UCLA vs. Oregon: A Very Early Look at One Game That Will Determine Bruins' 2014

Kyle KensingContributor IMarch 25, 2014

Oct 26, 2013; Eugene, OR, USA; UCLA Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley (17) runs the ball past Oregon Ducks linebacker Rodney Hardrick (48) at Autzen Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports
Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

The college football-watching nation's eyes will be fixed firmly on Pasadena, Calif., on Oct. 11 when UCLA hosts Oregon, a cross-divisional Pac-12 showdown that will define the Bruins' 2014 season. 

UCLA embarks on 2014 with lofty goals. The university athletic department is touting Brett Hundley for the Heisman Trophy, an award only one other Bruin has ever won: Gary Beban in 1967.

Hundley also talked national championship after announcing his decision to return for his redshirt junior season in January, per Jill Painter of the Los Angeles Daily News. The Bruins last claimed that most coveted of prizes in 1954. 

If UCLA is going to contend for the top of the Pac-12 and national scene, it must go through Oregon. 

"They're a machine," UCLA head coach Jim Mora said in his postgame press conference following the Bruins' meeting with the Ducks last October, per UCLABruins.com. "They have consistency. That's where we're trying to get." 

Oregon is a barometer by which the entire Pac-12 is measured, a standard-bearer of success for the past half-decade few teams in the nation—let alone conference—have been able to match. 

UCLA's 42-14 loss in October last season crystallized the Bruins' pursuit of joining college football's elite, and showed how they were just shy of the Pac-12's apex.

"We didn't come up here to play close. We didn't come up here to give it the old college try," Mora said following the loss. "We weren't satisfied being 14-14 at half.

"[The loss] showed me how close we are, and how far we are, and how many things we've got to get better at," he added. 

For a half last October, UCLA was game for the Ducks' challenge and forced a tie going into the Autzen Stadium locker room. But Oregon pounced on UCLA's youthful inexperience on the offensive line in the second half, overwhelming Hundley and shutting out the Bruins. 

The Ducks were able to take advantage of an offensive line breaking in freshmen Scott Quessenberry and Caleb Benenoch, both of whom were joining fellow first-year lineman Alex Redmond amid a rash of injuries. 

For an offensive line that started three true freshmen and a sophomore (Jake Brendel) much of the year, 2013 was trial by fire. And the heat was on at Oregon. 

October 27, 2012; Tempe, AZ, USA; UCLA Bruins center Jake Brendel (54) against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports
Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

That defensive pressure allowed the Ducks offense to do what it does best: Pile up points in a hurry and turn the opponent's rally effort into running in proverbial quicksand. 

This season's matchup with Oregon is significant as a measuring stick for UCLA's championship aspirations, but also because it's a roadblock other Pac-12 South divisional contenders avoid. Both USC and reigning divisional champion Arizona State, the South's other 10-win finishers in 2013, miss the Ducks. 

Becoming a championship team means beating championship-caliber competition, however. And the Bruins' date with the Ducks is just such a test in a season filled with ambitious goals at UCLA.