If you’ve ever dreamed of spending December in balmy San Diego, it turns out you and the UCLA football team have something in common. That’s where an absurd event called the Poinsettia Bowl is played, and as we approach the start of a new season, most anyone paying attention to Bruin football agrees that the Poinsettia is about the best we can hope for this year. How feeble is the Poinsettia, as bowl games go? Well, it’s existed for only four years, it comes before Christmas on the calendar and it’s sponsored by a credit union. If it just went away, no one would much notice or care, except for maybe the credit union and people who have to write season previews for UCLA football.
But that’s the consensus prediction: six or seven wins and a trip to a bowl so lacking in rep that I, someone who stays in on Saturday nights to watch the late Pac-10 game, had to look up where it’s played. College Football News says seven wins. The Los Angeles Times says six or seven. ESPN’s Pac-10 correspondent likewise likewise says six or seven.
(What’s with these “six or seven” predictions? Just pick a number, fellas. We’re not asking you to call the Fed’s interest-rate policy. No one’s about to sue if you get it wrong.)
That’s three whole websites I looked at in my journalistic rigor, but honestly, it’s about three more than was necessary. Expectations for Bruin football are essentially static from year to year, the only point of uncertainty being whether the season ahead will be mediocre or slightly worse. It’s not like you’re going to pick up a preview mag and find someone predicting back-to-back national titles, so feel free to stick with Crochet Today on that upcoming flight.
Those Resources Aren’t Gonna Waste Themselves!
This is not a sexy state of affairs. It bespeaks a ratio of resources deployed to outcomes achieved in line with that of Pets.com or the U.S. public school system. Consider: no city, save perhaps Miami, rivals Los Angeles in the production of high-school football prospects. UCLA is among the premier brands in college sports, with an unmatched 104 championships on its curriculum vitae. The Rose Bowl, of all places, is our home stadium. The athletic program takes in over $60 million a year, exceeding the annual GDPs of over half the world’s sovereign nations, including a few that you wouldn’t be terrified to visit. (Unlike Miami, which I am very much terrified to visit.)
In light of these vast institutional advantages, how many of the 104 national titles do you think belong to the football program? Go ahead, give me your best guess. OK, fine, I’ll make it easier for you: the correct answer is either zero or… let’s say 17. If you guessed 17, go stand in the corner. Your mother and I are deeply disappointed.
The Curious Case of 1954
This actually implicates an interpretive historical issue, involving what counts as a national championship in college football. In 1954 the Bruins finished the year undefeated and ranked atop the United Press poll. In the final Associated Press poll, however, they were ranked second behind undefeated Ohio State. Some say this means UCLA has shared a national championship; I say the UP is owned by Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church and therefore looking to it for validation of your football program is lame and a little embarrassing. To its credit, the UCLA athletics department does not include the 1954 UP crown in the 104 national titles, although that might be simply in keeping with the NCAA’s policy of not recognizing an official national title in Division I-A football.