The UCLA Bruins have grabbed the bull by the horns, and now have a potential Rose Bowl appearance in sight.
After dismantling the then-ranked No. 22 Arizona Wildcats by a score of 66-10, the Bruins hold destiny in their hands. If UCLA can beat Southern Cal in two weeks, it will win the South division and make a return appearance in the Pac-12 Championship game (most likely against Oregon in Eugene).
Currently, UCLA is in first place in the South division standings, followed by the Trojans and Arizona State. If UCLA can beat Southern Cal, the Bruins will hold tie breakers over every team in the South division.
Getting back to last weekend's contest, Rich Rodriguez and his team weren't just thoroughly dominated—the Wildcats were also embarrassed.
The Bruins dominated all three phases of the game, and the Wildcats had no answer. After the first quarter, the Bruins had a 28-0 lead. At halftime, UCLA was up 42-3.
Arizona came into the game averaging more than 550 yards of total offense per contest. At halftime, the Bruins held Arizona to under 100 yards. For the game, the Wildcats accrued only 257 yards. That's about a 300 yard difference from what Arizona typically averages.
Quarterback Brett Hundley yet again displayed why he should be up for national Freshman All-American honors. The Chandler, Arizona native went 23-28 for 288 yards and three touchdowns. Not once did Hundley seem rattled by the unorthodox 3-3-5 formation the Wildcats employed, and he showed tremendous touch on two long passes for touchdowns to Joseph Fauria and Jordan Payton.
Senior tailback Johnathan Franklin finished with 162 yards on 24 carries. In the process, he became UCLA's all-time leading rusher.
Did anyone really expect UCLA to spank Arizona by 56 points? It seemed like a given that both teams were going to put up tons of points, but it was evident from the opening kick-off the Bruins were amped, and I mean amped for this game.
The new "LA Nights" jerseys were a big hit, the crowd was arguably the best that it's been throughout the entire season and the team played relentlessly. Even the coaches donned "war paint" in an effort to motivate and excite.
This game was truly emblematic of more to come, however. Was this performance indicative of the program turning the proverbial corner?
In some ways, I believe it is.
UCLA put together a complete 60 minutes of football. When was the last time that's happened? In addition, the Bruins dropped 66 points against a ranked opponent—the same opponent that beat UCLA last season unceremoniously by a score of 48-12.
In addition, Jim Mora's bunch is now on a three game winning streak. That small sample size of consistency has not been present in Westwood for some time—probably dating back to the 2005 season in which UCLA finished 10-2.
The energy around the program right now truly has both the players and the fan base believing in Mora's ability to manage this unit effectively.
To be frank, UCLA has always had the resources needed to be an annual—at minimum—8-9 win team. The academics are stellar (UCLA is the second best public university in the world), the area surrounding the institution is both gorgeous and safe and there's an appeal of playing and living in the city of Los Angeles.
Previous regimes haven't been able to fully utilize those advantages. Mora is seemingly tapping into those benefits, and as a result the Bruins are on course to finish with it's best record in years.
This weekend, UCLA will head to the Palouse to take on lowly Washington State. At 2-7, Mike Leach hasn't had a great year. To make matters worse, his best player and sure-fire NFL prospect wide receiver Marquess Wilson has been suspended. Some reports have indicated that Wilson has even quit the team.
With a win against the Cougars, the Bruins will be 8-2 heading into the crosstown duel with the Trojans.
Right now, UCLA is ranked at No. 18, while the Trojans are currently No. 19. This is the first time since 2001 that the Bruins are ranked ahead of Southern Cal in the polls. The game between the two will not only be played at the Rose Bowl, but it will more than likely determine who represents the Pac-12 South division in the conference title game.
At this point, one has to think that Mora likes where his team sits. The team is confident, playing extremely well and a division title is on the line against the hated rival from across town.
*Many make the argument that Southern Cal is considerably down due to it's scholarship numbers. Due to the sanctions, the Trojans have 75 scholarship athletes on it's roster. The Bruins, interestingly enough, have only 78 on scholarship themselves.
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