College Football: UCLA football team already well on road to recovery

READY FOR 2012: Senior running back Jonathan Franklin
will be a key for UCLA this season.
(Staff file photo by Keith Birmingham)

UCLA-Rice preview

Here’s my college football column on the opening of the season for UCLA. I’ll try to post as many stories about UCLA, since they are the home team of Pasadena.

By Steve Ramirez, SGVN

For the third time in a decade, UCLA begins the college football season with a new coach.
Will Jim L. Mora, who begins his Bruins legacy today at 4:30 p.m. when UCLA opens the season at Rice, succeed where Karl Dorrell and Rick Neuheisel failed?
I, for one, believe he will. Maybe not to the extent some UCLA fans envision, as in recapturing Los Angeles from USC’s stranglehold, but he certainly has the qualities to get the Bruins out of their stagnation over the last decade and at least compete for the Pac-12 title annually.
For me Dorrell, who replaced Bob Toledo in 2002, was too passive and looked to run from a fight rather than engage. Instead of go head-on in recruiting with the monster Pete Carroll created at USC, he took the second-tier route and failed miserably.
Enter Neuheisel who, after leading Washington to a win in the 2001 Rose Bowl and a few years as a NFL assistant with the Baltimore Ravens, appeared to have the personality to get UCLA moving again.
Slick Rick or Skippy, as some of his detractors labeled the 1984 Rose Bowl MVP, had the sales pitch of a used car dealer and brought in three top recruiting classes.
The problem was it never materialized on the field. Neuheisel’s weakness seems to be Mora’s strength, at least from what we saw during spring practice and in summer camp.
Neuheisel brought in top recruits but deferred to experience rather than talent and it proved to be his downfall.

Mora’s choice of redshirt freshman Brett Hundley to be his quarterback is the perfect example of the difference in the two trains of thought.
I’ve always thought Hundley should have been playing last season. He clearly was more talented than last season’s starters, Richard Brehaut and Kevin Prince. The only thing he lacked was experience.
I thought Neuheisel should have used him in the same way Jim Tressel brought along Terrelle Pryor during his freshman year at Ohio State.
Tressel gave Pryor little tastes of playing time in 2008 and allowed the Pennsylvania native to adjust to the speed of the game. By the back half of his first season, he was the Buckeyes’ starter and sparked Ohio State’s run to the Big Ten title in 2009 and a win in the 2010 Rose Bowl Game.
Why not do the same with Hundley?
Mora wasted little time. He saw what he needed to during the spring and after a few practices, his decision was affirmed in the summer.
Sure, as a true freshman he will make mistakes, but I expect the positives to far outweigh the negatives.
Another thing Mora, like his father, has on his side is his no-nonsense approach. He is what UCLA has needed for quite some time – a big kick in the pants.
Mora was hired in December and quickly assembled a solid staff of coaches who not only could teach from their expertise but recruit as well, hauling in local favorite Ellis McCarthy of Monrovia.
The freshman, at 6-foot-5, 330 pounds, can be a big impact player in the middle of UCLA’s defensive line and make a difference. He is one player opposing offensive lines must account for, even if it means to double-, or even triple-team the freshman. That allows for much more pressure in other areas across the defense.
And Mora’s expertise as a defensive coach – he was known for his defenses in the NFL – should not be taken lightly.
Now don’t get me wrong. This is a team that will not compete for the Pac-12 title or even the South Division. UCLA still is miles away from USC, which begins the season ranked No. 1 in the preseason AP rankings and is a solid pick to win a Bowl Championship Series title.
But UCLA, which was 21-29 with one winning season under Neuheisel (7-6 in 2009), has the ability to finish second in the south behind the Trojans. The Bruins, 16-point favorites over Rice, have three games on the schedule they’re not likely to win – home games vs. Nebraska (Sept. 8), USC (Nov. 17) and Stanford (Nov. 24) – and eight in which they should be favored, at least going into the season.
That could change by the time they roll into Pullman to face Washington State and new coach/offensive guru Mike Leach in November.
But for now, from this view, an 8-4 record is within reach, which should have Mora and UCLA well on their way to recovery.
It starts today in Houston.

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