UCLA: Noel Mazzone

Spring games roundup

April, 28, 2014
Apr 28
Here’s a quick look at some of the highlights of the three spring games in the Pac-12 this past weekend.


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.


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.

Spring games primer

April, 25, 2014
Apr 25
Three more Pac-12 spring games are slated for Saturday. Here’s a look at what to watch in all three.


Where: Memorial Stadium
Kickoff: 11 a.m. PT
TV: Pac-12 Network (Replays throughout the week)

What to watch: The Bears have a new defensive coordinator … again … so watching them adjust to Art Kaufman’s 4-3 vs. Andy Buh’s 4-3 will be of note. Though a depth chart was recently released, there are still a few positions up for grabs. There are some questions about the right side of the offensive line and backup quarterbacks can usually make an impression in the spring. The depth chart lists an “or” between Austin Hinder and Kyle Boehm, so expect those two to jockey for position behind incumbent starter Jared Goff. The event is free and there will be giveaways and kids’ activities. Click here for details.


Where: StubHub Center, Carson, Calif.
Kickoff: 5 p.m. PT
TV: Pac-12 Network (Replays throughout the week)

What to watch: As has been the case with UCLA the last couple of years, youth and injuries make for some mixing and matching on the offensive line. This spring has proven no different, so look for the right tackle spot to be highly competitive beyond Saturday’s game. The running backs are intriguing as well. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone saidJordon James has evolved into the one-cut runner that he wants him to be, but Paul Perkins, Steven Manfro and touted redshirt freshman Craig Lee will push for carries. Finding a suitable backup for Brett Hundley, be it Asiantii Woulard or Jerry Neuheisel, is also a top priority, and the spring game could create some separation. Note, tickets are $5 in advance, $10 day of (free for UCLA students and children 2 and younger). Parking is $15. Players will be available for autographs between 3 and 3:45. Click here for details.

Washington State

Where: Joe Albi Stadium, Spokane, Wash.
Kickoff: 1 p.m. PT
TV: Pac-12 Network (Replays throughout the week)

What to watch: This is the fourth year the Cougars will be holding their spring game in Spokane. All reports are that quarterback Connor Halliday has shown a strong command of the offense and wide receiver Vince Mayle has been outstanding. However, the big question mark still lies in the secondary, where definitely three -- maybe four -- positions are still up for grabs. The spring depth chart has Charleston White and Daquawn Brown at the corner spots and Isaac Dotson and Taylor Taliulu as the safeties. But those won't be set in stone for a while. There are other position groups of interest, naturally. But defensive coordinator Mike Breske told the Pac-12 blog, while he likes his front seven, the back end of the defense, without question, has been the biggest point of emphasis this spring.

UCLA's Hundley ready to take the next step

April, 25, 2014
Apr 25
LOS ANGELES -- When Brett Hundley announced in January that he would be returning to UCLA for another season, there was little fanfare compared to how the guy across town did it a couple of years ago.

In a snappy sports coat and reading a prepared statement, former USC quarterback Matt Barkley made his famous “unfinished business” declaration. The band was struck, the song girls bounced, and there was joy across Troy. It was grand and opulent. Regal, even.

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
AP Photo/Victor CalzadaUCLA signal-caller Brett Hundley has thrown for 53 touchdowns and just 20 interceptions in his career.
Hundley wore a simple UCLA polo shirt. There was no prepared statement. He riffed for about minute then announced his return. There was applause above a smattering, but no band or cheerleaders. He sat at a table made for four, making the 6-foot-3, 227-pound quarterback look smaller than the moment.

There’s nothing wrong with either announcement. In fact, Barkley gets extra credit for taking a shot at the NCAA when he referenced the “negativity and unfairness that was sought to bring down our football program.”

But the clash in styles speaks to the contrast of programs. USC is grandiose and makes no apologies for it. For decades, the Trojans have been the closest thing to West Coast college football royalty. UCLA is more understated. The Bruins had a good run over the Trojans in the '90s. But before and after, they’ve mostly played in USC’s shadow.

Hundley is looking to change that image. It’s one of the reasons he passed up being a possible top-10 pick in the 2014 NFL draft.

“We’ve started something really great here,” Hundley said. “I couldn’t run away from that. Not yet. I really wanted to leave the money out of [the decision], which was hard to do. For a while, my head was going crazy. But I came back, and I’m happy with the decision. I have my priorities: bring UCLA back to national prominence and get my degree.”

Over 27 career starts in two seasons, Hundley has helped the Bruins to a 19-8 record. Along the way, the Bruins won the Pac-12 South in 2012 and might very well have usurped the Trojans as team the to beat in L.A., having won back-to-back games against USC for first time since 1997-98.

From an X's and O's standpoint, there isn’t much left for Hundley to learn. It will be his third year in the offense, and his grasp of the concepts is as strong as it has ever been. Now his tutelage focuses on the details on the field and how to be a better leader off it.

For help, Hundley enlisted offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone to call in a stable of quarterbacks he has worked with throughout his career -- including Philip Rivers, Brock Osweiler, Tim Tebow and Jeff Garcia. Each spent a day with Hundley, watching film and going over what it means to be an NFL quarterback.

“I wanted to know how to be a better quarterback,” said Hundley, who already holds several UCLA records. “I want to be a complete quarterback. Not just on the field, but off it. Those guys have all done big things. I asked them about the stuff you wouldn’t think to ask, and it really helped me.

“Philip and I watched his game film, and we went back and forth on concepts and situations. Tim Tebow talked to me about the intangibles so in those critical situations your teammates will look to you and trust you and follow your lead. Jeff Garcia and I spent an entire day together. Each week was different, and it was amazing to learn from them.”

As the Bruins prepare to wrap their spring session, Hundley is putting those lessons to work. Already a strong leader, Mazzone and coach Jim Mora said they can see the influence paying off during practices.

“I think he’s got room to improve,” Mazzone said. “But what we’ve really focused on this spring is not so much the X's and O's, but how the great ones handle situations -- on the field and off the field. How they study. How they prepare for games. How they watch film. All of those little things. … He kept asking me, ‘What does it take to be successful at the next level?’ A lot of guys go to the next level. But the key is going there and being successful. That’s why we had those guys work with him.”

With the kind of dual-threat numbers Hundley is capable of, he is going to get plenty of preseason Heisman buzz. As far as he’s concerned, that will take care of itself.

“It doesn’t cross my mind as much as I thought it would,” Hundley said. “Sure, you grow up wanting to win the Heisman. But I’m at a point where if I take care of my business, all that stuff will be there. I just want to work and let the dominoes fall. It’s OK to think about it, because it’s a blessing and you have to enjoy your opportunities. But not so much to the point where it becomes a distraction.”

Video: UCLA coordinator Noel Mazzone

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
Kevin Gemmell talks with UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone about spring practice and the maturation of quarterback Brett Hundley.

Season review: UCLA

January, 8, 2014
Jan 8
We continue our team-by-team review of the Pac-12 with UCLA.

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsBrett Hundley and UCLA's offense showed more strength in 2013.
Offense: In 2013, the UCLA offense scored more points per game, averaged more yards per play, was more efficient passing the ball and even averaged more rushing yards despite the graduation of Johnathan Franklin, compared to a season ago. Sacks were a huge problem in 2012, with the Bruins yielding an eye-popping 52. While yielding 36 sacks wasn't Stanford-like, it was still a significant improvement. In 2012, the Bruins had 25 turnovers. They had 16 in 2013. So, there's no question the offense improved in the second season with coordinator Noel Mazzone and quarterback Brett Hundley. All that happened despite starting three true freshmen on the offensive line much of the season. The only real hiccup for the offense came in back-to-back road games against Stanford and Oregon, when the Bruins scored 10 and 14 points, respectively. In the Sun Bowl, the Bruins rolled up 42 points against a rugged Virginia Tech defense. Grade: B+

Defense: The Bruins ranked fifth in the Pac-12 in scoring defense, allowing 23.2 points per game, 4.4 fewer than in 2012. They also allowed 0.5 fewer yards per play and moved up from eighth to fifth in pass efficiency defense. The sack numbers were way down -- 32 in 2013 vs. 47 in 2012 -- but that probably was because of coordinator Lou Spanos not believing he needed to blitz as often to stop opponents. It's notable that the Bruins yielded just 16 touchdown passes with two new cornerbacks after yielding 27 in 2012. What's more, the defense was consistent. It had a bad fourth quarter at Oregon and a bad first half against Arizona State, but that was about it. Grade: B+

Special teams: UCLA was solid on special teams, though the field goal kicking -- 14 of 21 -- wasn't terribly reliable. The Bruins ranked second in the conference in net punting, second in kick returns and fifth in punt returns. They also blocked four kicks/punts, which was second-most in the conference. Grade: B

Overall: Mora's first season in Westwood in 2012 was impressive. UCLA finished 9-5, winning the Pac-12 South Division and showed dramatic improvement on both sides of the ball. But the season concluded with three consecutive defeats, including a blowout loss to Baylor in the Holiday Bowl. This year's 10-3 record -- though the 6-3 conference record is the same and Arizona State won the division -- feels like a significant step forward. The Bruins won five of their final six games, including a second consecutive win over USC, and turned in a strong bowl performance, a 42-12 domination of the Hokies. The final No. 16 ranking shows that UCLA, which was 21st in the preseason polls, is on the move in a positive direction. The 2014 preseason ranking, spurred on by Hundley's decision to return instead of entering the NFL draft, should reflect that. Grade: B+

Mailbag: Sark, Mora and all-league teams

December, 3, 2013
Pushed the mailbag back a few hours to field some questions on Steve Sarkisian, the all-league teams and more. Plenty to talk about with only two teams playing this week.

Tim in Atlanta writes: Is there really any justification for Josh Huff being left off the 2nd team all-Pac team this year? He had 200 more yards than montgomery and 57% more TD than Strong. Standings shouldn't matter in this, and the fact that Huff is the first WR in years to have 1000 yards in Oregon's spread-it-around system should say a lot. Seems like voters punished him for Oregon's offensive firepower instead of rewarding a guy for standing out on a team full of offensive talent... or maybe they didn't the game on friday.

Kevin Gemmell: Well, the voters are the coaches. And having talked to the coaches over the last couple of years, I can tell you this isn’t something they farm out to assistants. The ones I’ve spoken with about the process take it pretty seriously.

The stats are there, no question. And I was sitting in a bar in Pasadena Friday night watching the Civil War feeling very happy for Huff to have that kind of a game. He’s taken a lot of heat over the last month -- some of it was deserved, some of it wasn’t.

But I think that also could have played a factor. Coaches are bias, just like everyone else who votes. They have their favorites. And perhaps Huff’s Rose Bowl comments didn’t sit well with the coaches. I’m just speculating, but I don’t think it’s too far of a reach.

A lot of questions and speculation about the Pac-12’s Rose Bowl partner – including questions from Kelly in Bend, Ore., Josh in Mesa, Ariz., and Greg in San Francisco. So I’ll lump them all together into one answer. It breaks down to this: Could Alabama play in the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO.

Kevin Gemmell: Short answer: yes, with an if. And no, with a but.

The winner of the Pac-12 championship game heads to the Rose Bowl no matter what, since neither Stanford nor Arizona State are under consideration for the VIZIO BCS National Championship game.

The Big Ten is a different story since Ohio State is now in play for the title game. If Ohio State beats Michigan State, chances are it goes to the BCS championship game and therefore the Big Ten forfeits its entry into the Rose Bowl. That leaves a void.

The obvious solution is Michigan State to Pasadena. The kicker, however, is whether Michigan State is still in the top 14 of the BCS rankings. If Michigan State wins, it will go to the Rose Bowl. If it loses and falls out of the top 14, a replacement team needs to be found.

The optimal solution is for either Michigan State to win or Ohio State to win, but Michigan State puts up a good enough fight that it stays within the top 14. There is nothing the Rose Bowl committee wants more than a Pac-12-Big Ten matchup for the 100th game. Preserving that tradition is important to them.

But it might be out of their control.

Assuming Florida State goes to the championship game, the Discover Orange Bowl would have the first pick at filling its spot. It’s hard to imagine Alabama slipping through. However, if for some reason it does, then I wouldn’t be shocked for the Rose Bowl to snatch up Alabama. But a few things need to happen for that scenario to play out.

John in Los Angeles writes: A case for [Jim] Mora being Coach of the Year. First, let me say I don't know much about the other teams in the conference. Being in LA I of course know the saga of Southern Cal, and I do think Coach Orgeron has done a great job. That having been said, here are my points (in no particular order save point 1).
  1. The death of a player: You have brought this up a few times and it likely goes without saying how this impacted the team. Some might say kids this age are resilient and there is some truth to that notion. However I still think Mora did a great job in handling the situation.
  2. Replacing Franklin: I don't really remember seeing this mentioned much other than at the start of the season. Franklin not only became the schools leading rusher he was a team leader. That is a tough combination to replace.
  3. Replacing the secondary: This job became even harder when Riley had to retire. I don't know how young we were back there but IIRC it was fairly young all season.
  4. Injuries along the offensive line: This one is pretty well documented.
  5. Freshman punter: I don't think people appreciate how good Jeff Locke was last year in terms of field position. Then to have to replace him with a true freshman to boot (pun intended).

With all of those things UCLA was one poor half away from winning the South. Like I said, I don't know much about the other teams and what they had to go through this year. But I think going 9-3 with 2 of the three losses coming on the road to (then) top 5 teams in back to back weekends and the only other loss to a top 20 team with having to deal with all the stuff above, Mora deserves some serious consideration for Coach of the Year.

Kevin Gemmell: This one came in on Sunday, before the coach of the year was named, but I still think everything John just mentioned is worth addressing, because everything he says is correct. And I don’t know what the totals were in terms of voting for coach of the year. I have to imagine Mora got a few votes.

But it’s tough to ignore the job Todd Graham has done at Arizona State. Before the season, most people didn’t expect the Sun Devils to win the South (outside of the Pac-12 blog) and they started the year unranked. When you look at the schedule they played and the way they won games down the stretch -- home and away, blowouts and come-from-behinds -- I would have voted for Graham also.

Mora did a fantastic coaching job this year. And winning at the Coliseum last week was obviously a huge step forward for the program. But they had a chance to seize control of the division at home and couldn’t get it done.

From where ASU started the season -- unranked -- to where it is now, Graham was the right choice.

The Heisman Committee in New York writes: Kevin, you told us recently that the Pac-12 would send 1 Heisman finalist and it would be Marcus Mariota? Should Carey go? Should he take Mariota's place? Is there any chance we invite both? Do either have a chance of beating Winston and the field given Winston's legal troubles? We're so overwhelmed by this season that we could really use all the help we can get.

Kevin Gemmell: Pretty sure I told you that in October during a chat. Chat answers are obviously gut feelings at the time, and at the time Mariota seemed like a safe choice.

Have the circumstances changed? Absolutely. I think when all is said and done, it should either be Ka'Deem Carey or Bishop Sankey who represents the Pac-12 in the Heisman voting. I made a case earlier today for one of the two Pac-12 backs winning the Doak Walker. And I think if the Heisman doesn’t go to a quarterback, then it should go to one of the two backs. And I’d be a Carey lean simply because of the consistency every week.

Yes, Sankey supporters, I know he sat out a lot of the Idaho State and Colorado games. Carey missed time too. Both are phenomenal backs and regular Pac-12 blog readers know that I’ve been high on Sankey for a very long time.

But his performances in the ASU and UCLA games are the sort of showing that haunt players when it comes to postseason awards. If I were a voter, my main focal point would be consistency and complete body of work. And Carey showed that against the toughest competition he played his best ball.

Emily in LA writes: Well, I guess you can ignore my last question now that it's completely irrelevant after today's news. I'll withhold judgment on Sarkisian (and learn to spell his name) after I see how he does, but I'm still sad about Coach O leaving.

Kevin Gemmell: Emily submitted a question on Sunday showing support for Ed Orgeron and questioning whether the UCLA loss should play a major factor in Pat Haden’s decision. It can still be answered despite the changes, because we now have the benefit of hindsight.

I’m pretty sure it didn’t rest on that one game -- though it probably made it easier. No doubt, Orgeron did a magnificent job. He tapped into something special with his players and rode it for as long as he could.

For kicks, let’s say he were named the head coach. A lot of the inspiration he had this season -- that nothing-to-lose attitude -- would be gone. That’s not to say he couldn’t get the job done. But these past seven weeks have been a pretty exceptional situation.

Haden is thinking about the long-term health of the program. It can’t just be five weeks from now. It has to be five years from now. And it’s tough to separate the emotion of what went on the last few weeks with what the future is going to hold.

Keep in mind though the two games Orgeron did lose -- Notre Dame and UCLA. Those are rivalry games. USC fans expect their team to beat Cal and Utah and yes, even Oregon State in Corvallis. But they also expect wins over rivals. And that’s something Orgeron failed to provide.

Don’t get me wrong. The Pac-12 blog was very impressed with what Orgeron was able to do. And there is obviously a level of disappointment in him leaving.

But he had to go. Sark needs a clean slate to start with, and Orgeron’s presence, while probably wanted by the players, would have been more of a distraction to the new administration.

It’s like breaking up with your girlfriend, but tagging along with her on dates so you can tell her new man her likes and dislikes. It’s uncomfortable and awkward.

Bruins look to move on after first loss

October, 22, 2013

UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone has his own Mazzone-esque way of looking at things. Typically it involves a humorous analogy. And per usual, he didn’t disappoint.

When asked to assess his offense’s performance in the 24-10 loss against Stanford after watching the game film, he offered this:

“Sometimes you take your young kids to the movie and they misbehave,” he said. “They are throwing popcorn on the floor and running around the aisles.”

For those who don’t speak Mazzone, that’s his way of saying things didn’t go according to plan. Chalk it up as another great Mazzoneism.

“That’s a really good defense,” Mazzone said of Stanford. “They play a lot of people tough. They are a veteran group. We didn’t play as well as we wanted to. But it’s part of the process. Part of becoming a good team and a good offense is you’re going to have your moments when a little bit of youth shows through at times. It was a great experience for us. It’s a game we were excited to play and it’s one that will help us grow.”

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
Tommy LaPorte/Icon SMIBrett Hundley and the Bruins were stifled by Stanford and face another huge challenge on Saturday against Oregon.
They’ll have to grow fast. Because the Bruins are going on the road for a second straight week -- this time to Oregon to face the No. 3 Ducks, who boast the league’s top scoring defense, allowing just 17.3 points per game. It will be the first time UCLA has faced Oregon in the Jim Mora era.

This was just the sixth loss for UCLA under Mora and the first of the year. Coincidentally, or maybe not, three of them have come from Stanford. Mora said so far he has been pleased with how his team has responded to their first check in the loss column.

“They impressed me immediately last year with their ability to re-focus,” Mora said. “If you want to be a good football team, there has to be a consistency to how you prepare and how you perform and how you handle wins and how you handle losses; how you handle games against opponents like Stanford and Oregon; how you handle games against teams you may be heavily favored against. We’re trying to develop a standard here and our guys have really embraced it. It’s about developing a consistency regardless of what the situation is. That’s what good teams do and that’s what we’re striving to do.”

It’s a given that the Bruins will have to perform better on offense if they hope to top the Ducks. Pre-Stanford, UCLA was averaging 45.8 points per game and 547 total yards (323.6 in the air and 223.4 on the ground). The Stanford game paints a different picture, as the Bruins posted season lows in points (10), total yards (266), passing yards (192) and rushing yards (74).

Plus, UCLA’s already-young offensive line has gotten younger because of some injuries. That doesn’t bode terribly well for quarterback Brett Hundley who has been sacked 65 times since the start of last year -- 10 more than any other quarterback in FBS -- and pressured (hurried or knocked down) 169 times, second only to Washington’s Keith Price.

“We’re young, but it has to be next man up,” Mazzone said. “Every game snap those guys get helps us because it keeps building that experience. It’s a talented group and they did some good things. They just need more experience.”

For Mora, dealing with losses has been a transitional experience moving from the pros to the college game.

“I think you’ve got to be a little bit more gentle with the college kids,” he said. “They are younger. They have a million different things going on in their lives that NFL players don’t have going on. It’s more concentrated on football. It’s a profession. They are professionals getting paid at the next level rather than student-athletes playing for the love of the game at this level.

“What you always want to do is hold yourself and hold them to a higher standard, enforce that standard and hopefully they’ll embrace that philosophy.”

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 8

October, 17, 2013
A few storylines to keep an eye on this week in the Pac-12:

1. Title game rematch: UCLA and Stanford will face each other for the third time in the last 10 months. Only this time it’s the Bruins who are the higher-ranked team, coming in at No. 9 after Stanford slid to No. 13 following its loss at Utah. Remember all of those side-to-side swing passes that Dennis Erickson and Utah used to keep Stanford off balance? Remember who worked for Erickson at ASU? Yep, Noel Mazzone. And UCLA loves to hit its receivers in the flat. Keep an eye on what happens after the second-half kickoff, as well. The Bruins are outscoring opponents 71-0 in the third quarter this year. Stanford has a 12-game home winning streak -- third longest in the nation -- and is 10-1 at home against ranked opponents since 2009. Stanford hasn’t lost consecutive games since the middle of the 2009 season.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesMarcus Mariota and the Ducks are expected to be one of the top two teams when the BCS standings are released on Sunday.
2. BCS time: The first Harris Poll of the season was released Sunday and featured four Pac-12 teams in the top 25: Oregon (2), UCLA (9), Stanford (12) and Washington (25). The first BCS standings will be released this week -- which comes on the heels of the announced selection committee for the College Football Playoff that starts next year. We’re all expecting Oregon to be in one of the top two spots. Question is, where will UCLA or Stanford land?

3. North vs. South: Two more critical North versus South showdowns this week with UCLA traveling to Stanford and Washington heading to Arizona State. The UCLA-Stanford game takes center stage for obvious reasons. But Washington-ASU has all the makings of a thriller. This is one of those 50-50 games that either team needs to win to show they belong in the upper tier of the Pac-12. The quarterbacks, Keith Price and Taylor Kelly, are obviously the mechanisms that make their teams go. But Washington running back Bishop Sankey (899 yards) has rushed for at least 125 yards in five of six games and ASU gives up almost 170 yards per game on the ground. Look for him to probably break 1,000 for the season by the final whistle. On the flip side, ASU’s Marion Grice already has 15 total touchdowns. He had 19 last year, so look for him to eclipse that mark in the next couple of games.

4. Making up is hard to do: Colorado will face Charleston Southern this week as a makeup for the Sept. 14 game against Fresno State that was canceled because of severe rain and flooding in Colorado. Charleston Southern is a perfect 7-0 on the year and is receiving votes in the Sports Network FCS College Football Poll. The Buffs are looking to get to 3-3 for the first time since 2010. And they are making a change at quarterback with Sefo Liufau stepping in after going 18 of 26 for 169 yards and a touchdown and two interceptions in relief against Arizona State.

5. No. 5? The Cougars are looking for their fifth win for the first time since 2007. Tough draw, however, this week with a trip to Oregon. The Ducks are averaging 56.8 points per game and are second in the country in total offense with 630.5 yards per game.

6. Taking care of the ball: Speaking of Oregon, quarterback Marcus Mariota, the Heisman frontrunner through the first half of the season, continues to impress with turnover-free performances. Though his completion percentage is down from last year, he hasn’t thrown an interception in 165 pass attempts this year -- which extends a streak dating back to last season of 233 attempts. His last interception was against Stanford. During that stretch, he’s completed 100 passes for 1,724 yards and 17 touchdowns. Receivers Josh Huff and Bralon Addison have 27 catches each for a combined 1,054 yards and 11 touchdowns.

7. Rebuilding the brand: Nothing can unite the USC fan base like a win against Notre Dame. Better yet, a win at Notre Dame. The Trojans won their first game of the Ed Orgeron era and look to follow it up against the Irish. Neither team is ranked, but the names carry a lot of weight. This is a game that could re-energize the Trojans moving forward. Marqise Lee and Morgan Breslin have both practiced and it’s looking like both will play. That should be a huge boost after getting running back Silas Redd back last week.

8. Momentum building? What do the Utes do with their big win over Stanford? Do they keep the momentum rolling? They have to go on the road for four of their next six -- including leaving the state for the first time this season when they travel to face Arizona. The Wildcats are still looking for their first conference win, though quarterback B.J. Denker had a strong statistical performance in the loss last week to USC, completing 28 of 44 passes for a career high 363 yards and four touchdowns.

9. Who needs a running game? The Pac-12’s top two passing offenses square off with Oregon State’s trip to Cal. OSU quarterback Sean Mannion has six straight games of 350 passing yards and the Beavers lead the conference with 433.2 passing yards per game and 25 passing touchdowns. Cal averages 371.3 yards in the air -- second in the league, but just 11 passing touchdowns, third worst. The Bears can move it, they just haven’t been able to convert yards into points.

10. No off week: For the second straight week, all 12 schools will be in action. This was supposed to be a bye week for Colorado, but the Charleston Southern game fills the void. Next week Arizona State and Washington State are on bye. It will be the first of two byes in three weeks for the Cougars, who will have opened the year with eight straight games following this week’s matchup with Oregon.

Midseason report: UCLA

October, 15, 2013
The first half of the season has been anything but routine for the UCLA Bruins. Tragedy struck early with the death of wide receiver Nick Pasquale, forcing the Bruins to come together in a way football can’t replicate.

Head coach Jim Mora handled the situation with honor and class, being emotionally available for his players while letting football serve as a necessary distraction, but not a priority. As a result, the Bruins are 5-0 with a marquee road win over Nebraska.

Quarterback Brett Hundley looks more polished than he did last season, a clear indication that he has a fuller understanding of Noel Mazzone’s offense. And the questions in the running game appear to have been cleared up by Jordon James, who despite missing last week has rushed for 463 yards and five touchdowns in four games with an impressive per-carry average of 6.3 yards per handle.

The second half sets up as a tough haul for the Bruins, who have already gone through both bye weeks. They close with seven straight games -- four of them on the road -- including back-to-back road trips starting this week with No. 13 Stanford and then at No. 2 Oregon. A two-game stretch at home vs. Washington and Arizona State will go a long way toward finalizing the league pecking order before they close out the year with a trip to USC.

With a 5-0 mark and a top-10 ranking, the season couldn't have started any better for UCLA on the field. Off the field, Mora has done an admirable job of celebrating the life of a beloved player while giving his team some lessons about character that the players will carry far beyond their college days.

Offensive MVP: Brett Hundley. He looks like a much more efficient quarterback than last season. Hundley is more poised in the pocket, going through all of his progressions and is making better decisions. He’s completing 68.1 percent of his throws with 12 touchdowns to 4 interceptions, and he’s also rushed for 260 yards and three scores.

Defensive MVP: Anthony Barr. As expected, Barr has emerged as a front-runner for the Pac-12’s defensive player of the year. He’s posted 26 tackles in five games with 4 sacks and a league-high 10 tackles for a loss.

UCLA focused on itself and Utah, not USC

October, 2, 2013
UCLA and USC are uncomfortably intertwined more than just about any other college football rivalry. They share a city, not just a state. Many of the players know each other, having played together or against each other during their high school careers in Southern California. Many of them cross paths on a regular basis around town.

More often than not, they exchange a fist bump and leave the posturing stares to overzealous fans. And they do chat. So yes, it's likely that during the four days since USC fired Lane Kiffin, the topic has come up and there's been a degree of Bruins curiosity.

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
Bruce Thorson/USA TODAY SportsBrett Hundley has accounted for 10 touchdowns this season for UCLA.
Or not.

While UCLA second-year coach Jim Mora has repeatedly expressed sympathy for Kiffin's plight, he also denies that his players give a flip about the goings-on across town.

"We don't worry about that stuff," Mora said. "We don't talk about it. We don't think about it. It's not in our orbit. That's another team. We worry about our team. Our players worry about our team. They couldn't care less what's going on over there. It doesn't matter to us. It's not going to affect us. We don't play them until late November. It doesn't matter to us. It's a nonfactor."

Mora has a point, too. Any focus on USC distracts from the present purpose: His team pays a visit to Utah on Thursday as the No. 12 Bruins open their Pac-12 schedule with a South Division showdown.

It's an interesting matchup with more than a few notable connections.

Start with UCLA’s win in last year’s meeting, with the Bruins bouncing back from a blowout loss to woeful California the week before. At the time, Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley, a redshirt freshman, was beginning to establish himself as a budding star. In the opposite huddle, true freshman quarterback Travis Wilson was making his first career start. Wilson would throw for more yards than Hundley -- 220 versus 183 -- but was far less efficient. And Hundley just killed the Utes defense with his running, accounting for 68 yards on 15 carries.

Hundley's offensive coordinator is Noel Mazzone, who was hired by Mora because of the work he did with Brock Osweiler running an up-tempo, pass-happy spread offense at Arizona State.

This offseason, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham decided he wanted to adopt an up-tempo, pass-happy spread offense. So he hired Mazzone's former boss at Arizona State, Dennis Erickson, who is one of the fathers of the up-tempo, pass-happy spread offense.

Erickson has done wonders with the 6-foot-6, 240-pound Wilson, whom Mora this week compared to the 6-foot-8, 240-pound Osweiler, who is now with the Denver Broncos.

UCLA's offense, very good last year, is putting up ridiculous numbers this season with Hundley in his second year as a starter. It ranks second in the nation in total offense (614 yards per game) and third in scoring (52.7 points per game). Balance? The Bruins are 13th in the nation in rushing (284.3 YPG) and 12th in passing (330 YPG). Efficiency? UCLA leads the nation with an eye-popping 68 percent conversion rate on third down.

Said Whittingham: "They are doing everything right on offense."

Yet perhaps no offense in the nation is as improved as Utah's. Last year, the Utes averaged 324 yards and 26.7 points per game. This year, they are averaging 505 yards and 42 points per game. Utah passed for a conference-worst 190.7 yards per game in 2012. This year it's 286 yards per game. The Utes had 16 touchdown passes all of last season. They have nine through four games this fall.

"Dennis has his handprints all over that," Mora said.

Obviously, the linchpin has been Wilson, whom Whittingham admits has thus far exceeded expectations. Wilson is simply a different player than he was as a true freshman trying to negotiate a Pac-12 schedule.

"I think there are quite a few differences," Whittingham said. "No. 1, his confidence level, his poise level, his command of the offense. He's playing very confidently right now. He's really progressed and matured a lot faster than any of us thought he would. His numbers and Hundley's numbers are almost the exact same."

[+] EnlargeTravis Wilson
Chris Nicoll/USA TODAY SportsUtah QB Travis Wilson has seen improvement this season working with Dennis Erickson.
That is -- perhaps surprisingly -- true. Wilson is third in the Pac-12 and 15th in the nation in passing efficiency, while Hundley is fourth and 16th. Hundley ranks 11th in ESPN's Total QBR, while Wilson is 16th. Hundley is averaging 282.7 yards passing per game with eight TDs and three interceptions, while Wilson is averaging 279.5 YPG with nine TDs and three picks.

Wilson has rushed for 257 yards, Hundley for 157.

"That will be an intriguing matchup, to see how the quarterbacks match up against each other," said Whittingham, making an accurate statement that no one would have said in August.

When you add up all these sparkling numbers, you figure this game won't end up 21-14, with the teams combining for less than 700 yards of offense.

Of course, the defenses will have their say, too. The Bruins have a clear advantage there, yielding 18 points per game compared to 24.2 for the Utes, but it's difficult to truly measure things based on the nonconference schedule.

As always, turnovers will be a key, something that typically starts with quarterback play. But also pay attention to third down. As previously noted, the Bruins are great at converting them on offense, but they also are pretty salty thwarting them on defense (26.7 percent). The Utes convert just 35 percent of their third downs and are at 36.6 percent on third-down defense.

For UCLA, this is the first step toward winning the South Division. Utah, on the other hand, is trying to gain traction in Year 3 in the conference. The previous two years, the Utes started Pac-12 play at a dismal 0-4. Beating the Bruins not only would prevent them from heading toward that early-oh-fer direction again, it would make a strong statement.

As in: The Utes now have a Pac-12 QB, so now they are ready to advance in the conference pecking order.

UCLA's Su'a-Filo quietly a Pac-12 force

April, 17, 2013
LOS ANGELES -- When Jim Mora came on board as UCLA's head coach, there were concerns that it would take him a while to get his recruiting strategy up to speed. After all, a career NFL coach making the jump to a recruiting hotbed like Southern California would need time to develop relationships and slowly chip away at the anchors USC, the rest of the Pac-12, and heck, the whole country, had already put into place.

However, his first recruiting trip wasn't to any of the perennial feeders in Los Angeles or the surrounding areas. It was to Pleasant Grove, Utah, which sits along Interstate-15 between Salt Lake City and Provo and has a population just south of 35,000. His target was a player who had already committed to the Bruins three years earlier.

Xavier Su'a-Filo had just returned from his two-year Mormon mission and was again recruitable. He was -- is -- that important to Mora and his long-term plans.

"He was our first priority," Mora said. "As a father, the first thing I noticed was his family. How tight they were. He was respectful and serious and he asked great questions. He wanted to know as much about us as we wanted to know about him. Everything about him and his family was impressive."

[+] EnlargeXavier Su'a-Filo
Ric Tapia/Icon SMIXavier Su'a-Filo is the anchor of UCLA's offensive line.
After two years away from football, Su'a-Filo jumped right in as a starter and earned first-team all-league honors in 2012, helping the Bruins to a 9-5 record and the Pac-12 South Division title.

"He's special," Mora said. "He was voted last year as a captain. He'll be a captain again. And to think he was voted a captain after not being around for two years. A lot of these guys didn't know him. That's the kind of impact he can make immediately."

As a true freshman in 2009, Su'a-Filo started all 13 games at left tackle for then-coach Rick Neuheisel. He had entered as the No. 3-rated offensive tackle in the country and started more games than any true freshman in UCLA history (non-kicking). He was a second-team freshman All-American and was Pac-10 honorable mention.

Then the deeply religious Su'a-Filo, who by the way is also an Eagle Scout, departed for the South -- living one year in Florida and another in Alabama to serve. He called it an amazing experience -- but also joked that there aren't many 6-5, 315-pound Mormons out there.

"I wanted to spread good tidings, but people wanted to talk to me about football," said the soft-spoken Su'a-Filo. "We would help people move. Do yard work. Work as translators [he learned Spanish for his mission] and just share the message of happiness we have."

While nothing will ever come between Su'a-Filo and his faith, he's happiest on the football field, where he enters 2013 as an All-American candidate at guard. He admits there was an adjustment period after being away from the game for two years.

"I'm not going to lie, it was pretty hard," he said. "Winter was tough. Spring was tough. By the time summer came around, I was getting the hang of it again. Fall camp was good to get back in the grind of football. By about the third or fourth game, I really felt comfortable and felt like I was back to it. I still get nervous before games, no matter what. Not scared, just nervous. Then the first snap hits and it all goes away."

Despite the big smile and soft voice coming from his hulking frame, it's hard to imagine anything making him nervous. One guy who is less nervous when Su'a-Filo is at his best is quarterback Brett Hundley.

"I believe he's one of the best guys I've ever met -- as a man on and off the field," Hundley said. "Everything about him is high character. He's caring, he knows what he's doing and he's a monster on the field. It's a true honor to have that kind of lineman protecting me. It's something special.

"He was playing some left tackle this spring, I didn't see [potential All-American linebacker] Anthony Barr for about two days. No matter who you put on him, he's going to do his best. He's such a competitor. You can put anyone on him and they won't be able to consistently beat him."

Quipped Mora: "Anthony might dispute that. When you put two players of that caliber head-to-head, everyone around them is going to get better."

Su'a-Filo is one of several offensive linemen in the league who could pick up All-American honors in 2013. The group is headlined by Stanford guard David Yankey -- a consensus All-American last season and the Pac-12's Morris Trophy winner. Oregon center Hroniss Grasu is also in that class (how great of an interior line would those three make up?).

"Without question, he's one of the top two or three guards in the country," said UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. "He's at that level. He would play for any team in the country. No doubt. If I had four more like him, I'd be on a golf course right now."

Su'a-Filo is looking forward to another year in the offense and spending more time at guard -- where he can pull "and run around chasing linebackers." He recognizes the Bruins had success last year, but also realizes the team isn't where anyone wants it to be.

"We have a lot to learn and I think we need to be angry about how we finished," he said. "Those last three losses will bother me until we get back on the field. ... A lot of people saw us last year and were surprised because we exceeded expectations. But I think we're still not respected. Nationally or in our conference. We want that respect and we're going to have to go take it."

Noel Mazzone 'totally committed' to UCLA

December, 15, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone has been contacted about various coaching vacancies from around the country but is not looking for another job, he said Saturday.

Mazzone's name has cropped up during the recent run of college coach hirings and firings, including the head coaching jobs at California and San Jose State and the offensive coordinator job at Texas A&M, but he said he hasn't been moved by anything he has come across just yet.

"I've had a few phone conversations here and there but nothing that has really piqued my interest," Mazzone said. "I never coach anyplace with the thought I'm coaching here to try to get to someplace else. I'm totally committed to this program, coach (Jim) Mora, this staff, these kids."

Mazzone, 55, has had a journeyman career with 13 stops over the last 32 years, but the success of his spread offense over the past few seasons has made him a hot commodity. This season, he revamped UCLA's offense and the Bruins finished No. 20 in the nation in total offense and No. 28 in scoring. Last season, they were No. 56 in the nation in total offense and No. 88 in scoring.

The year before at Arizona State, Mazzone's offense was 29th in total offense and 28th in scoring. The year before Mazzone arrived at Arizona State, the Sun Devils were 90th and 91st in those categories, respectively.

He also has developed a reputation for developing quarterbacks, shaping Brett Hundley into one of the top freshman signal callers in the country this season and turning former Sun Devils quarterback Brock Osweiler into an NFL draft pick.

With those credentials, it's no wonder he's drawing interest from around the country, but Mazzone says he's very happy where he is and is looking forward to building UCLA into a national power.

"This is that time of year," Mazzone said of all the talk about job openings. "There's rumors this and rumors that, and he's doing this and he's doing that, and they're going here and all that kind of stuff. I'm here. I'm not looking."

That's not to say, however, that he isn't picking up his phone when the calls come in. Mazzone has been an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for most of his career, but has never been a head coach.

"Just like anybody if there is an opportunity that arises obviously I would sit down and listen and weigh the plusses and minuses of every situation," he said. "I kind of like what I'm doing right now. I'm enjoying it. Am I saying I don't want to be a head coach? No, I'm not saying that, but I'm here and I'm not thinking that I'll be happier someplace else."

Mazzone is under contract through next season with UCLA. He is making $350,000 this season and will make $375,000 next season -- well below the pay of many top coordinators across the country. He said he has not yet spoken with the UCLA administration about renegotiating or extending his deal but hinted that he might after the Holiday Bowl against Baylor.

"That kind of stuff is for after the season," he said. "We still have a game to play. We still have to play a good team in Baylor and a good bowl game."

Jim Mora loving the college experience

November, 17, 2012

PASADENA, Calif. -- At the podium, flanked by digital recorders and with dozens of cameras and eyes staring up at him, UCLA head coach Jim Mora is a cool customer. He’s a veteran coach with decades of experience from his time in the NFL. Despite the significance and magnitude of the moment, he wasn’t going to get wide-eyed … or at least let on that he was.

“It’s very special,” Mora said of his team’s 38-28 win over rival USC -- a game that locked up the Pac-12 South for the Bruins. “I don’t want to minimize it, but I also believe as the head football coach it’s important to keep an even keel as much as possible.”

Fast forward to about an hour and a half later -- this time flanked by his family outside the front gates of the Rose Bowl. Out of his Gatorade-soaked coaching gear and into a suit, he took a quiet moment under a dark and drizzly Southern California sky to soak in his first victory in the 82nd meeting of the two schools. No cameras, and only one digital recorder.

“It’s pure, it’s just pure emotion and it comes off of the kids,” Mora said. “They are so genuine and I just try to absorb it. In the locker room after the game, the way they were just dancing around and acting and the enthusiasm is so raw. It’s just awesome. They are so passionate because their time is limited. They are doing it because they love to do it. They aren’t getting paid yet. I just love the college game. I love the pageantry. I loved that both teams were in their home uniforms. I thought that was so awesome. I just got a kick out of watching their student body and our student body. It was just really, really cool.”

Mora’s hiring was met with a tepid response, at best. He was hard. And his players knew it. He had an NFL mentality that had been fostered since he first started in The League in 1985. When it was announced the team was going to spend part of preseason camp in San Bernardino in August, eyes rolled -- along with sweat beads.

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesJim Mora was rewarded Friday with a one-year contract extension after a season in which UCLA posted its first victory against USC since 2006.
“It wasn’t always easy,” said UCLA tight end Joseph Fauria. “There were up and downs. It was his idea to put us in San Bernardino in 120-degree weather. I didn’t like him the whole time. It was like ‘what are you doing to us?’ But we trusted him, because he’s our head coach. We didn’t have to like it. We just had to trust him. He’s been through it with us and he loves it here and I love him for being here and he’s going to keep doing it here.”

And Saturday night Mora helped orchestrate a defense that forced three USC turnovers en route to the win -- UCLA’s first over the Trojans since 2006. It’s a far cry from last year’s 50-0 stomping the now No. 17 Bruins (9-2, 6-2) suffered at the hands of the Trojans -- who had won 12 of the past 13 contests. Mora declined to comment on the “monopoly” that USC had held over Los Angeles football for more than a decade. Ever the head coach in front of the cameras, he continually stressed that this is just one win.

“I’ll just go back to following the routine,” Mora said.

“But this isn’t routine,” quipped a Los Angeles columnist in the news conference, hoping to get Mora to open up a bit more.

“Well, it is for me,” said Mora. “I’m 1-0 [in the rivalry].”

That drew a laugh.

Behind 171 rushing yards and two touchdowns from UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin and a 22-of-30 performance from redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley, the Bruins jumped on USC 24-0 in the first half. UCLA forced a pair of turnovers and turned both into touchdowns. The Bruins scored three touchdowns and a field goal on their first four possessions.

But the No. 18 Trojans (7-4, 5-4) battled back behind a pair of Matt Barkley touchdowns. He finished 20-of-38 for 301 yards with three scores and two interceptions. He was knocked out late in the fourth quarter and the extent of his injury wasn’t immediately known. He did talk to reporters briefly after the game, but his throwing arm (believed to be the source of the injury) was covered by a jacket.

Marqise Lee was his usual, outstanding self, catching nine balls for 158 yards with a touchdown.

The Trojans cut it to a field goal with 7:22 left in the game, but a 29-yard touchdown run from Franklin iced the game, sparked a Gatorade bath and propelled the Bruins into the conference title game for the second straight year. This time, there are no asterisks.

“It’s all coach,” said Hundley. “From Day 1, we bought into him. Yeah, it was hard. But it’s supposed to be hard. Look where we are now.”

And look at where Mora is. He’s 3-0 against the three other new head coaches in the conference -- Rich Rodriguez, Todd Graham and Mike Leach -- and whether he wants to admit it, there is a sense that things are going to be changing in L.A. for the years to come.

“He gives the same message every day,” said UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. “He’s tough. But he’s fair, and they love him. There is some tough love involved. But as a head coach, he’s off the charts.”

Freshmen making an impact for Bruins

November, 8, 2012
Jordan PaytonAndrew Fielding/US PresswireJordan Payton is one of many UCLA freshmen who have stepped up to play well for the Bruins.

LOS ANGELES -- Jordan Payton said he stopped feeling like a freshman after he took his first hit.

Jake Brendel said that moment came for him after his first game. Simon Goines said his came about four games into the season. And Brett Hundley said it happened for him after his first big win over Nebraska.

The UCLA Bruins have had plenty of those "a-ha" moments this season. Coach Jim Mora and his staff have rolled out 25 freshmen so far this season, and nine of them have started, including four who have been starters every game.

Three games ago against Utah, the Bruins started seven -- yes, seven -- freshmen on offense. Yet despite the wet-behind-the-ears lineup, all the young guys have performed at a high enough level to have the Bruins (7-2, 4-2) ranked No. 18 in the BCS standings and in control of the Pac-12 Conference race as they head to Washington State for a Saturday night game.

"We kind of went through our moments early in the season where we wondered if we could coach or not," offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said. "We went through our ups and our downs, but in my mind we don't have any more freshmen on this team."

That's because nine games in, they have been through the ringer enough to know what they are doing. Hundley has started every game at quarterback and plays behind an offensive line featuring Brendel at center, Goines at one tackle and Torian White, another freshman, at the other tackle. UCLA is averaging 37 points a game, which is second in the Pac-12.

Hundley, Brendel and White are redshirt freshmen so they at least had a year of seasoning in practice and on scout teams to adjust. But Goines and Payton, a receiver who has started the past three games, are true freshmen getting a lot of playing time and contributing at a high level.

UCLA has used 12 true freshmen this season after using only one last year.

Last week, Payton caught his first career touchdown against Arizona in a game that featured UCLA touchdowns by four freshmen. Kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn, also a true freshman, had a field goal and tied a school record with nine extra points in that game.

"There were a couple of games where I was just like, 'Wow,'" said Brendel, who has started every game at center. "It was a different atmosphere, a different speed than I'm used to. But the more you go through it, the more used it you get. It just takes experience to get used to all of it."

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UCLA could take L.A. from Trojans

November, 6, 2012
Last year, UCLA "won" the Pac-12 South Division and advanced to a bowl game, "honors" that were appropriate moments for mocking finger quotes. The Bruins were two games behind USC in the South standings and coming off a 50-zip loss to the Trojans. They got a ticket to Eugene to get whipped by Oregon only because the Trojans were ineligible because of NCAA sanctions.

Then the Bruins opted to use a rules loophole that allowed them to go to a bowl game despite a losing record. Just to make things a bit messier, they also fired head coach Rick Neuheisel. And then they got pushed around by a bad Illinois team that had also fired its coach and lost six in a row before meeting the Bruins.

Ugly times. And the Trojans cackled, anticipating their sure super-awesomeness in 2012.

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
AP Photo/Nick LuceroThe annual rivalry game with USC will have more than bragging rights at stake this season for coach Jim Mora and UCLA.
Ah, but the sun is rising in Westwood under new coach Jim Mora, and the Trojans are no longer cackling at anyone. In fact, the Bruins are now casting a shadow on USC, which for the first time since 2001 trails UCLA in the BCS standings.

USC behind UCLA. In football. We'll now pause for a moment to let the UCLA folks savor that for a bit.

But wait ... there's Mora, er, more!

If the Bruins can survive a trip to Pullman, Wash., on Saturday, they will host USC on Nov. 17 with the South Division on the line. They could win the division right there and advance to the Pac-12 title game, no finger quotes or asterisk required. The secondary benefit would be putting a powder blue boot print in what was supposed to be a special season for USC.

That scenario assumes, by the way, that the Trojans don't flop at home Saturday against Arizona State. If that happens, the Bruins would merely need to win any two of their final three games -- Stanford visits on Nov. 24 -- to win the division.

In other words, UCLA controls its own destiny, which is nice.

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