"Underachievers and proud of it" would be a good title for a book about UCLA's performance for most of this millennium. While crosstown rival USC was vying for championships, the Bruins were fighting to make bowl games. But former Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks head coach Jim Mora delivered a swift kick in the backside in his first season, getting the most out of the roster.
With defensive end Datone Jones becoming the school's first first-round draft pick since 2006 and two transcendent players currently leading the way, UCLA is finally positioned to make the most of the ample talent found in Los Angeles and elevate itself to elite status.
Top senior prospects
OLB Anthony Barr: Barr was wasted as an H-back for two seasons, only to be moved to defense by Mora with immediate returns, accounting for 21.5 tackles for loss, 13.5 sacks and four forced fumbles (top five draft picks Dion Jordan and Ezekiel Ansah combined had 23.5 TFL, 9.5 sacks and four forced fumbles last season). An explosive athlete only now learning the nuances of the position, Barr is the top senior prospect in the 2014 NFL Draft and one of the best players in college football.
ILB Jordan Zumwalt: Zumwalt offered a steadying presence in the middle of the Bruins' new 3-4 defense, recording 71 tackles. However, he does not make nearly enough impactful plays (only two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery the past two seasons). It all adds up to a pick with limited upside unless he delivers a dominant final campaign.
DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa: Originally expected to miss all of 2013 with a hip injury, Odighizuwa might be ready for the start of the season. He would be the obvious pick to replace Jones if healthy after making 44 tackles and 3.5 sacks in a backup role last year.
WR Shaquelle Evans: After playing one season at Notre Dame, it wasn't until offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone installed the spread that the Bruins were able to maximize Evans' skills. A true speedster, Evans had three grabs of 60-plus yards last season (60 catches for 877 yards and three scores). Concerns about a limited route tree are likely to be superseded by the prospect of taking the top off of opposing defenses.
DE Cassius Marsh: Proving effective in both even and odd fronts, Marsh delivered some unexpected pop for the UCLA pass rush with eight sacks. His quickness off the snap also manifested in two blocked kicks. He also caught a goal-line touchdown after lining up as an eligible tackle last season. Marsh (listed at 268 pounds) will have to add some weight to be more than a sub-package player in the NFL.
QB Brett Hundley: Hundley is the perfect quarterback for the modern game: arm talent to make any throw, mobility for designed runs and to extend plays, and a frame that can withstand punishment. Still a young player, he was careless with the ball at times and tried to do too much. With more seasoning, Hundley has a great chance to emerge as the best signal-caller in the nation by the end of his college career.
OL Xavier Su'a-Filo: The best UCLA offensive lineman since Jonathan Ogden -- the Bruins have had only two drafted since 1998 -- Su'a-Filo has started all 27 games in his career alternating between left guard and tackle. Moves well for his size -- the new offensive approach called on him to pull more and maximize that footwork. Su'a-Filo took a two-year LDS mission after his freshman season and is already 22 years old.
ILB Eric Kendricks: Younger brother of Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks (a 2012 second-round draft pick), Eric led the team with more solo tackles (91) than second-place Barr had total (83). Quick and instinctive, Kendricks is one of the hidden gems on the West Coast, but he won't be under the radar by the end of this season.
Three must-see games of 2013
Sept. 14 at Nebraska: Evans didn't do much (two receptions for 15 yards, one carry for 3 yards) when the Bruins announced their return to relevance with a 36-30 win over the Cornhuskers. He will have to do more against a pair of senior corners in Ciante Evans and Andrew Green.
Oct. 26 at Oregon: There is no more intimidating venue in the Pac-12 than Autzen Stadium, an ear-ringing cauldron of venom. The last three visiting quarterbacks to leave victorious were Kellen Moore (most career wins in NCAA history), Matt Barkley (Pac-12 career leader in touchdown passes) and Kevin Hogan, who has all the makings of a superstar. Hundley must show supreme poise and resist the urge to take unnecessary chances against a swarming defense.
Nov. 30 at USC: The city championship will be decided at the line of scrimmage because Hundley isn't exactly effective lying flat on his back. The UCLA offensive line, which allowed 52 sacks last season (second-worst in the FBS), must hold strong against outside linebackers Morgan Breslin and Devon Kennard and emerging defensive tackle Leonard Williams.
Follow Dan Greenspan on Twitter @DanGreenspan.