UCLA's J.D. Morgan Center is humming all year long, but this week it surprised some unsuspecting media members.
The building that serves all of UCLA's athletics sent an email blast promoting its All-American candidates quarterback Brett Hundley, linebacker Anthony Barr and offensive lineman Xavier Su'a-Filo.
For some schools, this wouldn't raise an eyebrow, but this is UCLA, a school that had in the past seemed to focus more on basketball than football. A school that just recently renovated its indoor arena, Pauley Pavilion.
But over the past year, some noticeable changes have occurred regarding its football program, The Rose Bowl received a facelift which included completely updating its press box. The press box is now divided into two areas with large ceiling-to-desk plate glass windows and large flat-screen televisions hanging from the ceiling. It's stunning, to say the least, and the media—myself included—raved about the upgrades to the school's officials.
Perhaps the biggest upgrade, however, has been with the football program itself. The Bruins won the Pac-12 South in 2011, but that achievement was somewhat tempered—USC had the best record in the division, but due to NCAA sanctions, the team was not eligible for postseason play. So the Bruins backed their way into the Pac-12 Championship and were promptly beaten by the Oregon Ducks 49-31.
The Bruins were back to mediocre football. Except...they weren't.
Last season, UCLA earned its way into the Pac-12 Championship with a 9-3 regular season record. While the Bruins did lose to the Stanford Cardinal 35-17, the following week's conference championship game saw a much closer score: Stanford 27, UCLA 24. Moreover, UCLA beat USC 38-28, whereas in the 2011 season, USC had routed UCLA 50-0.
A year and a half ago, I wrote an article about how frustrated UCLA fans were with the direction—or the perceived lack of direction—their football program had taken. One fan started a grassroots campaign called OccupyUCLAAthletics that highlighted the fans' grievances directed at Morgan Center. More:
"At the Texas game, we got there about a half-hour ahead of the game, and I could tell, on the freeway, we were going to have real low attendance," said season-ticket holder Andrew de Sosa. "We just drove right up, no crowds … no crowds for parking. It was noticeable. I was surprised there were that many people that were still coming actually after the past few years."
In one year, head coach Jim Mora has energized a fanbase that rarely filled the Rose Bowl, the stadium in which UCLA plays its home games. The OccupyUCLAAthletics.com website is no longer in existence—its work appears to have been done.
Bruins football is still in hibernation since the team's first spring practice doesn't commence until April 2—any talk of football at this point in the year would be surprising. UCLA's men's basketball team is in the NCAA tournament, and basketball has been the school's banner sport.
Except now Morgan Center is sending out emails highlighting its preseason All-American candidates. The school has, in the past, sent out emails reminding media members of its All-American candidates at the end of the regular season. But in the spring? Before spring practice's official start? When basketball is in pedal-to-the-metal mode?
That email was a stunning display of a football program's revival. It was entirely unexpected.
And it was full of swag.
Let the Battle for Los Angeles officially start now.