Not many folks in Los Angeles believed it possible at the time. But Jim Mora scoffed at the critics and turned the city’s perennial little brother into a college football power. All in less than two years.
When UCLA invades Rice-Eccles Stadium on Thursday to face Utah, the Bruins will do so with a ton of momentum.
Brett Hundley is one of the best quarterbacks in the country and a projected first round NFL draft pick — should he elect to leave early. And linebacker Anthony Barr is one of the most feared defensive players in the Pac-12,
Most importantly, the Bruins are the team in Los Angeles that everyone is talking about now. While once-mighty USC flounders in the wake of Lane Kiffin’s firing, the Bruins are nationally ranked (12th in this week’s AP poll) and a favorite win the Pac-12 South.
“I’ve been fortunate to have a good set of circumstances,” Mora said Tuesday. “We’ve had good support from the administration, good support from the fans and we’ve been able to recruit well. At the same time, we’ve kind of taken things day to day. We look at each game in itself and we’ve tried not to get too far ahead of ourselves. I think that mindset has given us some advantages.”
Just 17 games into Mora’s tenure, it appears Bruins athletic director Dan Guerrero has made a home run hire. Last season, Mora’s first, the Bruins won nine games for the first time since 2005, This season UCLA is on track to better that total.
Ironic, given the lack of enthusiasm that greeted the former NFL coach’s hiring in 2011 following Rick Neuheisel’s firing. Mora had some success in Atlanta, but was let go as Seattle’s coach after just one season.
It helped that the talent cupboard was far from bare when Mora took over at UCLA. Hundley, for instance, has developed into a 6-foot-4 running and passing threat. Hundley also was a Neuheisel recruit, and the former Bruins coach did Mora a huge favor by redshirting the QB when many Bruins fans hollered for him to start as a true freshman.
Until this season, the shadow of the Trojans has loomed over the program. Neuheisal famously promised that the Bruins would take back Los Angeles from USC, but was just 13-23 in three seasons. It took Mora’s arrival to start making it happen.
“They’ve done a great job of getting the program back on the right track,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “I think it’s been a mixture of things. Jim has done a terrific job. He’s also had a lot to work with.”
In the Bruins, Utah will face one of the most balanced teams in the Pac-12. Through the first month of the season, UCLA looks like the only team in the South capable of competing with North powers Oregon and a Stanford.
Jim Mora Jr.
• Is 12-5 in his tenure at UCLA
• Was 31-33 as an NFL head coach
• Is the son of former NFL coach Jim Mora
No. 12 UCLAat Utah
O Thursday, 8 p.m.
TV • Fox Sports 1