With an impressive 35-14 victory over crosstown foe Southern Cal this past Saturday, the UCLA Bruins have finished the 2013 regular season with a 9-3 record.
Jim Mora's group should consider this season a success. Although narrowly missing out on a third straight appearance in the Pac-12 Championship Game, the program took major strides this year.
The team had to endure a plethora of hardships, making the 9-3 record somewhat of an impressive feat. The tragic death of team member Nick Pasquale hung over the team for the entire year. His memory was commemorated at various points in the year. Emotions ran high with players and coaches alike.
From a personnel standpoint, UCLA was forced out of necessity to play 18 true freshmen. Injuries thrust a good number of those freshmen into prominent roles.
Both starting tackles Simon Goines and Torian White were lost for the season due to injury. As a result, UCLA was forced to start three true freshmen on the offensive line. Not an ideal situation for any program, clearly.
At running back, starter Jordon James was hampered by a sore ankle for a good portion of the year. Backups Damien Thigpen and Steven Manfro also missed a good chunk of time with various ailments. The situation got so dire, starting outside linebacker Myles Jack was moved to the backfield temporarily to compensate for the depth concerns.
Lastly, UCLA played a bear of a schedule. The Bruins' 2013 schedule is considered to be the third-most difficult in the nation. Road games in back-to-back weeks against Oregon and Stanford is perhaps the most difficult two-game stretch that any team has faced this season.
An early road test in the hostile environment of Nebraska, plus tough games in Salt Lake City and Tucson made it easily one of the most treacherous road slates around.
With all of that said, Jim Mora has built a foundation, culminating with the thrashing of USC.
A team relying so much upon youth should not be playing for the chance to win 10 games as UCLA is doing. The strides made this season by Mora's bunch is quite impressive. The reliance upon freshmen and sophomores will only pay dividends in future years.
Anthony Barr, Cassius Marsh, Jordan Zumwalt and Shaq Evans are the prominent members of the team graduating this year. Aside from the possible early defections to the NFL (Xavier Su'a-Filo, Brett Hundley), virtually everyone returns. UCLA potentially could be loaded in 2014.
In terms of a grade this season, UCLA deserves a B+.
The ceiling for this team is extremely high. The 2013 season was one that enabled the team to gain confidence and experience. The grade would have been higher, if it were not for losing to Arizona State at home. A third appearance in the Pac-12 title game would have been a gigantic boon for Mora and his team.