UCLA's return to prominence — at least in the first month of the season — is one of the surprising stories thus far. It was expected the Bruins would beat Rice and Houston, but the 36-30 victory over Nebraska on Sept. 8 was a stunner. UCLA shredded Nebraska's defense for 653 yards. The Bruins begin Pacific 12 play Saturday against Oregon State at the Rose Bowl.
UCLA introduced Jim Mora as its new coach on Tuesday. Mora, 50, agreed to a five-year deal worth a guaranteed $12 million plus incentives and bonuses.
"This is proud institution, it's an outstanding academic institution. I say that it's a sleeping giant in college football," said Mora, who hasn't coached since 2009.
Mora, a defensive specialist, is about to get a crash course in offenses, from Oregon's spread to USC's pro-style attack. Then there's Washington State and new coach Mike Leach, who simply doesn't care what defense you line up in.
Competitive, friendly, honest. Jim Mora appears to have the ingredients to be a winner, but T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times says UCLA just made a huge mistake in hiring the 50-year-old Mora as coach.
Simers writes: "It remains almost incomprehensible how ill-prepared [athletic director] Dan Guerrero was after firing Rick Neuheisel. As it turns out, Guerrero had done nothing to assemble an inviting package capable of persuading candidates UCLA was now indeed serious about football."
Simers was just warming up.
"It appears UCLA has once again hired a coach who will need every break to go his way to have a chance for success. I guess that's the one thing we've come to count on about UCLA football: It just isn't that big of a draw in coaching circles."
And he has this piece of advice for the new coach: "Mora will also need a quality coaching staff to succeed, something UCLA lacked under Neuheisel. Based on history, I wouldn't suggest asking Guerrero for advice."
UCLA, which received a waiver this week to play in a bowl with a 6-7 record, could nudge out San Diego State, which might finish 8-4.
The Bruins play Friday at Oregon in the Pacific 12 title game. Given that the team is a 31-point underdog, it's likely UCLA will finish 6-7.
San Diego State is 7-4 and finishes Saturday with a home game against Fresno State. Three of the team's losses have come against teams ranked in the top 25 (at Michigan, Texas Christian and Boise State). The most damaging loss came at home to Wyoming, which put the Cowboys a notch up on the pecking order for bowl-eligible teams from the Mountain West.
The league has only four contracted bowl games for five eligible teams. As it stands, San Diego State is the odd team out.