2001: A UCLA Bruin Odyssey
October 20th, 2001 might very well have been the day that the balance of college football in Los Angeles changed in the modern era. On that day, UCLA was 6-0, ranked #3 in the inaugural BCS standings, and was just two seasons removed from a school-record 20-game winning streak. On the other side of town, USC was 2-5, mired in a decade of mediocrity that saw the Trojans lose to the Bruins eight consecutive years, and with an eccentric coach known more for the pace of his gun chewing than anything he did on a college football field.
Oh how quickly things changed. In one month, by November 17th, the Bruins had lost their next four games as Bob Toledo inexplicably lost control of the UCLA ship, while the Trojans miraculously and dramatically won their next four. Culminating in the crosstown rivalry where the Trojans decimated the Bruins 27-0 in the first signature win of the Pete Carroll era.
30 days altered the next 10 years. The Trojans used the recruiting momentum from that victory to dominate the Bruins, the PAC-12, and the rest of the country for the better part of the next decade, while the Bruins have never reached a ranking that high since.
Another 2001 is upon us right now. With the Trojans addition of Lincoln Riley, Caleb & Mario Williams, and now Jordan Addison, the chess pieces are systematically in place for another hostile takeover of the city, the conference, and the country. This 2022 Bruins season becomes arguably the most important for survival in school history. The slogan should be, “we’re here too” in this new era of NIL, unregulated transfer portals, and possible revenue sharing. It doesn’t matter that UCLA has the better academics, a more beautiful campus, or a deeper soul for social justice…what matters first to an 18-year-old star athlete is the ability to perform on the field and to brand off it.
In the words of Bill Pullman in Independence Day, the Bruins have to WIN, not to avoid “tyranny or persecution…but annihilation.” There’s a juggernaut brewing across town, and it’s time to stand up to the bully and fight. The competition will make both teams greater, the region glitzier, and the rivalry grander.
Fortunately, the schedule and the new PAC-12 rule eliminating division champions all sets up the Bruins for success in 2022. UCLA has three non-conference home games against FCS opponents, another five conference games against teams that went a combined 13-43 last year, and a sixth versus Arizona State, who is as close to college football’s death penalty without actually dying. That’s nine wins by default. The only three games in question are Oregon, Utah, and USC.
The Bruins get USC at the Rose Bowl and even at the height of their dominance, the Trojans always struggle in Pasadena. The 2004 national champions barely beat the Bruins by 5 thanks to a Drew Olson interception with less than a minute to play. In 2006, the Trojans were denied a chance to go to a 4th straight national championship game with a stunning 13-9 defeat that’s still considered the greatest Bruin victory of the 21st century. Seasons in 2012, 2014, and 2018 all ended in defeat at the Rose Bowl, with USC needing a touchdown with under 30 seconds to play to pull out the 2020 game.
The Bruins have two of the five best offensive players in the PAC-12, the mystique of the “granddaddy of them all,” and the confidence from humiliating the Trojans the year before. The Bruins NEED this game and frankly SHOULD win the game. A victory would send them to at least 10-2 and 7-2 in PAC-12 play. Courtesy of the new PAC-12 rule change, even if Utah has a better record, the Bruins should play the Utes for the conference title.
Given the loss of Devin Lloyd and a new system with Dan Lanning, the probability that both Utah AND Oregon finish 8-1 or better in conference is razor-thin. Thus, the winner of the crosstown rivalry game should have a seat at the PAC-12 title game table.
It’s time to win emphatically Bruins. It’s time to declare to the region, “we’re here too, and we’re not going anywhere!”
Or risk another 2001 football odyssey.