Picked third in Pac-12 South, UCLA football focuses on the ‘process’
BURBANK, Calif. -- Jim Mora dragged himself to Warner Bros. Studios on Thursday, but that doesn't mean he has to be happy about it.
"I would like no one to ever rank us," he said. "I would like no one to ever cover us. I'd like to never be on TV. And have no one ever talk about us until the end of the year, but that's not going to happen."
He was joking -- sort of. Pac-12 media days always generate their share of levity, from Todd Graham's discussion of his cowboy boots to Larry Scott's doppelganger on Oregon State. But Mora also had a point to make: The Bruins, picked by the media to finish third in their division, don't need to worry about anyone but themselves.
This is hardly a revelatory idea. Football coaches across the country, at every level, talk themselves to death about the need to focus on the week-to-week game plan. They shrug off suggestions of a larger goal, of any opponent being more important than any other.
But for UCLA in particular, this has immediate practical applications.
Last year, the Bruins were considered to be a darkhorse College Football Playoff contender, one expected to at least win the Pac-12 South. At least one or two analysts picked them to win the national championship.
Asked on Thursday whether a Pac-12 or national title is still the goal this year, Mora demurred.
"We are talking about the process more than anything else," he said. "I think that's something that we learned, maybe through last year and the expectations that were placed on us. Maybe, even though we tried not to look that far down the road, at times we took our eye off what we were trying to accomplish on that day and peeked up."
UCLA still finished the 2014 season as one of the top-10 teams in the country, so it wasn't exactly a disappointing campaign. But the Bruins narrowly skated by a few lesser teams (Cal, Colorado), and have still gone two consecutive years without winning their division.
"Preseason, hearing all this hype," linebacker Deon Hollins said. "From my perspective, a lot of players probably thought more of themselves. Probably listened to the noise a little too much. And I think it hurt us in the end."
So, this year's preseason media poll might actually be good news for UCLA. Mora characterized this year's squad as a team with potential, but also one with a "gigantic, unanswered question at a prominent position."
While Josh Rosen is widely expected to win the starting quarterback job, the competition remains open, and he remains a true freshman.
That's likely the reason why the Bruins received just six votes to win the Pac-12 South -- one vote shy of Arizona State's seven and far behind USC's 32. UCLA beat those two teams by a combined margin of 53 points last season.
Several players immediately took offense, noting their frustrations on Twitter.
Offensive lineman Caleb Benenoch: "Wait didn't we blowout both the [teams]..."
Defensive tackle Kenny Clark: "I don't get why everybody love to disrespect us!"
Receiver Eldridge Massington: "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do."
Last September, after UCLA eked out closer-than-expected wins against Virginia and Memphis, Mora said that his team needed to rediscover its "underdog" mentality.
Heading into 2015, that likely won't be a problem.
This article was written by Jack Wang from Los Angeles Daily News and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.