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UCLA Football Has History To Defy

Can UCLA overcome its reputation as bankable losers?

NCAA Football: Arizona at UCLA Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The statement jumped off the page and punched you solidly, which happens whenever you collide with something you recognize immediately as a truth or a lie.

In this case it was a gloomy truth. The article was posted on a site called CollegeFootballNews.com.

"UCLA has the better line, the better talent—other than wide receiver—and the better overall team, but it's UCLA," the fearless prediction read.

"It's going to disappoint when the chances are there to take the game over."

The writer, Pete Fiutak, is a salty, salaried forecaster with heavy knowledge of the sport, and worse, a strong talent for picking games. Fuitak took Texas A&M to win the teams' season opener at Kyle Field, the Aggie's towering inferno of a home park, 27-24.

It is hard to say his logic, based as it is on a long catalog of past performances, is wrong. And UCLA has to wear that scarlet label of underachiever, and Big Stage loser, until they shed it on the field. This is not the worst fate in the world, because it offers a shot at redemption.

Remember "Clemsoning"? The Fort Hill Felines wore that shameful crest, or some earlier ancestor of it, for 30 years after winning the 1981 National Championship. They had great players and every opportunity to solidify their place as an elite football school, but they always seemed to lose when it was there to take by winning.

But Clemson has come back recently with that chip worn on their shoulder with proud disdain. Ole' Dabo Swinney puckers up and spits Southern fire anytime it's brought up, now, because the Tigers no longer play their worst when the situation calls for their best. They lost the national title last year to Alabama, but did you watch the game? There was nothing to be ashamed of, and Clemson is back in the ring this year, swinging.

So for UCLA football it has boiled down to this, how do they handle the pain and humiliation of being looked at as a bankable loser?

CBS Sports ran a story last season showing which college football programs have produced the most players on Super Bowl winning teams. Out of 128 universities, UCLA ranked third, with 108 players sporting at least one championship ring on their finger.

The top school was the University of Miami at 117, and second was Southern Cal, at 116. The Hurricanes have won five titles. USC claims it has won 11. The Bruins? Just one, in 1954.

On that same list, UCLA was ahead of Michigan, Penn State, Notre Dame, Tennessee and Nebraska. It is far ahead of Ohio State, LSU, Florida State and Alabama in producing winners at the highest level of football. But that, for many reasons that deserve an investigative book of their own, has not been the case against their peers.

That fact links nicely to the piece Stewart Mendel wrote last year for Fox Sports. In naming the five most disappointing college football programs of all time, he ranked UCLA number one.

Here was his rationale.

1) UCLA. One of the most recognizable brands in higher education, much less college athletics, in the second-largest city in the country, has won exactly one national title and has not won a Rose Bowl -- you know, that game played in its home stadium -- since 1986. Think about how improbable it would have seemed not long ago that Oregon would become a preeminent West Coast powerhouse before UCLA.

Is he wrong?

I do not care if he is or is not. The fact that the Bruins can even legitimately be considered for that spot is humiliation enough.

I do not harbor any despair about UCLA football; nor am I one of those wretched bleacher bums who gets a morbid high from watching a team fulfill a twisted expectation by failing over and over.

I like winning—period. Losing while throwing your best punches—and getting carried out on your shield—is the only other outcome the competitor can accept, though it will haunt them forever, anyway. But performing badly when everything has been set in the scales for you to win is the worst fate. The Bruins, over nearly three decades, have made a bad habit of doing exactly that.

But I do not believe in curses, either. I believe in the moment. And UCLA will always have the moment to prove they are not what people say they are. What is the quote: "Reputation is what others perceive you to be, character is who you are?"

That is a good one to keep in mind.

There are ten tons of negative history to overcome, but the hardest warriors are forged in the ugliest conditions. The Bruins' past can be looked at as an albatross, or something to accept and then beat down defiantly. That pain can be made into strength.

Between the Los Angeles sun, and the crushing pressure, this team has another opportunity to be as hard as it wants to be.

But will it? Everyone will find out starting week one in College Station. It will be no easy Saturday, none of them will.