Bruins poised to be football kings of L.A.
CULVER CITY, Calif. — While USC head coach Lane Kiffin was arguably the center of attention at Friday's Pac-12 Media Day at Sony Studios, it's clear that the favorite to win the Pac-12 South Division isn't Kiffin's Trojans.
It's their rival on the west side: UCLA.
The defending Pac-12 South champs were picked to repeat and even received a few votes to win the Pac-12 Championship as well. No longer content being USC's punching bag, the Bruins highlighted a breakout season with a dramatic win over the Trojans on national television last season. The game was influential in countless ways and was still being talked about at Friday's media day.
The consensus is that the Bruins are poised to become the football kings of Los Angeles.
"We have great respect for USC and what they do, but I think we're on the rise, and I think we're full of confidence and belief," said linebacker Anthony Barr. "Finally being able to clear that barrier, I think that was really big for our team."
With that breakout season and that win over USC came a heightened profile and heightened expectations. There's no doubt in the minds of the Bruins that they won't be able to achieve and even exceed the expectations set forth in the media polls and in their own locker room but keeping the focus has now become critical.
"Our main goal for this year is to develop a mentality of toughness that is non-compromising," said offensive guard Xavier Su'a-Filo. "When I (mean) by that is to become tough, to become hard and to have this never give up, never give in mentality that’s just standard for us at UCLA.
"If we don’t win every year, it’s a disappointing season."
"We have a vision, we're headed in the right direction," said head coach Jim Mora. "But we have challenges we have to overcome this year in order to become the team that we desire to be."
Those challenges Mora mentioned are not small. A secondary that was more than depleted – it was decimated – will need to be rebuilt with mostly sparsely-used redshirts and unproven freshmen. The loss of all-time leading rusher Johnathan Franklin will force the Bruins to use a committee of backs and put added pressure on dual-threat quarterback Brett Hundley.
But still, the Bruins are undeterred.
"I have tremendous confidence in our student athletes and our coaches, and I think the nature of the competitor is "let's take risk" let's attack and go after it," Mora said. "We’re not going to throw caution to the wind. We hope behind every decision is logic but we want to be aggressive, in nature."
Last season, the Bruins got a taste of winning. No longer the middling program that the team has historically been, the team has only one mindset now and that's winning.
"Our schedule is a challenge. This conference that we play in is a challenge, but I think these young men would tell you that being the competitors that they are and we are as a football team we relish those challenges," Mora said. "We can't wait for those challenges. We embrace them and look forward to them and we're going to rise up to them."
USC is now on high alert: The Bruins are no longer the also-rans.