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Sunday, September 11, 2011
Lackluster play now seems acceptable at UCLA

By Peter Yoon

Rick Neuheisel
UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel preferred to give San Jose State credit for playing tough rather than criticize his team for a win many felt should have been easier than it was.

A cloud of mediocrity has hung over the UCLA football program for the last decade, and after Saturday night, it seems as if that's just fine by those who are a part of it.

UCLA should have clobbered pitiful San Jose State, a three-touchdown underdog on an 11-game losing streak, but the Bruins instead needed a fourth-quarter rally and some late turnovers to barely squeak past the Spartans, 27-17.

And yet the coaches and players seemed just fine with letting one of major college football's worst teams hang around until the fourth quarter in a game that should have been put away long before that.

"Certainly as wins go it wasn’t pretty, but wins are better than the alternative," coach Rick Neuheisel said.

"To me a win is a win. I don’t care if it’s one point or 50 points," cornerback Sheldon Price said.

"A win is good no matter how pretty or ugly it is," quarterback Richard Brehaut said.

Well, not exactly.

This win left a distinctly empty feeling in just about everybody who witnessed it except the UCLA coaches and players. That the Bruins would be satisfied just because they got a notch in the W column points to an underlying problem: The Bruins seem to have accepted mediocrity.

San Jose State has now gone 0-11 in games against teams from BCS conferences since the start of the 2007 season and Saturday's game against UCLA was the only one of those losses with a margin of victory less than 13 points, yet nobody seemed upset that the game was so close.

San Jose State finished 119th out of 120 FBS teams in rushing last season and hadn't rushed for 200 yards against a major division team since Sept. 14 ,2008, yet the Bruins gave up 202 yards rushing against the Spartans and are happy to be 1-1 instead of 0-2.

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," Neuheisel said, continuing to try and put a positive spin on the thing.

The problem is, nobody seems to be buying it anymore. Neuheisel has maintained a relentlessly positive attitude during his tenure in Westwood and, thus far he has gotten the benefit of the doubt despite a 15-22 career record entering this season.

The Bruins came into this season with some semblance of hope with a new coaching staff in place and some exciting players had matured to the point where they would be productive. A season-opening 38-34 loss to Houston gave pause to those hopes but the failure to make a statement against San Jose has pretty much quelled them all together.

The Spartans had lost 26 of their last 29 games games coming in, winning only against New Mexico State, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Southern Utah during that span. Cal Poly and Southern Utah are Football Championship Subdividsion teams, so it's no stretch to say that the Spartans are among the worst Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the nation.

Not only that, but they had their backup quarterback starting the game because of an injury, and had the third-string quarterback in near the end of the third quarter, yet were tied with UCLA 17-17 and had the Bruins on the ropes before that third-string quarterback threw an interception inside the UCLA 15, swining the  momentum in UCLA's direction.

Yet the Bruins still came away feeling good about the win?

"It was tougher than maybe I had hoped," Neuheisel said. "But I have to give a lot of credit to San Jose State. They played very well."

Credit to San Jose State? Huh? San Jose State was coming off of a 57-3 loss to Stanford and had lost their last five games against current Pac-12 teams by a combined score of 235-40. The Spartans in their current state do not belong in the same conversation as a major program such as UCLA.

Bruins fans deserve better. They have stood by the team and the program through a decade of the same old inadequacies. UCLA has posted double-digit victories only once since 1998 and hasn't finished a regular season at better than .500 since 2006.

UCLA, a regular in the top-25 polls throughout the 1970s, '80s and '90s, hasn't been ranked since Sept. 15, 2007 -- the longest unranked stretch in school history. The Bruins haven't played a BCS Bowl game since the 1999 Rose Bowl and they haven't won a Rose Bowl since 1986.

The Bruins won three Rose Bowls in four years between 1983-86, but these days close wins over lowly San Jose State seem to be enough for the current Bruins' program.

It's no wonder fans have become disenchanted. A meager 42,685 showed up Saturday night -- one of the the smallest crowds in UCLA history. And this was the home opener.

And by expressing satisfaction over this victory, the Bruins aren't likely to earn many more of their fans back. The fans want accountability. They want to hear the players say they were embarrassed to be in the same class as San Jose State. They want to hear the coaches apologize for not having the team better prepared.

They don't want satisfaction with wins over bottom feeders. And they certainly don't want mediocrity.