The 2016 UCLA recruiting class checked in at No. 16 of 247Sports’ composite rankings before adding 4-star safety Brandon Burton. Now that the Bruins have the standout from nearby Serra, UCLA surpasses Stanford with the most 4-star commitments in the Pac-12.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) February 3, 2016
Recruiting’s been of no issue for UCLA during head coach Jim Mora’s tenure in Westwood. The 2015 UCLA recruiting class featured three 5-star prospects and 10 4-star signees. In 2014, the Bruins added nine 4-stars. The 2013 class brought a remarkable 18 4-star signees.
That influx of talent explains the repeated high expectations set for the Bruins seemingly every since Mora took over, but only compounds the disappointment of UCLA winning just one divisional title and no conference championships in that time.
That UCLA’s sole Pac-12 South came in Mora’s first year, with a team built primarily of Rick Neuheisel’s recruits, further compounds the sense of failed expectations.
Now, the e-word — expectations — is not Mora’s favorite. Covering the Bruins in 2014, a season in which UCLA was a trendy preseason pick to reach the College Football Playoff, Mora bristled at the word.
He often answered questions about expectations in Derek Zoolander style, positing a question of his own: “Whose expectations?”
Mora made it abundantly clear amid outside talk of a national championship — some of which quarterback Brett Hundley fueled — that UCLA’s primary goal was winning a Pac-12 championship.
A dud of a regular-season finale loss to Stanford denied the Bruins not just a conference title, but the opportunity to play for one. Stanford’s beaten UCLA five times in Mora’s four seasons at the helm, and the Cardinal are the only Pac-12 squad currently ranked ahead of the Bruins entering national signing day.
Since 2012, Stanford’s finished with a more highly rated recruiting class than UCLA twice. In that same time, the only other program to win the Pac-12 championship — Oregon — finished the signing period with a higher ranked class than UCLA just once. That was in 2012, just two months after Mora took the job.
Oregon’s 2-0 against UCLA in that time.
To Mora’s credit, UCLA enjoyed unprecedented success in his first three seasons. Never before had the Bruins won nine or more games in three consecutive seasons, and back-to-back 10-win seasons in 2013 and 2014 matched legendary Terry Donahue’s best run.
But the dismal way in which UCLA ended 2015, losing three of its last four, relegated the Bruins to an underwhelming 8-5.
Compounding the disappointment of that finish were losses to 5-7 Nebraska in the Foster Farms Bowl, and a lopsided defeat to crosstown rival USC, which previously had never beaten UCLA in Mora’s tenure. USC was also the only Pac-12 team to whiff commensurate with its recruiting rankings more profoundly than UCLA over the last four years.
Expectations may be a dirty word in Westwood, but the more Mora wins on the recruiting trail, the expectations will come in autumn. Eventually, the Bruins must meet them.