UCLA hopes a football title can lead sports program in 2015

UCLA hopes a football title can lead sports program in 2015
The Bruins have 18 returning starters for next season, but will Coach Jim Mora turn the offense over to Jerry Neuheisel (11)? (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The UCLA men's water polo team won an NCAA championship Dec. 7, extending the Bruins' record number of national titles to 112.

UCLA's success in what athletic program officials call "Olympic sports" is unparalleled, but what Bruins fans really crave is a fall to match 1954, when the school won its only national title in football.


UCLA football fell short of the Pac-12 Conference title game in 2014, but the Bruins expect to have 18 starters back next season, fueling more hopes of a championship run. However, they'll have to do it without quarterback Brett Hundley, who has said he will forego his senior season of eligibility to enter the NFL draft.

Here's a look at some of the issues UCLA faces in the next year, and what to expect:

Could football Coach Jim Mora bolt for the NFL or another university?

Mora departing for another college is unlikely. He likes UCLA, and Southern California — the region, not the university of.

UCLA officials are expected to break ground soon on a $50-million football facility. Mora's contract includes hefty buyouts — $2 million if he leaves before Jan. 15; $1.7 million if he leaves before Jan. 15, 2016 — which are designed to keep him from jumping to another school. However, if UCLA has not broken ground on the facility by Oct. 1, the buyouts are removed from his contract.

The NFL is another matter. Those buyouts would be pocket change. Mora has said he enjoys the college level because of the impact he has on the lives of the young men he coaches. For him to leave, it would likely be to an NFL team where he feels a connection. The San Francisco 49ers are the only team that fits into that category at the moment. He was an assistant with the 49ers from 1997 to 2003.

Of course, that's all under the assumption that Mora remains an attractive candidate. He has resurrected the UCLA program, but the Bruins have yet to get over the Oregon-Stanford hump.

What other changes could there be to UCLA's football staff?

Staff consistency has been a key, and underrated, element to UCLA's football success. And one reason the assistants have stayed is that their salaries have substantially increased. The core of the staff is expected to return, including offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich, offensive line coach Adrian Klemm and running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu. Others, such as defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin and receivers coach Eric Yarber, may need a raise or could seek to climb the coaching ladder elsewhere.

Where will Hundley go in the NFL draft?

There are scouts who feel he could benefit from another year at the college level. They also acknowledge that Hundley is a likely first-round pick. How high he goes will be determined in part by how he performs at the NFL combine. Hundley needs refinement as a passer, but he has so much physical ability that he shouldn't last long on draft day.

Who replaces Hundley as UCLA's quarterback?

Jerry Neuheisel isn't the most physically talented quarterback, but he is smart and has shown he can manage a game. Asiantii Woulard has not developed at a rapid pace. Incoming freshman Josh Rosen is the wild card.

Rosen, from Bellflower St. John Bosco High, will enroll for the winter quarter and will be given every chance to win the job. But the transition to college is difficult, even for a player of his talent.

The competition will start during spring practice and carry over to training camp in August.

Can Steve Alford push UCLA's basketball team back to elite status?

The Bruins seem headed for a bumpy season. They have backcourt issues, especially at point guard. An NCAA tournament bid should come, but unless there is drastic improvement, a deep run probably won't follow. Then forward Kevon Looney likely bolts for the NBA.

It is unfair to judge a coach until his third season (and third recruiting class). Alford is in his second season, so the jury is still out.

Could Alford leave for another school?

No. To buy out his UCLA contract would be very expensive.

How will the new landscape of college athletics affect UCLA?

This is a challenging time for any state-funded university. Top-level sports programs are expected to provide scholarships that cover full cost of attendance and guarantee scholarships for four years.

UCLA's athletic department operates as a business. It receives only a small amount of student fees and has to balance its budget. Pac-12 television contracts underwrite a lot of the costs for the department. Men's basketball usually breaks even, meaning football covers the other sports. Now more needs to be covered.

There has been a hard-sell approach to fundraising in Westwood. Pauley Pavilion was renovated. Now there are plans and money in place to build a football practice facility. There are also intentions to build a basketball practice facility. The phrase "donor fatigue" gets bandied about often.

The revenue stream needs to keep up with the revenue need.

Will UCLA baseball be back in an NCAA regional?

The Bruins won their first national title in 2013. Winning another in 2014 would have been asking a lot, but not reaching the playoffs all together was a long slide.

Don't expect Coach John Savage to stay away long. His recruiting class was ranked seventh by Baseball America. Staff ace James Kaprielian is back and closer David Berg elected to return for his senior season.

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