It would be a heck of a lot of fun to play at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon. To run out in whatever new uniform Nike has imagineered for that week’s game and go dancing and shouting along with the faithful Ducks fans, who show up rain or shine.
But it also makes a heck of a lot of sense, if you’re five-star quarterback Dante Moore, to fly further south, wear the UCLA Bruins’ baby blue and play your college ball at the Rose Bowl, where it’ll probably neither rain nor sell all the way out.
Business sense. Logistical sense. And, sure, football sense too.
Moore made official his flip from Oregon commit to Bruin signee on Wednesday, as the National Letters of Intent come rolling in, the December tradition in its sixth year after the NCAA established an early signing period for college football recruits.
UCLA coach Chip Kelly, who led Oregon to unprecedented success from 2009-12, managed to change Moore’s mind.
He’ll get started in spring as the Bruins’ third highest-ranked recruit ever, their highest-ranked quarterback since Josh Rosen in the 2015 class and the first five-star recruit of the Kelly era, not to mention the highest-rated prospect the coach ever secured – including in his four seasons at Oregon that ended in major bowl games.
B1G ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Signing!
Welcome Home @dantemoore05!#GoBruins | #NSD23 pic.twitter.com/KSJJ5etq8A
— UCLA Football (@UCLAFootball) December 21, 2022
If you’re someone who counts recruiting wins alongside those that come on the field – and UCLA has nine of those entering the Sun Bowl on Dec. 30 – you’ll notice this one also gave the Bruins a boost in the rankings.
That commitment from the 6-foot-3 Moore, who is considered the nation’s No. 3 overall recruit after leading Detroit’s Martin Luther King High School to three state title games and two championships, bumped UCLA’s 2023 freshman class from No. 52 to as high as No. 22, according to 247Sports.
And then, finally, to No. 36 at 3 p.m., when Kelly addressed the media via Zoom.
There’s more work to do, especially considering USC’s dazzling 15th-ranked class, but UCLA’s newcomers rated 61st last year, so this counts as forward progress.
That’s all Moore. Well, Moore and 2022.
If he’d been signing last December, there’s no way it would have been Westwood Ho!
It would’ve taken a scarily good fortune teller to tell him that UCLA and USC soon would be joining the Big Ten. That, beginning in 2024, they’d be playing nearly half of their conference games in the Midwest or on the East Coast – notably closer to home for a Michigan kid.
UCLA now also has an opening at quarterback after veteran signal-caller Dorian Thompson-Robinson moves on. (And, with Moore, as many as five candidates to fill it).
And at this point in 2022, Caleb Williams hadn’t announced his plan to follow Coach Lincoln Riley to USC from Oklahoma.
So Williams hadn’t yet mesmerized all of college football with his how’d-he-do-that exploits on the field as the Trojans’ QB, hadn’t lifted them into the College Football Playoff race. He hadn’t hoisted the Heisman Trophy after accounting for an NCAA-leading 47 touchdowns.
And he hadn’t yet created the template for what constitutes contemporary success, for taking all those football achievements to the bank. The 20-year-old sophomore’s current name, image, likeness valuation: $3.2 million, according to on3.com’s database.
L.A., as a market, has long appealed to free-agent athletes in the pros. Why wouldn’t collegians with real earning power take a similar shine to our lovely locale – whether or not fans are sold on that premise?
If you’re UCLA (or USC), you’re Selling Sunset, and it’s all good. The weather, the city’s culture, the school, the football as it’s currently being played and, crucially, the platform as it’s now constructed.
“We as a staff have been able to work with our administration and our people to be in a really good place from an NIL perspective,” Riley said on Wednesday, when the Trojans’ recruiting confirmed giant strides after their 70th-ranked crop of newcomers last year. “And I think we’re very, very confident and secure in the opportunities that our guys are getting. …
“We’re going to continue to have a team-first focus on it and continue to try to put our guys in a position where they can do really, really well on the field, off the field, all of those things. That’s one of the great things about this place, you have advantages that no one else has.”
The Trojans also offer a sunny deal and with even more upside, considering who’s coming back and where they left things, at 11-2 and playing for the Pac-12 championship.
So after adding 20 transfers and just nine high schoolers before his first season at USC, Riley now is making good on his promise to focus less on the transfer portal and more on growing the program from its freshmen up. That includes three five-star talents, including Los Alamitos quarterback Malachi Nelson and his receiver teammate Makai Lemon, who both flipped to USC from Oklahoma after Riley came west.
Moore proved the Bruins can flip a script too, that they can reel in the big catch. They’ll need to if they’re going to keep pace with the Trojans or make a dent nationally as a member of the Big Ten. They’ll need to do a heck of a lot of it.