UCLA has its first 10-win season since 2005, reaching the milestone Tuesday in a 42-12 rout of Virginia Tech in the Sun Bowl.
Aside from reaching 10 wins at the same bowl game as the 2005 Bruins, this UCLA season ends on a different trajectory. The program hit the double-digit benchmark twice previously in the BCS era, and each campaign—1998 and 2005—was the culmination of an era.
After going 10-2 in 1998, the next six UCLA teams went 4-7, 6-6, 7-4, 8-5, 6-7 and 6-6. In the six seasons between the Bruins' 10-2 finish in 2005 and head coach Jim Mora's arrival before the 2012 campaign, UCLA never won more than seven games in any one year.
Mora immediately adjusted both attitudes and expectations, and the result is a 19-8 record through two seasons.
Perhaps nowhere was UCLA's refocus under Mora more evident than the Sun Bowl. Last year, the Bruins slogged into the postseason after the disappointment of losing the Pac-12 Championship Game, then were promptly blown out of the Holiday Bowl by streaking Baylor, denying UCLA a 10th victory.
For the Bears, the Holiday Bowl foreshadowed the Big 12 Conference championship that was to come in 2013.
The Holiday Bowl rout also carried UCLA into 2013, as Mora detailed to reporters last week.
"[The Holiday Bowl loss] created a real motivation for us going into the offseason," he said, per The Orange County Register. "It's carried through this season. Our guys are really focused on...trying to find a way to get win No. 10."
Ten wins is a nice number and a new standard in the Mora era, but it's not an endgame.
This time, 10 wins are less signifying of a destination and more of a pit stop for UCLA. With Mora behind the wheel, the Bruins are cruising and gaining speed. Next stop is 2014 with a roster heavily stocked with returning talents—and very little time on the road.
The Bruins faced a bear of a schedule in 2013, drawing Pac-12 heavyweights Stanford and Oregon away from home—in consecutive weeks, no less—as well as rival USC. All three come to the Rose Bowl in 2014.
Chief among the Bruins returning for next year is linebacker Myles Jack, the transcendent two-way star who won Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball.
Jack's offensive load will be significantly lightened with a healthy stable of running backs operating under offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. In fact, Jack's time as a two-way player may have come to an end, but that's for the best for UCLA.
Jack will take up the mantle likely first-round NFL draft pick Anthony Barr carried as the leading playmaker for the Bruins defense. But that doesn't mean Jack's time reaching the end zone is over, as Virginia Tech learned firsthand.
No Bruin caused Virginia Tech more problems than quarterback Brett Hundley, whose NFL decision in the coming days will shape UCLA's expectations for 2014.
The redshirt sophomore had arguably the best game of his career, rushing for 161 yards and two touchdowns and passing for two more scores. Should Hundley test the NFL draft waters, his second passing score will accompany many a TV analyst's breakdown on the quarterback's arm strength.
UCLA faithful in attendance at the Sun Bowl let Hundley know he's welcome back for another year, as Los Angeles Daily News reporter Jack Wang notes via Twitter.
Mora has also made his hope for another year of Hundley abundantly clear. There's no doubting how important Hundley is to UCLA's plan for a season that could exceed all expectations this program's had in recent memory.
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