Whether it was intentional or Freudian, it speaks to the confidence that Mora has in his program. And regardless of whether it’s actually verbalized, he thinks he’s got a pretty good team that could do some damage on the national stage. Nothing wrong with a coach aiming high -- even if it’s just among his players and in the locker room.

“I think we can be good, but a lot of things have to happen,” Mora said. “We have to stay healthy. We have to capture some momentum early. Before that happens, though, we have to solidify the right tackle spot. I think we have to solidify two or three spots on defense. I think we’re getting there. But we’re not where we need to be. Our focus is very, very narrow.”

Mora’s first two points are applicable to every team. But for a team like UCLA, which exits spring and heads into fall with a lot of positive momentum, they are critical if the Bruins hope to be considered among the league’s A-list teams. With questions at backup quarterback, maintaining the health of Hundley will be paramount. Even an injury that doesn’t knock him out of a game could still stunt the Bruins hopes. We saw that last season with Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.

Establishing a national brand early in the season will also be important. The Bruins should have little trouble when they open at Virginia (2-10 last year) and at home to Memphis (3-9). But the schedule ramps up with trip to play Texas in Arlington, then a week-and-a-half off before traveling to Tempe to face the Sun Devils in a game with significant South Division implications. The last two seasons, the ASU-UCLA matchup has essentially determined the winner of the South Crown.

Then the first half of the schedule wraps up with back-to-back home games against a Utah team it slipped by last season and an Oregon team many expect to win the conference.

The Bruins are expected to start the season ranked in the top 10. And Hundley believes a strong push early could raise their national profile and get them into the top five.

“Two years ago and last year against Nebraska, those games really helped set up our season,” Hundley said. “This year it’s the Texas game. And then at ASU. There’s those big games that can really set the season up for success. Those could make or break us.”

After the Bruins knocked off USC for a second straight season last year, Mora gave an impassioned speech in the postgame news conference about the growth of the Bruins. Since then, they’ve launched a fundraising campaign for their upgraded facilities and the administration ponied up to keep Mora and his staff around a few more years.

The next logical progression would be to win the Pac-12 championship -- no easy task considering UCLA is 0-3 in the last two seasons against Stanford and was beaten 42-14 by Oregon last season. But Mora will say he’s not worried about Stanford or Oregon -- or Arizona State or USC, for that matter. Not yet, anyway.

“Right now the important thing is getting the right guys on the bus and getting it headed in the right direction,” Mora said. “I think we’ve been able to do that. The experience, the pedigree, the passion, the expertise of our staf -- it’s all going in the right direction.

“I think our players are excited because they’ve had a taste of success. They know what it feels like. They want more. They aren’t satisfied. They are still hungry.”

Spring games roundup

April, 28, 2014
4/28/14
9:00
AM PT
Here’s a quick look at some of the highlights of the three spring games in the Pac-12 this past weekend.

California

Quarterback Jared Goff completed 14 of 23 passes for 170 yards and a touchdown as the Bears wrapped their spring session in front of approximately 2,500 fans at Memorial Stadium.

Daniel Lasco and Jeffrey Coprich each made 1-yard touchdown runs and Goff connected with Kenny Lawler on an 8-yard touchdown strike. Lawler finished with four catches for 30 yards and the score. Bryce Treggs had two catches for 47 yards.

Goff said the Bears are looking to move beyond last season’s horrific 1-11 showing, in which they failed to beat an FBS team.

“We’re done with last year,” Goff said. “We’re done with everything that had to do with last year. We’re a brand new team now and we’re ready to go. …

“We’re two or three deep at every [wide receiver] position that I think honestly have NFL potential. I’m just so fortunate to have that receiving corps out there willing to make plays. They all want the ball and they all want to make plays. It’s really, really lucky for me.”

Austin Hinder, who is competing with Kyle Boehm to be Goff’s backup, was 6-of-12 for 46 yards and interception. Boehm was 1-of-2 for three yards.

You can see the full stats here.

UCLA

Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone guided his Blue team to a 28-0 victory over defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich’s White team behind two rushing touchdowns from Jordon James at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif. Paul Perkins and Steven Manfro also scored rushing touchdowns.

Quarterback Brett Hundley only played in one offensive series and was 4-of-5 for 30 yards. Jerry Neuheisel completed 14 of 22 passes for 180 yards, but threw interceptions to Ishmael Adams and Adarius Pickett. Asiantii Woulard was 4-of-13 for 42 yards and Mike Fafaul was 7-of-16 for 116 yards.

“I like the way they competed,” head coach Jim Mora told the Pac-12 Network. “I like the fact that nobody got seriously injured. I’m sure there’s some nicks. I thought they came out and competed well. I thought we protected the ball fairly well. It’s good to be in a game environment. It will help us going down the road.”

Three defensive players each recorded two sacks -- linemen Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Zach Vinci and linebacker Deon Hollins.

You can see the full stats here.

Washington State

Quarterback Connor Halliday completed 25 of 41 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns and the Crimson team topped the Gray squad 23-19 in front of 6,233 fans at Joe Albi Stadium in Spokane, Wash.

Vince Mayle caught six balls for 92 yards and a touchdown to lead the Crimson group, while freshman Calvin Green led all players with eight catches for 101 yards.

“Spring went well,” Halliday told the Pac-12 Network. “Spring games are always a little frustrating. We’ve got the team split in half and we have some O-linemen that haven’t played together and the receivers are split in half. We had a real good spring before today. Today was a little sloppy here and there. But it went well.”

DaQuawn Brown hauled in two of the five interceptions. Redshirt freshman Jamal Morrow rushed for 44 yards on five carries and Gerard Wicks added two scores on the ground. Drew Loftus had a pair of touchdown receptions.

You can see the full stats here.

Landing top QB early helps UCLA recruiting

April, 23, 2014
4/23/14
2:00
PM PT

UCLA is coming off a 10-3 record in 2013, and it beat rival USC for the second straight season. But the Bruins didn’t capitalize as many thought they might on the recruiting trail, finishing with the No. 26 class and missing out on some key recruits on signing day. UCLA coach Jim Mora knows the 2015 recruiting efforts will be vital for the Bruins to continue their success, and an early start that includes pledges from Josh Rosen, the No. 1 quarterback in the country, and two other ESPN 300 prospects is just what the doctor ordered. Mora visited with RecruitingNation on some key topics facing the Bruins with the 2015 class and other national recruiting issues.

You’re not able to talk specifically about prospects you're recruiting, but how does it help a program on the recruiting trail when they land an elite quarterback early in the process?

Jim Mora: Prospects follow recruiting very, very closely and they know where others are going or where they're leaning. I think any time you are able to early in the recruiting process land a high-profile recruit at whatever position, it's going to help you. Good players want to play with other good players. They want a chance to go win a championship. So when you can get a verbal commitment from somebody that's high-profile at an important position like quarterback, then it is certainly going to help your recruiting prospects.

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsJim Mora's energy and success have led to bigger recruiting victories for UCLA.
Looking at the numbers of players returning after this season and your smaller senior class, most observers say you'll sign between 15-20 players in the 2015 class. What challenges does that present you guys as a staff?

JM: You have to be very selective. As we have more and more success and more and more kids become interested in playing at UCLA, it just naturally forces you to be a little bit more selective. This year, we have to be very diligent and make the right decisions as to who we let in the door. We're moving methodically through the process, gathering as much information as we can on these kids, recruiting them along the way and hopefully make the right decisions.

How does it help having a coach like Adrian Klemm, who is originally from Inglewood, Calif., on the staff?


JM: He has a ton of connections in the city. He's very well respected in Southern California, as well as the rest of the country. Any time a guy walks into a living room or into a school out here in Los Angeles with a pedigree that Adrian has, it's significant. The guy has three Super Bowl rings, and he’s from L.A. I don't know if you're going to be able to find another college coach in America that's got three Super Bowl rings. Heck, I bet you can't find one with two. He's done it and had success at the highest level, and that carries weight with these kids and with these families in Los Angeles.

Should there be an early signing period in college football?

JM: I have no opinion on it. That's just the truth. I worry about what I can control and that's out of my control, so I'm not going to worry about it (laughs). There's my dogmatic, on the record answer for you.

Have you reviewed Randy Edsall's recruiting proposal that suggested prospects couldn't be offered scholarships until until Sept. 1 of an athlete’s senior year and those offers would only come from a school’s admissions department?

JM: That ain't going to happen. There are folks offering seventh- and eighth-graders. That one is not going to happen, but I respect the fact that he's looking at it that way. I respect all these guys that are looking at it and trying to find a solution. Right now, I have more important and pressing things that I have to worry about. I choose to spend my time and energy on other issues. But there a lot of smart people out there that I'm going to depend on to examine this issue, because something needs to be done about it. I'm certainly not smart enough to figure out all those issues. I only have so many brain cells, and I need to use them on UCLA stuff.

How important is it in today’s world of social media to be honest with the prospects you’re recruiting? We hear so much about negative recruiting, but not so much about how you have to be honest with prospects.


JM: Recruits see through the fluff in a heartbeat. If you're not honest with them, you're not going to get away with it. They know what is real and what isn't real. It doesn't matter if it's the NFL level, this level or the high school level. That demands that sometimes you have tough discussions or uncomfortable conversations with people, but you have to do it. You have to do it and have a level of empathy that can earn respect with people. You have to be brutally honest with recruits, high school coaches and parents about where things stand without being attacking or condescending.

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2014 TEAM LEADERS

PASSINGATTCOMPYDSTD
B. Hundley392271315522
RUSHINGCARYDSAVGTD
P. Perkins25115756.39
B. Hundley1596444.110
RECEIVINGRECYDSAVGTD
J. Payton6795414.27
D. Fuller594477.61
TEAMRUSHPASSTOTAL
Offense199.4268.5467.9
TEAMPFPAMARGIN
Scoring32.927.55.4