UCLA Football: 5 Ways To Define Success In 2013


Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

With UCLA’s football season set to kick-off in under 90 days, it’s about that time we start trying to figure out how good this team should be in 2013, and the level of success necessary for fans to continue feeling good about the Jim Mora era.

While last season should be considered wildly successful, it also needs to be put into perspective. UCLA’s best win came against a decent Nebraska team at home, a Husker squad that went on to win ten games, but looked shaky for parts of the season. After that, you’d have to consider UCLA’s road win over Arizona State to be the second-best victory of the season, an important win considering the Bruins’ history of playing terribly on the road against good conference opponents. Still, neither of these wins, though significant, were defining, signature wins that lifted UCLA’s season to a totally different level of success. (A win against Stanford in the Pac-12 title game or a big win over Baylor in the Holiday Bowl might have done that.)

To some degree, a successful 2013 campaign has to build upon this and take a step forward. It’s unfair to judge the season based on wins alone, so demanding that this UCLA team win ten contests in order to be considered successful is out of the question, especially when you consider the difficult road schedule the Bruins are set to face.

Indeed, “success” can be achieved different ways, especially this season. Here are some very important, preliminary requirements:

Eliminate the proverbial “Cal games”

Last season, the Bruins inexplicably dropped a road game to California in 2012. Two years ago, that might’ve been excusable, but this Golden Bears squad was hapless the entire season, yet Tedford—essentially a lame duck the entire year—out-coached the hell out of Jim Mora, as his Bears pounded the Bruins, 43-17.

In the end, the game was looked back upon with a puzzled look and plenty of “WTF”-type remarks from fans. It proved to be a bewildering loss because the Bruins would go on to win five straight en route to a Pac-12 South title.

In 2013, the Bruins cannot have these types of losses. The college football landscape requires that elite teams win games against easy teams, and those that don’t are sure to be jilted when bowl season rolls around.

While teams improve drastically over one offseason (case in point: UCLA), at the present moment, it appears that five contests are ones that UCLA should win without a real problem: Nevada, New Mexico State, at Utah, California, and Colorado. Aside from the Utah game, all of these are at the Rose Bowl, which should be pretty raucous early on. In essence, these teams are pretty bad (we’ll toss bowl-eligible Nevada in there as well, mainly because the team was barely bowl-eligible in 2012 at 6-6, while long-time head coach Chris Ault retired), and they’re teams that the Bruins should dominate, should recent history be any indication.

A loss to any of these five teams, and you can expect more remarks about this Bruin team’s lack of discipline.

Beat ASU, Win The Pac-12 South

It’s clear now that two teams have the best shot to win the Pac-12 South: UCLA and Arizona State. In essence, any other team that wants to be in contention will likely need to beat both of these squads.

Both improved by leaps and bounds in 2012 under the direction of two new head coaches whose hirings were met with extreme skepticism (indeed, Todd Graham’s departure from Pitt was highly-publicized and widely scrutinized). While UCLA won nine games, ASU managed to avoid its tendency to start hot and finish with a whimper, winning its final three games for the first time since 1978 (yes, that’s a real stat).

So while the Bruins will likely be favored to beat the other four Pac-12 South teams, the Sun Devils could very well be favored to beat UCLA and take home a Pac-12 South title, as well as a berth in the Pac-12 championship game.

Which makes the Bruins’ tilt with ASU on November 23 (the week before the rivalry game against Southern Cal) all the more important, with implications for the postseason likely at stake.

Beat Either Stanford Or Oregon

This is almost non-negotiable, because any argument that the Bruins have taken a “step forward” towards becoming year-in, year-out contenders will almost certainly rely on how the team does against the Pac-12’s current hegemonic powers.

Both Oregon and Stanford will be national title contenders, and the Bruins will have to take on the both of ’em back-to-back … on the road.

Beating both would obviously put UCLA on the map nationally, but asking for UCLA to do so seems like a bit much. Beating one, though, and hanging with the other would definitely signify that this UCLA team is ready to contend for championships.

(This writer is partial to beating Stanford though, and I think you know why.)

Beat South Cal

This requirement has become less significant and now exists almost primarily for sentimental reasons. USC isn’t likely to be relevant in 2013 with Lane Kiffin set to become a lame duck head coach. Expectations are low in South Central and the squad, though talented, could very well carry on its level of dysfunction into the new season.

Still, beating USC has implications for recruiting and riles up the fan-base, although we’re sure a win over Stanford or Oregon (see: “Beat Either Stanford or Oregon”) could get fans more excited than a win over ‘SC. Meanwhile, getting Lane Kiffin fired would undoubtedly set back the Trojans a couple more years as they would be forced to find a head coach that is able to succeed with unreasonably high expectations.

Win The Bowl Game

There are exceptions to this rule, mainly because we’re not sure of the kind of team UCLA could face come bowl season. Without sounding like enablers, a Rose Bowl berth could see the Bruins pitted against a bona fide national power, such as Ohio State, and a close loss to a Buckeyes team that would likely be a one-loss squad is understandable.

Outside of that, though, the Bruins should win their bowl game. Last year was Jim Mora’s first bowl season, and it ended in disaster as Baylor coach Art Briles out-classed Mora for four quarters without mercy. While it’s hard to excuse, it’s important to note that new college coaches generally struggle in their first bowl game (indeed, Nick Saban, Chip Kelly, and other elite coaches have struggled in their first postseasons as head men).

Winning the bowl game sets the tone for the next season and oftentimes, has a profound impact on how the team moves forward, especially in the early stages of a new head coach’s regime.