It seems like just yesterday that:
1) trojan brain surgeon faithful were gushing over their upcoming undefeated season and national championship, exalting Lane Kiffin as the second coming of John Mckay and reciting in their minds Matt Barkley’s Heisman acceptance speech; and
2) Bruins fans were split over the firing of Rick Neuheisel and apprehensive of the likelihood of success under the new guy, Jim Mora, Jr. I know I was.
Amazing how perspectives change in just two short months.
Any objective observer of the trojans would see that they are a bad team. Looking closely at their record, for instance, that 6-3 season won-lost mark is deceivingly good, as their six wins come against teams whose overall record is 18-36, and which includes wins against such powerhouse teams as 1-7 Hawaii and 1-8 Colorado. The only team that they have beaten that has a winning record is 5-4 Washington.
So, as I happened to tune in to trojan talk radio for a few agonizing minutes this morning, the faithful were ruminating about every conceivable reason why their start-studded collection of future NFL Hall-of-Famers are underachieving so badly: The coach isn’t tough enough. The coach is too tough. Not enough scholarships. Not enough practice days with real hitting. Not enough screen passes. They should have stopped the Oregon Ducks’ running game and then the passing game would not have been effective (from the book, “Yea, Right – Like Any Other [Better] Team Has Been Able To Do So Well”).
Face it, like you do so often, you look at your collection of brain surgeons and see gold. Take away the criminal enterprise that flourished so well under Uncle Petey, Mike Garrett (and Timmy Floyd), recruiting thugs, criminals and drug-abusing assistant coaches, and what do you have? Like the great line supposedly attributed to someone talking to Howard Cosell when Cosell asked “How many really great sports announcers are there? the person answered, “One less than you think”, brain surgeon faithful, there is one less great team, one less decent team, than you think.
On the other hand, UCLA fans went in to this season with low expectations for any type of a quick turnaround, or for any turnaround at all. But, the new attitude and toughness instilled by Coach Mora has been a revelation, and he righted the ship with that and with a handful of key moves that eluded Neuheisel. Of utmost importance in this year’s Bruin success were dumping the stupid, unworkable Pistol offense and forsaking veteran quarterbacks Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut for redshirt freshman Brett Hundley. Had Neuheisel made these two moves last year, he would likely still be coaching.
Other little things that Mora has done have made significant marks on the teams performance, such as moving little used running back Anthony Barr to linebacker, where he has been a revelation.
So, now with three weeks to go in the regular season, UCLA sits number 17 in the AP rankings, while the brain surgeons have sunk to number 21, and with Washington State, the brain surgeons, and Stanford left on the schedule, the PAC-12 South title, and a spot in the conference championship game, is in the hands of the Bruins to win or lose.