Friday, August 16, 2013
Best case-worst case: UCLA
By Ted Miller
This is the ninth in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-12 teams.
Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction. You can read last year's versions here.
We're going in reverse order of my post-spring power rankings (which might not be identical to my preseason power rankings).
Up next: UCLA
Brett Hundley walks behind his coach into a room with walls and floors of polished marble. His coach turns to him.
Jim Morapheus: This is the Temple. It is part of the Pac-12 mainframe. It's hidden inside the BCS Matrix so that we can access it. I can go no further. The Oracle is in there.
Hundley walks from the marble room into a kitchen that looks like it's from the 1970s.
Oracle: I'll be right with you. Watch out for that vase.
Hundley turns, hits the vase, it crashes to the ground.
Hundley: You look a lot like Kevin Gemmell.
Oracle: Well, thank you! So what do you think? Are you The One, as Jim Morapheus seems to think?
Hundley: I don't know.
Oracle: I've got bad news. You're not The One, kiddo.
Oracle: Coach, you ninny! It's not about The One. It's about The Two. What is it with you Pac-12 guys, forgetting about defense? Where the heck is Anthony Barr? Aren't you supposed to be a defensive specialist?
There's a commotion outside. The BCS Temple is being attacked. Three agents appear in the kitchen. But then a powder blue blur sacks then.
Morapheus, Hundley and Barr smile at the Oracle. Says Morapheus, "I never forget about defense."
Oracle: Would you like a cookie?
UCLA blisters Nevada 38-17. Hundley throws two touchdown passes and runs for another score. Barr has two sacks. Up next after a bye week: A trip to No. 15 Nebraska.
The Cornhuskers control the first half, with quarterback Taylor Martinez nimbly avoiding a Bruins pass rush and running for a pair of touchdowns, giving Nebraska a 17-10 lead at the break.
"Stop thinking and start doing," Jim Mora barks at his defense. "What are you waiting for? You're faster than this. Don't think you are, know you are. Come on. Stop trying to hit Martinez and hit him!"
The Bruins roll in the second half. Three running backs combine for 165 yards and two touchdowns, while Hundley passes for three scores and rushes for 75 yards in a 31-20 victory. Barr sacks Martinez twice.
After stomping New Mexico State, winning at Utah and slipping California, 5-0 UCLA rises to No. 11 in the polls as it prepares for a visit to No. 4 Stanford.
At the coin flip, Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov glares at Hundley.
"You have a problem with authority, Mr. Hundley," Skov says. "You believe you are special, that somehow the rules do not apply to you. Obviously, you are mistaken."
UCLA leads 14-10 with 20 seconds left, with Stanford facing a fourth and six on the Bruins 12-yard line.
Announcer: Kevin Hogan drops back... here comes Anthony Barr, but Hogan spins away. He's got Luke Kaumatule in the corner of the end zone but Barr's after him... Hogan floats it. Touchdown!
A week later, the Bruins lose 30-28 at No. 2 Oregon.
UCLA falls to 21st, while three Pac-12 teams remain unbeaten and ranked in the top-10. The Bruins hold a team meeting on Sunday.
Barr: I don't like the idea that we're not in control of this season.
Mora: I know exactly what you mean. Let me tell you why you guys are here. You're here because you know something. What you know you can't explain, but you feel it. You've felt it your entire life, that there's something wrong with Pac-12 and college football. You don't know what it is, but it's there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I'm talking about?
Hundley: UCLA not being nationally relevant?
Mora: Gentlemen, sooner or later you're going to realize just as I did that there's a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.
UCLA bludgeons Colorado and Arizona and clips Washington 24-20. At 8-2, the No. 15 Bruins play host to No. 12 Arizona State, a must-win to stay in South Division contention.
Hundley is out of sorts after an early interception when he tried to force the ball to Shaq Evans.
"Why did you throw that pass in that spot?" offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone asks.
Says Hundley, "I don't know. I thought I could get it through the safety and corner. It was a bad choice."
"We can never see past the choices we don't understand," Mazzone says. "But don't worry about that bad choice. You already made it. You're here to try to understand why you made it."
Hundley regroups and leads the Bruins to a 35-31 victory.
No. 11 UCLA will visit 10-1 and eighth-ranked USC with the Pac-12 South Division title on the line. The Trojans only loss came at Oregon State.
Mora gathers his team inside the LA Coliseum.
"The word out there is our win over the Trojans last year was a fluke, that we took advantage of a USC team infected with a virus of disappointment," Mora says. "But pregame pronouncements and analysis... that's just noise. Everything that matters is in this room. You have to let everything else go. Fear, doubt, and disbelief. Free your mind. Everything that has a beginning has an end. We are at our beginning. USC is at its end."
UCLA leads 24-20 with one minute left, but a long pass from Max Wittek to Marqise Lee gives the Trojans a first and goal at the Bruins 1-yard line. The Coliseum erupts with a sustained frenzy.
Lee walks up behind Barr. "You hear that Mr. Barr?... That is the sound of inevitability... It is the sound of you losing."
Barr bursts through the line on first down and wallops Wittek from behind. The ball pops into the air and Barr one-hands it.
Barr to Lee, "Marqise, do you know what a Deus Ex Machina is? It looks a lot like me holding this ball in a curiously quiet stadium."
The Bruins upset No. 2 Oregon in the Pac-12 title game, earning a berth opposite No. 5 Michigan in the Rose Bowl.
Hundley wins the Heisman Trophy. Barr wins the Butkus and Lombardi Awards. Mora is named Pac-12 Coach of the Year.
The Bruins beat the Wolverines 35-21, giving UCLA its first Rose Bowl win since the 1985 season. At 12-2, they are ranked third in both major polls.
USC gets blown out by Baylor in the Alamo Bowl.
On national signing day, just about every top Southern California prospect picks the blue pill, er, hat instead of the cardinal one. UCLA's 30-man recruiting class ranks second to Alabama.
Hundley announces he will return for his junior season. He says nothing about "unfinished business."
UCLA slips Nevada 28-24, but the Bruins only rush for 95 yards and give up four sacks. Nevada gashes the UCLA defense for 210 yards rushing, and the young Bruins secondary gives up two long touchdown passes. It appears issues from last year -- the offensive line, run defense and breakdowns in the secondary -- haven't been solved.
And none of the tailbacks remind anyone of Johnathan Franklin.
That's made clear during a 38-24 loss at Nebraska. Hundley makes plays with his arm and feet. He's sacked four times and throws two costly interceptions with little running game to help him. The Cornhuskers rush for 217 yards, and Martinez has touchdown passes of 33 and 41 yards.
The Bruins bounce back with three consecutive wins over New Mexico State, Utah and California.
Kevin Gemmell: UCLA's schedule really ramps up from here, starting with No. 4 Stanford on Saturday. After that it's No. 2 Oregon. Washington, Arizona State and USC also are ranked.
Ted Miller: Still, I feel certain that UCLA is going to roll through these teams. And I'm never, ever wrong.
Stanford batters the Bruins 24-3, sacking Hundley six times. Oregon takes a 35-7 lead into halftime and coasts home 45-17.
UCLA whips Colorado 33-20 and becomes bowl eligible with a win at Arizona.
"We're not out of the South Division race," coach Jim Mora says. "We can get back in this thing if we play like we're capable of playing."
Washington batters the Bruins 33-24, knocking UCLA out of the South Division race.
UCLA then falls 30-17 to Arizona State in front of a half-full Rose Bowl. Headline in The Daily Bruin: "Who's ready for basketball season?"
"The season has not got like we wanted," Hundley says during a press event before the USC game. "But we can ruin the Trojans national title hopes if we beat them. And we know we can beat them because we did that last year."
In the lead-up to the game, the LA Times runs a three-part story under the heading: "Becoming great: Lane Kiffin." Part one is called "Kiffin the offensive genius." Part two is called "Kiffin the Educator," as Kiffin decided to teach classes on Shakespeare and Romantic poetry that semester. And the final part is about "Kiffin the Humanitarian," based on Kiffin giving all his money to Habitat for Humanity and then working from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. building homes every night.
The Trojans score on their first five possessions and blow out the Bruins, who turn the ball over five times. Kiffin clears his bench and calls only running plays from midway through the third quarter on. The final score is 50-0.
Kiffin: We tried not to run it up. Really. I told Jim that after the game. I didn't want to insult UCLA by, say, taking a knee three times and punting. But our walk-ons are pretty good.
UCLA loses to Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl and finishes 6-7.
USC beats Alabama 40-10 to finish a perfect 14-0 and win the national championship. Despite being limited by NCAA sanctions, Kiffin signs the nation's No. 1 recruiting class.
Mora leaves for the Dallas Cowboys. UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero hires former Bruins basketball coach Ben Howland to coach the football team.
"I call this thinking outside the box," Guerrero explains.
It's announced that Brad Pitt will play Kiffin in "Ascent to Greatness: The Lane Kiffin Story."
When Kiffin is told of this on April 8, he says, "Whatever. I just want to salute our men's basketball team for beating Kentucky last night to win the national title in Cowboys Stadium. Way to go guys!"
Previous "Best case-worst case" posts