“Let’s get an Emmy.”
UCLA head coach Jim Mora concluded his statement at Monday’s launch event for The Drive, the Pac-12 Networks’ documentary series, with a joke. At least, it may have been a joke—Mora has been so resolute in making UCLA football a winner in other phases, an Emmy may very well have been added to his checklist.
The Bruins are seeking other pieces of hardware in 2014 that take precedent: a Pac-12 conference championship, as well as a national title.
College football’s top prize might seem a bit ambitious for a program that won its only title 60 years ago. But Los Angeles is a city filled with dreamers, and UCLA is no exception.
For quarterback Brett Hundley, it’s not just a dream. Hundley has been a central player in the program’s evolution from Pac-12 also-ran to a team vying for national attention.
“From where we were two, three years to where we are now, we’ve jumped a great distance,” he says in the trailer for The Drive. “What we can do this season, we’re in position to win championships, to win a Rose Bowl or hopefully win a national championship.”
That Hollywood ending of a national championship would be quite the conclusion to the second season of The Drive. For that reason, 2014 could not be a more opportune time for a camera crew to follow the Bruins.
Put simply, the coming campaign will be one of either historic achievement or bitter disappointment.
The Bruins are not shying from expectations, nor are they lacking in confidence.
“Come on,” Eldridge Massington said when I asked him if UCLA’s wide receiving corps was the best in the Pac-12.
This is a team that collectively believes in itself, and also believes in its leadership, as Massington expressed.
“Best receivers and best receivers coach [Eric Yarber],” he said.
There’s no doubt about it: UCLA is a team that wants to be the best in all phases. That makes for organic drama when Pac-12 Networks goes inside the program.
Just about every element for a critically acclaimed story are present, starting with the cast: There’s Mora, the fiery and charismatic leader; Hundley, the star quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate; and linebacker/occasional running back Myles Jack, a rare talent who excels on both the offensive and defensive sides.
Add an impressive gallery of antagonists—a schedule that includes Pac-12 opponents Oregon, Stanford and USC, as well as a non-conference date with Texas—top it with the lofty goals the Bruins have set, and a screenwriter could not contrive a more dramatic plot.
However, unlike a TV series or movie, the story for UCLA football doesn’t end when the cameras stop rolling. The program’s participation in The Drive is just one facet of a much larger, overall vision Mora’s laid out that goes well beyond the coming season.
Expectations are high for the Bruins’ 2014, yes. But meeting those expectations is a step toward UCLA joining the upper echelon of college football, competing alongside those the programs that are among the national elite year after year like Oklahoma, Alabama and Ohio State.
Put cinematically, the Bruins’ 2014 season is the first installment of a potential franchise. If the debut is a success, expect sequels to be green-lit.
And just like any Hollywood blockbuster, the nation will be watching.
“[The Drive is] going to put UCLA football in the national light,” Jack said. “You’re going to see the good, you’re going to see the bad…It will bring a whole new light on UCLA.”
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Establishing the UCLA brand nationwide includes on the recruiting trail, and Mora’s staff has been diligent in planting the flag beyond the Pac-12 regional footprint. The Bruins added prospects from Indiana, Louisiana and Texas to its 2014 signing class.
A weekly television presence beyond game day can certainly help in recruiting. Both Hundley and Jack mentioned the impact The Drive may have in exposing prospects to the positives of the program.
Of course, history has proven nothing begets winning on the recruiting trail like winning on the Saturdays. Such is the reason Nick Saban can lure 4-and-5-star prospects to Alabama year-after-year, even if it means spending a season or two buried on the depth chart.
For the players who come into such a program, an opportunity to compete for conference and national championships surpasses individual stardom. The latter is a byproduct of the former.
That’s the case for Hundley, UCLA’s—and thus The Drive‘s—de facto star.
The Bruins won nine games in Mora’s first season and 10 last year, with Hundley captaining the offense each time. His decision to return for his redshirt junior campaign pushes the bar even higher.
With depth and experience surrounding him, expectations on Hundley are as high as they are for the whole program. To wit, the #Hundley4Heisman movement is alive and well on Twitter thanks to Mora.
— Jim Mora (@UCLACoachMora) April 13, 2014
Jack has taken a more personal approach to spread the message.
“We definitely clown around on Brett for being a Heisman candidate,” Jack said. “Walk[ing] around campus, I’ll yell out, ‘Heisman candidate,’ [or] ‘Oh my God, is that Brett Hundley.’”
It’s no joke that the national championship and Heisman Trophy talk is realistic, however, and it’s only fitting that a television audience will see how the story develops. If the Bruins deliver, Season 2 of The Drive could be a real crowd pleaser.
“Hopefully more fans will jump on and it will kind of become a trendy thing to be a UCLA Bruin moving forward,” Jack said.