USC game key to successful season for Mora
NOV 14, 2012 4:35p ET
Despite what he has been saying this week — and what his players have been dutifully repeating — the USC- UCLA showdown on FOX at 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday at the Rose Bowl is more than just another game. It’s B-I-G big, and Mora’s identity as Bruins coach will be determined by whether he wins or loses.
There’s no doubt he’s made an impact on the program, winning eight games in his first season. The Bruins are No. 17 in the BCS standings — the first time in 12 seasons UCLA has been ranked higher than the Trojans, who are No. 18.
But rivalries as rich as theirs transcend rankings and records. So the final effect of the game will be this: Win, and Mora’s first season will be a success; lose and no one will be happy, regardless of the Bruins’ record, ranking or bowl.
On a radio interview this week, Mora said he wanted his players to treat USC as just another game, while acknowledging the rivalry and the stakes that are in play. The winner will claim the Pac-12 South title and have the right to be crushed by No. 2 Oregon in the conference championship game on Nov. 30.
In a conference call with reporters, Mora conceded the game’s importance but added this: “Every game is important, and if you start to treat games of different levels of importance, you create an inconsistency in your program that I don’t think is healthy.
“We all know this one’s special, we all know what the stakes are, but it’s still important to focus on the process and focus on the things that have gotten you to this point. I think that’s part of having a successful program is being able to treat all games as important games.”
His intent is honorable, but does he think Michigan- Ohio State is just another game? Or Texas- Oklahoma? Or Army- Navy? Coaches have been fired for losing a rivalry game, and certainly Mora’s predecessor, Rick Neuheisel, would acknowledge his 0-4 record against USC, which culminated in a 50-0 thrashing last year, was the last straw.
But it wasn’t just Neuheisel. The Bruins have been USC’s road kill for too long, losing 12 of the past 13 and five in a row. Think they don’t want to end that streak and avenge their 2011 spanking?
“We’re a different team,” Mora said in comparing this season’s squad with last year’s. “I think it would be naive to say those guys that played in that game don’t remember it, but I don’t think they’re . . . licking their wounds a year later. I don’t think they dwell on it.”
If they don’t, they should. Focusing on their routine and game preparation is fine, but UCLA fans are looking at this team as the start of a new era — and it begins Saturday. A win would assure them of a shot to play in the Rose Bowl — the game, not the stadium – for the first time since 1998. They’ve seen enough Kraft Fight Hunger Bowls.
For Mora, the reward is just as important. His first season in Westwood will either be a rousing success or just another UCLA loss to USC. It’s really that simple.
Mora says the game is “the most important game we’ll play this week,” but he’s got it all wrong. It’s the most important game the Bruins will play this season.
+ SHOW COMMENTS +