UCLA guard Xavier Su'a-Filo had yet to play his first football game the last time this happened. Linebacker Anthony Barr was just another elementary school kid. Some of the incoming freshmen on the Bruins' roster weren't too long out of diapers.
In a media poll Friday, UCLA was the choice to win the Pac-12 Conference's South Division. USC was selected third. It is the first time since 2001 that the Bruins were picked ahead of the Trojans.
"That's crazy," Su'a-Filo said at the Pac-12's media day in Culver City. "It puts things in perspective."
Oregon was the choice to win the North Division and the Pac-12 championship. Stanford defeated UCLA in the title game last season.
USC was the preseason pick to win the conference every year from 2003 to 2009 and was in line behind only Oregon in 2010. After the conference grew and split into divisions, the Trojans were picked to win the South Division in 2011 and 2012.
The Bruins haven't been picked to win anything since 1998. Three UCLA head coaches have been fired since then.
So Friday's vote seemed to mark a significant shift. But not to everybody.
"I'm glad those things don't matter to me, and I hope they don't matter to our players," second-year Coach Jim Mora said. "What is important is we focus on being the best team we can be."
UCLA was picked to finish third in the division a year ago. The Bruins won it, then lost to Stanford in the conference championship game.
"I wouldn't say that there has been a shift of position in the city, but I think UCLA has changed," Barr said. "We are not the program we were two years ago. We're a program that has a new set of standards. That wasn't there a couple years ago. It brings high expectations."
There was apprehension among Bruins about reading too much into the role of front-runner. Still, it was hard to dodge the obvious.
"The fact that people are recognizing us, at least to some extent, is a sign we're making some progress," Mora said.
Barr was an unheralded part-time receiver and running back a year ago, before moving over to play defense. Now he is considered one of the top, if not the top, college linebacker in the nation.
"If my play warrants it, then it will be deserved," said Barr, whose 12 sacks were the second most in the nation last season. "And I have no problem with that attention."
He added that the attention he is receiving from the media is the most he's ever had.
Barr's most vivid highlight from last season was when he raced untouched to sack USC quarterback Matt Barkley. Barkley suffered a separated shoulder on the play and was sidelined for the rest of the season.
Asked about the play Friday, Barr said, "It's funny you ask. I want to know why the tackle just let me go. He should be standing up here and talking to you guys because he's the reason I was able to make the play."
UCLA tight end John Young and offensive tackle Will Oliver are unable to continue their football careers because of injuries. UCLA now has 84 scholarship players, one under the NCAA limit. … Defensive end Eddie Vanderdoes will appear before the NCAA's National Letter of Intent Committee on Monday. Vanderdoes, an incoming freshman, signed with Notre Dame in February but has said he is transferring to UCLA. Notre Dame has not granted a release from his scholarship, meaning he would be required to sit out a year. … UCLA opens training camp at Cal State San Bernardino on Aug. 7.
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