Coming into the season, fans were a tad uneasy about these 2012 UCLA Bruins. No one knew what to expect, and while the chatter in Westwood was upbeat and eager, it was also anxious and, at times, uneasy.
Because UCLA fans have seen it all; we’ve seen epic upsets, gut-wrenching collapses and everything else in between. Nothing that UCLA does within the context of a single game shocks us, because inconsistency breeds variety, and in the case of the Bruins, that’s ten years of seeing a wide range of god-knows-what.
This year? If we evaluate this season as a whole rather than picking and choosing which parts we want to see? These Bruins have lived up to the expectations ascribed to them; nothing more, nothing less.
That doesn’t mean this season hasn’t seen the 2000s UCLA teams rear their ugly heads. At times, you’d find it damn near impossible that anyone other than Rick Neuheisel or Karl Dorrell was coaching this team.
Sure, these Bruins have been hapless at times. The offense has been stagnant as often as it’s been explosive, and the defense has been maddening as often as it’s been worthy of dozens of fist-pumps.
But largely, the team’s consistent, at least relative to to Neuheisel’s teams and especially when comparing them to the team they were this time last year.
Because this time last season, UCLA had a 3-4 record and earned such a record in — mind my Twitterspeak — the most UCLA way ever.
That seven-week stretch went something like this: A loss to a top-25 Houston team; a home win against a hapless San Jose State squad; a blowout loss to a middling Texas team; a narrow road win against disappointing Oregon State; an ugly loss to an Andrew Luck-led Stanford; a close home win to Washington State; and by the end of the seventh game, an embarrassing performance in a loss to a 1-5 Arizona squad.
This year, there is no “trendless trend,” so to say. This team has an identity, for better or for worse.
Every week, save for the outlier loss to the Cal Bears, you knew that UCLA would win and how much they’d win by. Because you knew the Bruins’ defensive line would shine, that the secondary would struggle mightily, that the offensive line would prove overmatched and that Brett Hundley would save the team’s ass on more than one occasion. More often than not, this was the case, be it in victory or defeat.
This team isn’t a trainwreck but it’s not the freight train from hell that fans had hoped they’d be after beating then-16th-ranked Nebraska at home. Had someone told you in August that UCLA would be 5-2 through seven weeks of the college football season, you wouldn’t have been disappointed, but you wouldn’t have been shocked either.
This Bruin team has performed to its talent level in 2012, for the most part. We can whine and moan all we want about how defensive coordinator Lou Spanos should be more creative with his schemes to prevent his secondary from being maimed, and we can gripe endlessly about Noel Mazzone running the ball up the middle while his offensive line doesn’t have the bravado to take over games in the trenches.
But this UCLA team is where you’d think it’d be. You’d expect growing pains and carryover after the team was less than a year removed from a listless and frustrating regime, and that’s what’s happened. You expected an offensive line starting three freshman and a sophomore that’s been out of the game for two years in Xavier Su’a-Filo to struggle against Pac-12 front-lines that were projected to be halfway decent, and save for a fantastic game against Nebraska, that’s exactly what’s happened. And you expected that a paper-thin secondary could get routinely burned and be the target of opposing offenses, and that’s what we’re seeing so far.
This UCLA team, as we keep trying to tell you, is what you’d expect, not from UCLA, but from a college football team with the personnel this squad possesses.
UCLA is staying the course. They’re spreading the ball to utilize their wide-ranging talent, they’re switching players’ positions to get the best possible personnel on the field, they’re playing at a pace — normally — that opposing defenses aren’t comfortable with, and on defense, they’re tackling with conviction and they’re attempting to hone in on the ball relentlessly.
So sure, while UCLA did what UCLA does and disappoints its fans at times, they’ve largely met everyone’s expectations when looking at the season as a whole — including the pickiest of fans — and they’re the team you’d expect to see seven weeks into the season.
That’s new, if you’re a UCLA fan. You couldn’t have said that in the past half-decade and you wouldn’t have said that very often since 1998.
Your UCLA Bruins are playing the way they’re supposed to, and that’s a bigger step forward than you could probably imagine.