All of a sudden, things are looking up for the UCLA football team.
First, coach Rick Neuheisel accomplished his preseason goal by reaching a bowl game. Then the Bruins actually won, defeating Temple 30-21 in last month’s EagleBank Bowl.
Now, with Pete Carroll leaving USC for the NFL, Neuheisel has a chance to capture the imagination of Los Angeles.
A few UCLA players I spoke to said they were surprised when they heard that Carroll was leaving USC.
“I was in shock,” sophomore receiver Taylor Embree said. “I know they’re having some troubles over there with some other issues.”
Said freshman tailback Johnathan Franklin: “He’s been there for so long and done so much for that program. For him to leave, I was really shocked.”
Just as Neuheisel brought intensity to the crosstown rivalry when he arrived in Westwood, so too did Carroll. Remember Carroll’s play-action call following Neuheisel’s timeout in the last minute of USC’s 28-7 win at the Coliseum? Remember Carroll jumping up and down as Neuheisel slowly began to take off his headset? Remember the two teams then taunting one another near midfield?
“I don’t think the rivalry will change,” Franklin said. “Pete Carroll escalated the rivalry by being a great coach. They’re just going to bring in a new head coach and it’s going to be the same thing.”
“The rivalry is much more than just a coach,” Embree said. “It’s still going to be intense.”
Neuheisel defeated Kiffin last September, as UCLA stormed into Knoxville to claim a thrilling 19-15 victory on national television.
Bruin fans are dying for more of the same and UCLA players sound as if they're ready to give it to them.
"We're catching up quickly," Embree said.
“We have to start a new era in this city,” Franklin said. “I feel now is the time to take over. It’s our time. It’s definitely our time now.”