Jordon James

UCLA running back Jordon James, left, celebrates with teammate Jerry Rice Jr. following a touchdown against Colorado last season. The Bruins had a breakout season in 2012. Will they achieve more success in 2013? (Doug Pensinger / Getty Images / September 29, 2012)

UCLA is trying to redefine itself.

It used to be that keeping the USC drum major from sticking a toy sword in the Rose Bowl turf constituted a victory over the Trojans.

Leaning on the Pac-12 Conference to remove from its promotional video the clip of the drum major doing his stick shtick was considered a highlight.

Complaining about USC placing quarterback Matt Barkley's smiling face above Westwood was the closest thing the Bruins got to a billboard campaign.

What a difference a year made.

UCLA dominated USC — its football team, not its band — last season. The highlight-reel moment was when linebacker Anthony Barr stuck Barkley in the Rose Bowl turf. And the billboards around Los Angeles now have UCLA players staring down and warning, "The Bruins are coming."

How giddy are UCLA fans? It's like finding no line at Diddy Riese Cookies in Westwood.

However, it says, "The Bruins are coming," not "The Bruins have arrived."

Big difference.

UCLA opens its football season against Nevada on Saturday night at the Rose Bowl on the heels of a 9-5 season that included a 38-28 thumping of USC. The No. 21 Bruins also enter the game on a three-game losing streak, including a 49-26 thumping by Baylor in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl.

"Our goal is to go to the Rose Bowl, win a national championship," second-year Coach Jim Mora said. "The fans have the same expectations."

Asked if there was a difference in those expectations, Mora chuckled. "Sometimes it's hard for people to see there is a process that you have to go through to get to where you want to be," he said. "We're in a culture that expects immediate gratification."

Things do change fast.

USC entered the 2012 season ranked No. 1. Yet the only chart the Trojans top this season is at

The Bruins are expected to reach the Pac-12 championship game for the third consecutive season — in 2011, they were stand-ins for probation-saddled USC. They return one of the conference's most exciting players in sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley, and a top NFL prospect on defense in Barr.

"You can feel the atmosphere around town," safety Anthony Jefferson said. "UCLA fans are more enthusiastic."

It's easy to understand why. The Bruins have not played in a Rose Bowl game since the 1998 season, a 14-year drought that is the longest in the program's history. UCLA had an 81-80 record from 1999-2011, losing 12 of 13 games to USC.

"When you look at UCLA football, we had a stretch recently that was maybe as low as it has been in 40-50 years," said Ed Kezirian, a former UCLA player and assistant coach.

Rock bottom came in 2011, when UCLA finished 6-8 and was dismantled, 50-0, by USC. "You have a losing record and get clobbered by your rival, it doesn't get worse than that," Kezirian said.

Out of those ashes came Mora, who debuted with a nine-win season. Even fans who loathed the hire — urged fans to complain to UCLA's chancellor — have backed off.