Before going any further I want to congratulate Jim Mora Jr. on waking up the UCLA football program which had been slumbering for a decade.
The new coach raised the culture of UCLA football with his no-nonsense approach and had the courage to install a freshman at quarterback when older ones were available. And also to move Anthony Barr from running back to outside linebacker, where he made a huge impact.
Mora instilled toughness and Brett Hundley gave the offense a new dimension, proving far superior to Kevin Prince, the incumbent quarterback who was still on the roster.
No, UCLA didn’t beat Stanford in the Pac-12 Conference championship game last Friday but they competed on even terms for nearly the entire game.
Instead of going to the Rose Bowl, UCLA will play in the Holiday Bowl against Baylor, and that’s a more prestigious setting than the Sun Bowl, where USC will play. It’s a rare year when UCLA not only defeated USC but earned a loftier bowl appearance.
I know a lot of UCLA rooters who were hoping for a drive to San Diego rather than a flight to El Paso for their holiday football reward.
As for USC, it’s been a highly disappointing season with five losses The Sun Bowl will match two teams who had much higher expectations. USC’s opponent, Georgia Tech, has a 6-7 record and needed permission from the NCAA to play in a bowl game even though it had a losing record.. The game will be played on New Year’s Eve.
On the positive side, USC returns from two years of NCAA probation and will have bowl practices which prepare returning players for next season.
Speaking of next season, Coach Lane Kiffin went to Tacoma last weekend to watch Max Browne in a high school playoff game.
Browne is a 6-foot-5 quarterback with a dynamite arm who is headed to USC and might compete for a starting role next season.
There’s a chance Matt Barkley will recover from a shoulder injury in time to play in the Sun Bowl and that would be great to see. The heralded Barkley didn’t lead USC to any national championships or win the Heisman Trophy during his Trojan career but he’ll be remembered for a lot of spectacular play.
His disappointing senior season may mean he’ll be a second round NFL draft choice instead of a high first round choice.
But it will be interesting to see if Barkley can make an outstanding impression in the NFL like Stanford’s Andrew Luck has done this season.