Going into the start of the 2014 college football season, it seemed UCLA was the trendy pick to make a run to the first College Football Playoff and maybe even win the whole thing. Back-to-back losses in the middle of the season against Utah and Oregon may have derailed those ideas, but the Bruins have become one of the hottest teams in college football at perhaps the best possible time. But what is it that has changed with the Bruins that all of a sudden have them living up to the preseason hype?
For starters, protecting the football has improved over the last four weeks. Through the first seven games of the season, UCLA had a turnover margin of -2, with just two games seeing a positive turnover margin. Though the Bruins have lost the football a handful of times over the last month, the defense has come through with forced turnovers to make up for it. UCLA has forced six turnovers in the last four games.
Before that, the Bruins defense had forced eight turnovers all season, with three coming in the opener against Virginia and four coming in a road blowout win against Arizona State. Turnovers forced often felt to be few and far between those games for the Bruins. Now they can be counted on for at least one turnover per game it seems.
The Bruins are also starting to turn up the pressure on opposing quarterbacks. UCLA is coming off its best performance of the season with six sacks of USC quarterback Cody Kessler. UCLA recorded three sacks in each of the two previous games before the USC game. UCLA had 10 sacks combined in its first eight games of the year.
UCLA has played its way into controlling the outcome of the Pac-12 South with just one week to play. The offense has been there for the Bruins throughout the season, but the defense is back to upholding its end of the bargain. All that stands in the way of UCLA and a trip back to the Pac-12 Championship Game for a third time in four seasons is Stanford. It is fitting the Bruins have a chance to wrap up the division against the two-time defending Pac-12 champions.
The Bruins also have a chance to wiggle into the College Football Playoff picture after all, with a convincing victory against Stanford and a victory over Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game. UCLA may need a good amount of help elsewhere to see the preseason expectations met by UCLA, but crazy things can happen in the sport of college football. And the college football gods have rewarded teams getting hot at the right time. For UCLA, now could be the perfect time to be putting all of the pieces together.
- By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)