As we head to the offseason, here are three questions facing UCLA:
Is Jim Mora really a candidate for NFL jobs?
It's the offseason, which brings up the annual Jim-Mora-to-the-NFL chatter. Mike Silver of NFL Media, who is very plugged in in NFL circles, reported yesterday that Mora, along with Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin, is "trying hard to get to the NFL." With National Signing Day on Feb. 3, the timing of a potential departure would obviously be problematic. The real question, though, is how interested in Mora are NFL teams? In four years as a head coach at that level, he was 32-34 (1-1 in the playoffs) and while he's been good at UCLA (37-16), the Bruins' 8-5 record this year -- the worst in his four-year tenure -- doesn't cast him in the best light. I'd expect to continue to hear Mora's name bandied about with various openings -- Miami, San Francisco and, potentially, New Orleans, to name a few -- before it ends with a public statement from Mora about how happy he is at UCLA.
How will the team become better prepared for more physical opponents?
It has been apparent against Stanford over the past few years, but UCLA's need to get bigger was clear in its loss to Nebraska in the Foster Farms Bowl. The Bruins just didn't match up physically and Mora noted that immediately after the game.
"We need to get bigger, obviously," he said. "We need to get stronger, obviously."
But how does that happen?
No. 1, and Mora addressed this, too, is in recruiting, but there's more. Former coach Rick Neuheisel noted on his SiriusXM radio show the Bruins are not where they should from a nutrition standpoint. He questioned the lack of an athletic dining room and how that inconvenience limits how UCLA can develop its players despite making some strides under strength coach Sal Alosi.
"The bottom line is, until you have a facility and you have a commitment to nutrition you are in harm's way," Neuheisel said. "And I promise you -- I know they think they do but they don't because it is apparent -- and until they do UCLA is going to have a hard time climbing over the top of that hill."
How will the team's depth be hurt by all the early draft entrants?
Five, yes, five UCLA juniors have already declared for the NFL draft. That's rough for any program to cope with, even if three of them -- linebacker Myles Jack, defensive tackle Kenny Clark and running back Paul Perkins -- were widely expected. And that number could grow, too. Offensive linemen Alex Redmond and Caleb Benenoch have already declared and a third, left tackle Conor McDermott is believed to be weighing his decision. Receiver/tight end Thomas Duarte also put his name into the NFL for an evaluation. This is the kind of exodus that would be expected from a conference-title-winning team, not one that teetered off after a decent start. The Bruins learned first-hand how important depth was, as injuries were a major theme this year. They'll be less equipped to handle those types of hit next season despite having recruited very well over the last several seasons.