NCF Nation: Norm Chow

Identity is why Dennis Erickson decided to become Utah's offensive coordinator. He has one and Utah's offense didn't last fall.

Erickson, one of the seminal minds behind the spread passing attack, is a football coach at heart. At 65, he's not ready to go softly into the night after four decades of X's and O's. Or go play golf and fish every day.

Meanwhile, Utah's offense ranked 11th in yards and eighth in scoring in the Pac-12 last year, as the Utes missed the postseason for the first time since 2002.

"The biggest thing is what was their identity -- what were they trying to do?" Erickson said. "They obviously had some injury issues at quarterback."

It's fairly understandable why the Utes offense sputtered last fall. Even before starting quarterback Jordan Wynn was lost for the season to injury, it was clear his arm strength was no longer there. The job ultimately went to true freshman Travis Wilson, and starting a first-year player at quarterback is rarely ideal. Toss in a struggling offensive line, and that's a recipe for yards and points to be lacking.

[+] EnlargeDennis Erickson
AP Photo/Don RyanFollowing his exit at Arizona State, Dennis Erickson spent a season helping his son coach high school football.
But it's more than that. Utah has had five different offensive coordinators since 2005, Kyle Whittingham's first season as head coach after Urban Meyer bolted for Florida. The Utes have employed a variety of schemes during that span, and Whittingham previously went the elder statesman route with Norm Chow, but that lasted only a year before Chow became head coach at Hawaii.

Whittingham and Erickson didn't know each other well before Whittingham first reached out about five weeks ago. But the idea grew on Erickson, who got an OK from his wife, Marilyn.

Erickson met with the Utes coaches before the hiring became official. While he's listed as "co-coordinator" with Brian Johnson, the coordinator last fall, Whittingham has acknowledged that Erickson has "last say."

Hiring Erickson strongly suggests that Whittingham now believes he promoted Johnson to coordinator too quickly. Johnson had been quarterbacks coach at Utah for only two years and was promoted to coordinator before he turned 25, making him the youngest FBS coordinator in the country. Heck, Johnson had been a Ute QB himself in 2008. He was barely older than many of the Utes players.

"I visited with Brian and I think he's an outstanding coach," Erickson said. "Everything I do is going to go through those guys. We need to sit down and decide what we want to do, decide what we want to hang our hat on."

While this functions as a sort of demotion for Johnson, it could pay off for him long-term. He now can learn from one of the better offensive minds out there, a guy who has seen just about everything you could see on a football field. Further, because Erickson is 65, there's no need to be competitive with him. This might actually push Johnson's career along faster than its already rapid pace. It's certainly something else to note on his résumé.

It's clear that Erickson wants to embrace a mentorship role.

"I hope so," he said. "I hope that's something I can help him do. We're going to talk about everything we do. Five or six years down the road, I think my experience is going to help him in his future. It's hard to be 25 years old and all the sudden you're a coordinator. It's a lot easier said than done."

The same can be said for passing game coordinator Aaron Roderick, who will continue to oversee receivers.

Of course, coordination isn't everything. Erickson will be a genius if he can get his offensive line to play better, particularly at tackle. In their second year of Pac-12 play, it became clear that the Utes lack the top-to-bottom talent and depth to compete in the top-half of the conference.

"Where we need to shore it up is get some speed on both sides of the football," Erickson said, echoing previous comments from Whittingham.

Erickson, who spent the past season helping his son coach high school football in Oregon, said he expected to get back into coaching after he was fired at Arizona State following the 2011 season. For one, he didn't want to go out on that experience.

"Obviously, how that ended, that was not a fun time, not how I wanted to go out on my career," he said. "It was pretty grinding on all of us that year."

Of the Sun Devils' surge this year, he said, "I thought they played extremely well. I was happy to see them have that success."

While there's just a bit of coyness when Erickson is asked if he'd want to run his own program again as a head coach, he seems excited with the idea of getting to be an assistant who obsesses only about schemes and game plans and not all the cumbersome administrative burdens a head coach deals with.

"This is the perfect fit for me right now," he said. "We've got a really good chance to be successful here."

USC ready to start title run

September, 1, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- USC is back as the Big Show, as a premier football program that features All-Americans, high rankings and national title hopes.

At least, that's been the big talk all summer. Really, it started last December when QB Matt Barkley stood in front of a Christmas Tree inside Heritage Hall and first spoke of "unfinished business."

His returning to a 10-2 team that finished ranked sixth with 18 other starters coming back made the Trojans a vogue favorite to knock the SEC from its perch atop college football.

It also made Barkley the heavy preseason Heisman Trophy favorite. And forced more than a few folks to reconsider some of their previously negative opinions about coach Lane Kiffin.

But now toe-meets-leather, the games begin and USC either takes care of business or flops. Because, as ridiculous as it might sound for a team with just 75 scholarship players, anything less than a Rose Bowl berth would seem like a failure. Heck, some might say it's national title or bust.

It begins this evening against Hawaii, which should be completely overmatched. So success in the opener is defined by a blowout and starters sitting out the fourth quarter.

Of course, new Warriors coach Norm Chow, the former offensive coordinator under Pete Carroll, would love to stick it to the Trojans, or at least make life difficult for them. He's not a huge fan of how he was pushed aside at USC, and he's long held a grudge against Kiffin and Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, who took over for him in 2005.

So what to look for if the scoreboard holds little intrigue?
  • The stat sheet: If Barkley is going to win the Heisman, he'll need numbers. So expect him to attack with receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee.
  • The RBs: How will Kiffin split time between Curtis McNeal, his returning starter, and Silas Redd, a high-profile transfer from Penn State?
  • The DL: The Trojans' only real question mark -- other than overall depth -- is the defensive line, which was replacing three starters even before Devon Kennard was lost to a pec injury. The Warriors are rebuilding on the offensive line, so the Trojans should win the upfront battle. If they don't, that should inspire some concern.
  • The wounded: USC won't win a national championship if it suffers more than a small handful of injuries. It needs to stay healthy because of the scholarship limitations. And, yes, the D-line is the place it can least afford to lose guys.

While this game won't make much of a big picture statement -- unless the Trojans implode -- it will set the scene for the season. Is USC again the Big Show? Is it ready to party like it's 2002-08 again?

We shall see shortly.
RodriguezChris Coduto/Icon SMICoaches around the country have implemented parts of Rich Rodriguez's hurry-up spread offense.
Here's an interesting story from Andrea Adelson about "copycat coaches." It's interesting not only because it's a good topic but also, for our purposes, because its central figure is new Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, arguably the father of the modern day, run-first spread-option attack.

Andrea sent over the Q&A she did with Rodriguez, which we're going to publish in its entirety. It includes lots of background on Rodriguez and his innovative offense, which has been copied by a lot of folks -- yes, including that guy up in Eugene.

Thanks to Andrea for doing all the legwork and writing a nice story.

When was the first time you had coaches asking for pointers on your offense?

Rich Rodriguez: When we went to Tulane, the second year we had a good year, with Shaun King. Then you had some games on TV, and that was the first time after that season that a lot of coaches started coming and visiting and calling. We beat BYU in a bowl game, and Lavell [Edwards] was the head coach, Norm Chow the offensive coordinator. So after the game, they said, ‘Would you come over and talk some football with us? I’m thinking are you kidding me? This is Norm Chow and Lavell Edwards, the passing gurus. I said I’ll do it on one condition. You have to give me some of your information, too. You have to teach me what you’re doing. Norm and I have been friends since that time. It was a great trip.

What was your connection with Tommy Bowden at Tulane?

RR: At Glenville, I went to the Bowden Passing Academy and I always talked football. Tommy had taken an interest in what we were doing. We never worked together when he called me to be offensive coordinator. It was really flattering. I asked, ‘Will you let me run my offense?’ He said sure. Tommy was the first big name, big coach, who took an interest in what we were doing. When we went to Tulane, there were a few folks. At Clemson, we saw a few more. Then at West Virginia, it wasn’t as good the first year we were there, but after that it took off again. I can remember Urban [Meyer], when he first got the Bowling Green job, we were at a coaches convention hospitality bar. He told me, ‘I’d like to run some of your offense.’ So he sent his whole staff for a week, we traded some ideas and so we always traded ideas. The Oklahoma guys, Bob Stoops and I became friends. They would come to our place or we’d go to Oklahoma and spend the week. After the Sugar Bowl year in the 2005 season, we had a whole bunch more. Some 30 different staffs come in, Penn State, Ohio State some non-traditional non-spread coaching staffs. I said maybe I am being too open, but I thought it was a great opportunity for us to learn, too. To pick their brains.

(Read full post)

Jim Mora, UCLA get rolling

April, 4, 2012
Not unlike his pop -- "Playoffs? Playoffs?!" -- Jim Mora can be kind of a grump. Not in a "I hate the world" sort of way. More in a football coach-y way.

Which is why I got a kick out of Jon Gold's description of Mora from spring practice No. 1 for UCLA -- Mora's first practice since his ugly departure from the Seattle Seahawks.
The huge smile on Jim Mora's face after the first practice of UCLA's spring football campaign really told the whole story. Perhaps no one was more excited to be back out on the field than he was.

It's been more than two years since he's been on the practice field -- two years, three months, as Mora pointed out, and yes, it appears he's been counting -- and he took out all his frustration on his throat. He was more hoarse than an auctioneer by the time he addressed the media, after spending 2+ hours sprinting everywhere on the field.
[+] EnlargeJim Mora
AP Photo/Kevin ReeceOne of Jim Mora's first challenges will be sorting out the Bruins' situation at quarterback.
Every coach is motivated to win. For one, it's the only way to avoid getting fired. But the very circumstances surrounding Mora's hiring -- his being a lifelong NFL coach who's been out of the game for an extended period of time -- could actually become a positive here. For one, he's hungry to re-enter a competitive environment. Instead of feeling entitled, he's grateful for an opportunity. He's eager to teach, which is more a part of the college game than in the NFL. And, though he likely would never use the term, he also wants to take control of his coaching legacy. Yes, Mora is well aware that some doubt him.

Of course, we typed just about the exact same thing when Rick Neuheisel returned to his alma mater to redeem himself in 2008. At the time, I must confess I -- wrongly -- felt a high degree of certainty he would succeed. (Though, as I've told Neuheisel, I was skeptical about the initial mix of coaching personalities around him, notably the so-called dream team of offensive coordinator Norm Chow and defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker.)

It seems like we've been talking about a "culture change" with UCLA football since the declining years of the Bob Toledo administration, which ended nearly a decade ago. But that's Mora's chief task. It's the Point A even before Mora and the Bruins can turn their attention to that school across town, whose (again) rising fortunes don't make anything easier in Westwood.

Gold provides a nice preview of specific -- and less philosophical -- issues the Bruins face this spring. More than a few fans would say the chief task is developing competency at quarterback, which is the primary challenge for new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. Mazzone is best known for transforming Arizona State's Brock Osweiler from a basketball player who dabbled at quarterback into a potential first-day NFL draft pick this spring.

Gold's take on the quarterback competition is interesting. While many Bruins fans -- and not a few reporters -- are eager for the newness of touted redshirt freshman Brett Hundley to overtake the more experienced but inconsistent Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut, Gold sees Prince and Brehaut as the front-runners.
Brett Hundley and T.J. Millweard will vie for the position in spring ball as well, but it will likely come down to the two seniors, Prince and Brehaut. Prince gets the first snaps, but Brehaut should follow close behind. If one of them shows tremendous consistency with the short pass and develops a good rhythm early, it will go a long way in the coaches' eyes. They're certainly going to be looking out for it.

A single practice, particularly one not in full pads, doesn't reveal much. But here are three positives culled from reports from those on hand: 1. A demanding practice tempo -- a recurring theme among just about every observer -- should make it hard for the malaise of past years to endure; 2. Left offensive tackle Xavier Su'a-Filo, fresh off an LDS mission, looked fit and motivated. That could be transformative for the O-line; 3. Mazzone wants to spread the field. He needs guys to catch the ball. Devin Lucien, Shaq Evans and tight end Joseph Fauria are fully capable of helping him do that. Now he only needs four more guys.
On Oct. 1, Utah went into the halftime locker room trailing Washington 10-7, kicking itself for a pair of red-zone turnovers.

Quarterback Jordan Wynn walked into the locker room with two thoughts. First of all, he felt like he was throwing like his old self for the first time all season with a surgically-repaired right shoulder. Second, there was something wrong with his other, non-throwing shoulder.

Wynn couldn't play in the second half, and the Utes got rolled 31-14 in front of a stunned crowd at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Shortly thereafter, it was announced that Wynn's season was done and he would again undergo shoulder surgery.

[+] EnlargeWynn
Kirby Lee/US PresswireShould quarterback Jordan Wynn stay healthy for all of the 2012 season, the Utes could be a force to reckon with in the Pac-12.
"I think I was pretty close [to 100 percent], but looking back on it, with the injury I had and surgery I had, it takes time," Wynn said. "I was just starting to feel like I was getting back to my old ways, especially the first half of the Washington game. That might have been one of the better halves of my career."

And when Wynn went down, many saw the Utes' season as doomed. Instead, with Nebraska-Omaha transfer Jon Hays managing a run-first offense that leaned heavily on a tough defense, the Utes nearly stole the South Division crown in their first year of Pac-12 play.

It's fair to ask what might have happened if Wynn had stayed healthy and continued to recover his form from late 2009 and most of 2010. Note that from Oct. 31, 2009 to Oct. 30, 2010, Wynn was 12-2 as a starter, including a dynamic performance in a 2009 Poinsettia Bowl win against California as a true freshman.

Many expect USC to run away with the Pac-12 South Division. Heck, many see the Trojans playing for the 2012 national title.

But what about Utah? Recall that the Utes, in the waning moments of the fourth quarter, lined up for a 41-yard field goal to tie the Trojans in the Coliseum last September (it was blocked and returned for a TD). Sure, USC hadn't really found the mojo at that point that would propel it into the top-five by season's end, but neither had Wynn or the Utes.

If you want to know a game that could have huge Pac-12 and national title implications in 2012 that not many folks are talking about, look no further than USC's visit to Salt Lake City on Oct. 4 — a Thursday night matchup on ESPN.

"It will definitely be interesting," Wynn said. "It was a tough game last year. We came one or two plays short of stealing that thing away."

Of course, there's a lot to do between now and then. The prime objective for Wynn: Stay healthy. And No. 2 is to find a comfort level with his fourth offensive coordinator (Dave Schramm, Aaron Roderick, Norm Chow and now Brian Johnson). Johnson, who just turned 25, is the youngest coordinator in FBS football.

"It's definitely a different dynamic from him to coach Chow [who will turn 66 in May]," Wynn said. "He understands first hand what it's like to be a 21- or 22-year-old in college, and kind of what goes on. It's good for off-the-field stuff. He's easy to relate to."

There's been plenty of speculation about what the switch from Chow to Johnson will mean. Johnson ran a spread-option when he was the Utes QB from 2005-2008, which Chow changed to a pro-style attack during his one-year tenure before becoming Hawaii's coach. While Wynn expects some tweaks — here's a guess that Johnson got the job partly because his suggestions of tweaks intrigued head coach Kyle Whittingham — he doesn't expect dramatic changes.

Read: Him running an option.

"I don't think it's going to be too much different," Wynn said. "He's tweaking stuff here and there, but we're going to keep somewhat of a pro-style system. ... I'm not really known as a runner. To this point, there really aren't any designed runs for me in the offense. I would imagine there probably won't be. But we'll see."

Wynn said both shoulders "feel great." He said he's been working out since December and throwing at 100 percent since January. He also said the frustrations of the past two years have helped him grow.

And, yeah, he's looked around. He sees the pieces coming back on both sides of the ball. This is a talented team with plenty of experience. The idea that his health is the critical cornerstone is not something he embraces or says himself, but he's aware that more than a few folks already are putting it atop their analysis of the Utes in 2012.

"If people want to say it lies on me, that's fine, he said. "If you look at any great college team, they usually have great quarterback play."

It's fair to say that speculating on potential endgames in 2012 for the Utes gets far more optimistic if Wynn starts all 12 games.

Kyle Whittingham goes young for OC

February, 2, 2012
When Utah coach Kyle Whittingham tapped Norm Chow as his offensive coordinator last year, he got a celebrated, experienced veteran. With Chow off to the islands as Hawaii's new head coach, Whittingham is going with youth, energy and potential this go-around.

Whittingham has promoted has promoted Brian Johnson from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator.

Johnson, who will turn 25 on Feb. 16, has been the Utes quarterbacks coach for just a year. He will continue to coach quarterbacks, and it seems likely that the Utes will use more of a spread-option scheme in 2012 as they did before Chow arrived with a pro-style offense.

"After spending the past month conducting a national search for an offensive coordinator, it became very apparent that we had the best candidate for the job right here on our own staff," Whittingham said in a statement. "Brian is a leader and a special coaching talent, just as he was a special player, and he is the right person to lead our offense."

The winningest quarterback in Utah history, going 26-7 as the Utes' starter, Johnson was the MVP of the blowout victory against Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl, which capped a 13-0 season.

This is a bold move for Whittingham -- if there are any 24-year-old coordinators with any other AQ team, none come immediately to mind -- and a huge career boost for Johnson. Simply put, if he's successful he will become a head coach before he turns 30.

"I am excited that Coach Whittingham has given me this opportunity and I am prepared for the challenge," Johnson said in a statement. "I'm looking forward to working with a great coaching staff and putting together a productive offense that will help us win a conference championship. I've had many good mentors as a player and a coach, including Dan Mullen, Andy Ludwig, Aaron Roderick and Norm Chow."

Whittingham also announced other staff moves. Defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake was given the title of assistant head coach. Aaron Roderick, in his eighth year coaching the receivers, will also serve as the passing game coordinator.

Sitake, 36, has become a hot defensive coordinator since being promoted from linebackers coach in 2009. Roderick was the Utes' co-offensive coordinator before Chow arrived, and he applied for the job that went to Johnson.

Dan Finn, a Utah graduate assistant from 2004-06, has been hired to coach the centers and guards. Finn spent last season as the offensive line coach at San Diego State, and the previous four years as the offensive line coach at Idaho (2007-10). Tim Davis, Utah's offensive line coach in 2011, will now concentrate on coaching the tackles and tight ends.

Jay Hill, in his eighth season as a full-time assistant, takes over the running backs for Dave Schramm, who was hired as Fresno State's offensive coordinator. Hill has served two different stints as the cornerbacks coach, most recently in 2010 and 2011, and oversaw the tight ends from 2007-09. He remains Utah's special teams coordinator.

Sharrieff Shah, a starting safety for the Utes from 1990-93 and a three-year team captain, returns to his alma mater to coach the cornerbacks. Shah, a Salt Lake City attorney since 2001, was a certified NFL agent from 1996-2002, representing players in the NFL, CFL and NFL-Europe. He received his bachelor's, master's and law degrees from the University of Utah. Shah has also served as the team's sideline reporter for ESPN 700 radio for the past 12 years.

Pac-12 offseason check list

January, 20, 2012
While recruiting season is heating up for its home stretch, national signing day is about the future. The present matters, too, and there are plenty of present matters that need attending.

What are the main areas of focus in advance of spring practices? Glad you asked.

1. Hello, my name is Coach ____________: There are four new Pac-12 head coaches: Rich Rodriguez at Arizona, Todd Graham at Arizona State, Jim Mora at UCLA and Mike Leach at Washington State. That's a lot of turnover -- one third of the league. Further, none of the four retained many members of the previous staffs. So there will be a lot of "Getting to know you" in advance of spring practices. Also, beyond head coaches, Norm Chow left Utah to become Hawaii's head coach, so the Utes need a new offensive coordinator. Washington rebuilt its defensive staff. Coach Steve Sarkisian fired defensive coordinator Nick Holt and two other coaches and saw defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin bolt for UCLA. He then raided Tennessee, California and Oregon State to replace them. Because of the Huskies, Cal will have two new assistants this spring and Oregon State one.

[+] EnlargeBryan Bennett
Jim Z. Rider/US PresswireBryan Bennett is the favorite to take over for Darron Thomas at Oregon.
2. Settled at quarterback? The only teams that have certainty at quarterback are: California, Oregon State, USC and Washington -- and some Cal fans might even harrumph that assertion. You can probably throw Arizona's Matt Scott in there as a certainty, both because he has quality starting experience and because there's no one around to unseat him. UCLA, Utah and Washington State have returning starters, but they also have plenty of intrigue. It's uncertain who takes the first snap in the opener. For Oregon, most would favor Bryan Bennett stepping in after Darron Thomas' surprising decision to enter the NFL draft, but his name isn't written atop the depth chart in ink just yet. Arizona State, Colorado and Stanford are wide-open competitions. It would be wise for any quarterback who wants to be in the starting mix to be laying groundwork with his teammates and coaches well in advance of the first spring practice.

3. Line up: Arizona welcomes back five starters on its offensive line, while USC and Washington get four starting offensive linemen back. Every other team has some degree of uncertainty with at least two voids to fill. Perhaps more than any position, the quality -- and depth -- of an offensive line can be advanced during the offseason. Hit the weight room, training table and the track -- get stronger, quicker and work off the baby fat and turn that into quality size. Right now just about every team has a guy who thinks he's going to automatically advance on the depth chart who is going to be overtaken by a youngster who is eyeballing his slack, er, rear end while doing an extra set of power cleans.

4. Taking the next step: At this point last year, Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan and Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei were just promising guys, not first-team All-Pac-12 defenders. Wide receivers Keenan Allen of Cal and Robert Woods of USC were coming off impressive freshman seasons but were facing the inevitable, "What's next?" questions, which implied the possibility of sophomore slumps. But, of course, Allen and Woods joined Jordan and Lotulelei on the All-Conference first team. Did you know that USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil wasn't even honorable mention All-Pac-10 in 2010? Kalil was a big-time talent who had yet to make a statement -- you know, the "I'm a top-five pick as the best left tackle in the NFL draft" statement. There are a lot of players who had good seasons in 2011. Good for them. But just like Oregon coach Chip Kelly, the Pac-12 blog is a forward-thinking operation. Yes, we were very impressed De'Anthony Thomas, Marqise Lee, John White, Ben Gardner, Nickell Robey, Marquess Wilson, Dion Bailey, Hayes Pullard, Brian Blechen, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Keith Price, Tramayne Bondurant, Mustafa Jalil, Stefan McClure, David Bakhtiari, Colt Lyerla, Scott Crichton, Sean Mannion, Ty Montgomery, Sean Parker, John Fullington, etc. But what are you doing to get better right now? Yes, right now. So stop reading this, wondering why your name isn't listed and go do some wind sprints.

5. Don't believe the hype -- either way: Everyone is massively overrating USC and Oregon. Top-five teams? Pfftt. So stop staring at yourself in the mirror in your tighty-whiteys, doing a most-muscular pose. I talked to your mammas and they said you ain't all that. California, Washington and Utah are eyeballing your girlfriends. Better watch out. If you don't do the work, you won't be top-five anything. And what about you Colorado, UCLA, Arizona, Oregon State, Washington State -- are you going to hear those national yawns and assume there's no hope? Are you expecting to lose and using that as an excuse to eat a Twinkie on the sofa while watching "Caddyshack" again instead of going to a workout? From now until opening day, there will be endless fan and media chatter decided how every Pac-12 teams' season is going to go. Hey, it's fun. But that doesn't decided a season. The 100 guys in the locker room do. Oh, and one final thought. Stanford? You're done. You ain't poo without Andrew Luck.
The system of checks and balances is working in Los Angeles. Just consider new UCLA coach Jim Mora's recent hiring of a new new strength and conditioning coach.

The media in Los Angeles is calling attention to a horrible — and infamous — mistake Sal Alosi made when he worked for the New York Jets. It is opining on the riskiness of Mora's hire.

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
Nick Ut/AP PhotoUCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero, left, poses with new head football coach Jim Mora on Dec. 13, 2011.
That is good. That is the media doing its job, holding public figures accountable for their actions.

And Mora and Alosi are talking about the hiring. They are not hiding.

"I understand the criticism, I expect the criticism, it's completely warranted," Mora told LA Times columnist Bill Plaschke. "But I know the fiber of this man."

That is good: Public figures stepping forward to explain themselves in a controversial situation.

And, by the way, well said, Jim.

I love Mora's hire here all the more, even without knowing a whole lot about Alosi as a strength coach, other than that he seems highly respected by a number of NFL players.

As you long-time readers know, I am a big second-chance guy. I believed LeGarrette Blount deserved a second chance. I believed Rick Neuheisel deserved a second chance. I think the ranting and raving of absolutists who act like everything is black-and-white is a pose, one that my life experience has often found to be situational and hypocritical.

But this isn't about praising Mora for giving a guy a second chance. It's about Mora doing what he wants to do with his team and not fretting the PR angles. This is a revealing moment that Bruins fans should feel good about.

Here's a secret of all good head coaches: They insist on autonomy. They hire who they want to hire. They don't allow administrators to dictate whom they hire. Sure, there are obvious parameters -- felonies and NCAA violations tend to disqualify assistant coaching candidates. But the quickest and surest path to failure is a new head coach taking a job and then being steered to hire assistants he doesn't know.

Perhaps the most important quality for a head coach is being a good CEO, and the first thing a good CEO does is hire the right people. He needs to build a cohesive unit that functions on efficiency. To do that, he needs to know whom he's hiring. How he works. How he takes suggestions and criticism. How he teaches and motivates. His work ethic, both on the field and in recruiting.

Further, it's also about loyalty. An assistant who isn't connected to a head coach often feels little reason not to undermine him "off-the-record" if things get tough.

The worst case I can think of was Terry Bowden at Auburn back in the 1990s. His fatal mistake was retaining assistants who worked for Pat Dye. That became a train wreck of epic proportions.

UCLA fans are well-aware of another: Neuheisel's second chance was a dream — coaching his alma mater — that turned into a nightmare, in large part because he agreed to hire Norm Chow as his offensive coordinator and retain DeWayne Walker as his defensive coordinator. Chow and Walker are outstanding coaches, no doubt. But they weren't Neuheisel's guys. A major part of the problem in Westwood the past four years was a lack of cohesion on the Bruins coaching staff.

Obviously, this isn't the same thing. We're talking about a strength coach, not a coordinator. But I am choosing to freight the hiring of Alosi with meaning, meaning that speaks well of Mora and the early — early! — trajectory of his tenure.

Mora wanted to hire Alosi. He knew there would be some negative blowback, and not without justification. But he met that blowback head-on, and now he's got a the strength coach he wanted.

And he's got a strength coach who probably feels pretty darn obligated to bust his rear end and repay Mora's faith in him with a finely conditioned football team.

Barkley's return means USC is back

December, 22, 2011
USC, which finished this season 10-2 and ranked No. 5, will have 19 starters returning in 2012 including both specialists and a guy by the name of Matt Barkley.

The Trojans welcome back their top rusher, top three receivers, four starting offensive lineman and a guy by the name of Matt Barkley.

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
Kelvin Kuo/US PresswireMatt Barkley's decision to return to USC next season makes the Trojans a contender for the national championship.
Also back in 2012: The Trojans' top four tacklers. And five of their top six. And a first-team All-Pac-12 kicker. And a guy by the name of Matt Barkley.

The Trojans looked like a preseason top-10 team a month ago. They looked like the preseason Pac-12 South Division favorites. But when Barkley announced Thursday, "I have not yet finished my journey as a Trojan football player," it sent a shockwave across the college football landscape.

Remember that little girl staring at the TV snow in "Poltergeist"? All together now: "They're baaaaack!"

Barkley makes USC a national title contender. Barkley makes things around Heritage Hall feel like it's 2002-2008 all over again. Barkley means Trojans fans can stop thinking about the injustice it suffered when the NCAA whacked it with severe sanctions and start dreaming of BCS bowls again.

Just FYI: Miami on Jan. 7, 2013. What happened the last time the Trojans played in South Florida with big stakes?

Ah, the Oregon fans have just arrived. To borrow a phrase: Not so fast, my friend.

The Ducks are the three-time defending Pac-12 champions. They've got a whole bunch of key guys coming back in 2012, too. They, too, are a certain top-10 team, perhaps top-five. They will be the overwhelming favorites to win the North Division.

Both have highly favorable schedules. USC's nonconference schedule: Hawaii (with head coach Norm Chow!), at Syracuse and Notre Dame. Oregon's is, well, pitiful: Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech.

Oh, then there is this little date for both in LA next year. The Pac-12 schedules aren't official yet, but the conference confirmed to the Pac-12 blog that USC and Oregon will play in the Coliseum next fall. That regular-season game, not hard to project as a matchup of top-five teams, very likely could lead to a rematch in the Pac-12 title game, which could be a gateway to the national title game for the winner.

Ducks and Trojans: Feel free to talk amongst yourselves.

Meanwhile, Barkley, by passing up a chance to be a top-10 NFL draft pick as Matt Leinart and Andrew Luck did before him, immediately established himself as the leading 2012 Heisman Trophy candidate. His status as front-runner is only slightly less firm than Luck's was last year when he announced a shocking return.

And that point -- thump -- should provide a speed bump of moderation for our foray into admittedly hysterical hyperbole about Barkley and USC. Just about every time you try to write a college football season's story before it plays out, you end up being wrong.

Preseason predictions can be completely off: Oklahoma was the consensus preseason No. 1 this year. Or they can be slightly off: Luck and the overwhelming Heisman favorite in August. Or they can fall just short in the end: USC as the best team in college football history in 2005.

Or, then again, sometimes they are spot-on: USC in 2004 was preseason No. 1 as well as the postseason national champion.

Still, while grand scenarios are merely reasonably conceived potential endings for something that is a year away and laden with unforeseen variables, there is no downside on this day for USC. In fact, it spiderwebs positives throughout the program, from making the future at QB more secure, to bolstering the present recruiting effort, to getting USC fans excited and reinvested again, ready to fill up the Coliseum next fall.

By the way, USC folks aren't the only ones smiling. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott is grinning ear-to-ear. He sees another bright, articulate Heisman Trophy candidate who conducts himself with class acting as the face of the conference, as Luck did this past fall. He sees two big ticket national title contenders in 2012, just as the conference's new TV contract kicks in. He's got broadcast partners -- ESPN and Fox -- as well as a new Pac-12 Network that are going to be thrilled that the conference's ratings-driving bell cow is back under the klieg lights in LA.

Toss in four new, high-profile coaches, and there are plenty of sexy story lines for the Pac-12 in 2012.

The week started with USC fans slapping their foreheads over Ohio State's middling NCAA sanctions for severe infractions. It was a frustrating reminder of the seeming cosmic forces that conspired to end the USC dynasty, including Pete Carroll skipping town back to the NFL.

But the week ends with an early Christmas gift for USC. Matt Barkley telling it, "I am staying because I want to finish what I started."

Yes, college football fans across the country pricked up their ears Thursday and thought, "Drat. I hear those darn "Tribute To Troy" drums again."

3-point stance: Why bowls are fun

December, 22, 2011
1. The Poinsettia Bowl provided a textbook example of why motivation is critical in bowl games. No. 18 TCU, 10-2, almost made a BCS bowl. Instead, the Horned Frogs ended up in a pre-Christmas bowl playing 8-4 Louisiana Tech. TCU failed to understand that the Bulldogs lost narrowly to three bowl teams before winning seven consecutive games to take the WAC championship. That’s why the Horned Frogs had to come from a touchdown down in the fourth quarter to win, 31-24. That’s why bowls are so much fun.

2. Houston athletic director Mack Rhoades promoted interim head coach Tony Levine to the top job, replacing departed coach Kevin Sumlin. It's an interesting choice as the Cougars head to the Big East. Levine worked for Tommy Tuberville and Bobby Petrino, with a brief stint in the NFL as well, before Sumlin hired him. In six years at Akron and Houston, Rhoades has never before hired a football coach. If he can pick them like his predecessor Dave Maggard, who brought Art Briles and Sumlin to Houston, then the Cougars will be fine.

3. After 39 seasons as an assistant coach in colleges and the NFL, Norm Chow returns to his home state of Hawaii to become the Warriors’ head coach. Chow, 65, did wonders as a quarterback guru at BYU, NC State and USC from 1973-2004. Stanford nearly hired him several years ago, and other schools interviewed him. But he never found the right fit. That’s not an issue at Hawaii, which is a good thing, because he will find enough built-in obstacles (geography, fan base, facilities, etc.) to keep him busy.

Chow gets his chance at Hawaii

December, 21, 2011
It's long been one of the difficult questions college football fans ask: Why won't anyone give Norm Chow a chance to run a program?

Chow, widely considered one of the best offensive minds in college football history, got plenty of interviews, most notably of late at Stanford in 2005, and made plenty of "candidates" lists during the annual coaching carousel. He also turned down the head coaching job at Kentucky in 2002 to remain at USC. But, in reputation and reality, he was the perennial bridesmaid.

You'd hear things, of course. All the why-nots. He wasn't terribly good at interviews. He was an Xs-and-Os guy who didn't have people or management skills. Most schools wanted a dashing, young, charismatic guy who could slap backs, enticing a flood of elite recruits and booster checks. Chow was never reputed to be much of a recruiter, something he doesn't particularly enjoy.

[+] EnlargeNorm Chow
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PresswireNorm Chow, 65, is moving up from Utah offensive coordinator to Hawaii head coach.
Chow, 65, is professorial. His personality isn't "big." He's not a commanding presence. He also is stubborn, territorial and not terribly good at coaching politics. He holds grudges — just ask Washington coach Steve Sarkisian and USC coach Lane Kiffin, whom Chow -- not unfairly -- believes pulled the carpet out from under him at USC with head coach Pete Carroll. (Carroll's almost childish jealousy of the credit given Chow during USC's glory days is another story entirely).

It also was perfectly fair to wonder if Chow's being Asian-American had anything to do with the critiques and whispers. His hiring at Hawaii, after all, makes him the first Asian-American head coach of a major football program.

First. That's pretty big, folks, even if most FBS rosters have little to no Asian presence, though if you go with that old standard "Asian/Pacific Islander" category, things change dramatically there.

Not only is Chow, after 39 years as an assistant coach, finally getting his shot as a head coach, he's going home to do it. He was born in Honolulu and is a Punahou School alum. He began his coaching career as head coach at Waialua High School on the North Shore of Oahu from 1970-72. This seems like a good fit, though coaching at Hawaii has built-in challenges, starting with geography.

Chow will serve as Utah's offensive coordinator in the Hyundai Sun Bowl against Georgia Tech on Dec. 31 before officially taking over the Warriors. For the Utes, it's a blow, but not a crippling one. Coach Kyle Whittingham brought Chow aboard to install a pro-style offense with a downhill running game, replacing the spread the Utes had long used. After quarterback Jordan Wynn went down in the fourth game against Washington with another shoulder injury, Chow's chief task was managing an extremely conservative, almost run-exclusive offense that didn't mess things up for a very good defense.

Chow did a good job of making running back John White into an effective weapon even when everyone knew he and his 24 carries a game were coming. But the Utes never got the full Chow offense. The expectation here is that Whittingham will look for a guy who believes in the same pro-style, run-first concepts. The Utes don't figure to go back to a spread, though that does seem to be the thing in the Pac-12 after the hiring of four new coaches who all run a version of it.

Utes fans should be more concerned about who's going to play quarterback in 2012. Whittingham is going to make a good hire at OC.

And this day is about Chow.

He's a three-time national assistant coach of the year. He's served as offensive coordinator for three national championship teams (Brigham Young, 1984; USC, 2003 and 2004). He has tutored three Heisman Trophy winners (Ty Detmer, BYU; Carson Palmer, USC; Matt Leinart, USC) and six NFL first-round draft picks.

His resume has always been impressive. Just not impressive enough to overcome the things whispered about him.

Over the past decade, he's been portrayed as a bit of a nomadic mercenary, but keep in mind he was a bastion of stability most of his career, coaching at BYU for 27 years before things turned sour and he bolted to N.C. State in 2000, the first of five jobs he'd hold over the next 11 seasons before landing at Hawaii.

Chow is coming home to get his big chance. No matter what happens at Hawaii, his coaching legacy is secure. But, let's face it, if he retires a big winner in 10 years, he'll surely enjoy at least thinking "I told you so" through a big grin.

UCLA, Johnson playing for pride

December, 19, 2011
UCLA fans are warming to the idea of Jim Mora as the Bruins coach, perhaps because of some perky recruiting speculation and good staff hires. They are celebrating a volleyball national championship. They are trying to figure out whether the basketball team is getting its legs under it after getting back to .500.

The Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against Illinois on New Year's Eve? Well, it's a bit down the list of buzz-generators in Westwood.

But the message from interim coach Mike Johnson is the Bruins are going to show up to play and they will play hard.

"They've been excellent," Johnson said of practices since he took over for the fired Rick Neuheisel. "I've enjoyed the time with them and the way they've approached it. I know it's a tough situation. There are a lot of distractions."

The chief distraction, of course, was Neuheisel's firing. That's always a big one. The Illini players surely understand. They also are playing under an interim coach -- Vic Koenning -- after the termination of Ron Zook. Both Johnson and Koenning are headed elsewhere after the game.

This is not a bowl destination for teams that are happy about how their season went. The Bruins mostly alternated wins and losses in desultory fashion -- Johnson used to the word "inconsistent" about 15 times in a 15-minute interview. But after getting pounded in their final two games, including the Pac-12 championship against Oregon, which dropped them to 6-7, they were forced to request a waiver from the NCAA to play in a bowl game with a losing record.

Not exactly something you put on a T-shirt.

Illinois took a different approach, winning its first six and rising to 16th in the nation before cratering with six consecutive defeats. Sure everyone associated with the program is weary of the term "collapse."

Johnson said he focused on fundamentals last week and will focus on Illinois this week before breaking for Christmas. The Bruins' offensive coordinator this year after replacing Norm Chow, he said he's not planning any major changes to the Bruins' pistol scheme. "I don't think you can put a new offense in in three weeks," he said.

He knows that he's not joining Mora's staff. A long-time NFL coach, he is a candidate for the Akron head coaching job. It would seem perfectly reasonable for him to be distracted by his uncertain future.

But Johnson insists that he and his players -- like all good competitors -- are focused on going out a winner, trying to hang a small rose on what has been a dreary season for all.

"It's about pride and respect for us," Johnson said. "We have to go out and earn the respect that everyone wants."

Neuheisel never got traction at UCLA

November, 28, 2011
Rick Neuheisel spent the last few weeks tirelessly lobbying to keep his job at UCLA, displaying the "relentless optimism" that he has often cited as a foundation for success.

On Monday, less than hour after his termination was announced, a subdued Neuheisel seemed to have a good grasp on why he's not coming back for a fifth year.

"Certainly when you're the UCLA coach you'd like to play better against USC, I know that," Neuheisel said. "We had our chances. When you lose in the fashion that we did, it's a difficult pill to swallow."

[+] EnlargeRick Neuheisel
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireRick Neuheisel's teams were never able to find any rhythm in his four seasons as UCLA's coach.
You can't go 21-28 in four seasons at UCLA, the lowest win percentage -- .429 -- by any Bruins football coach who was around for at least 20 games. You can't go 0-4 versus USC. And you absolutely can not lose 50-0 to the Trojans, as Neuheisel did on Saturday in a game that was widely viewed as his Rubicon.

The source for Neuheisel's comments was ironic, considering the circumstances. He was appearing on a conference call in advance of the Pac-12 championship game. You surely have heard -- it's been relentlessly mocked everywhere -- that UCLA, despite a 6-6 record and said loss to USC, is playing No. 9 Oregon in the conference's first championship game.

The Bruins are the South Division "champions." And their coach is out after the championship game. Offensive coordinator Mike Johnson will be interim head coach starting next week, according to a statement from the school.

So what if the Bruins, 31-point underdogs, win and earn a berth in the Rose Bowl?

"Let's ask that question at the appropriate time," Neuheisel said.

It is, however, the appropriate time to ask why things didn't work out for Neuheisel at his alma mater, where he once went from walk-on QB to Rose Bowl MVP.

It went wrong from the beginning when Neuheisel agreed to form a "dream team" with offensive coordinator Norm Chow and defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker. That was a mismatched troika from the start. Also, it's head coaching 101: Never, ever take a job where they suggest/tell you who will be on your staff.

Walker bolted after a year to become head coach New Mexico State, and the Bruins never again got good production at defensive coordinator. Chow hung around, but that turned out to be a bad thing. He and Neuheisel seemed to get along personally but not as coaches. The switch to a pistol offense was messy, and the prolonged process of cutting ties last winter just months after Chow was given an ill-advised contract extension was an ugly tango.

Recruiting peaked in 2010 -- the nation's 10th-ranked class -- and cratered in 2011.

And, really, Neuheisel never developed traction. Neuheisel upset Tennessee in his first game. The next week, the Bruins lost 59-0 at BYU. A 3-0 start in 2009 was followed by five consecutive losses. A strong 2009 finish was followed by an 0-2 start to 2010. A three-game winning streak after that 0-2 start -- including a win at Texas -- was followed by six losses in seven games. This year, the Bruins had won three of four before getting thumped by USC.

Neuheisel lost by 21, 21, 14 and 59 points to the Trojans.

The next coach can't do that.

What can we say nice about Neuheisel's tenure? Some used to question his character. That no longer is an issue. Neuheisel was by the book at UCLA and always conducted himself with class and graciousness. And that was doubly true of his conduct on a day that clearly knocked him for a loop.

Of his time at UCLA, Neuheisel said, "It won't be a bitter memory at all." As for what went wrong, he said, "I have plenty of time to think that over. I'm just thankful for the opportunity. This has always been a place where I wanted to have a chance to bring it back to being a place where everyone could be proud. Obviously, we have fallen short of that, but there are lots of things I'm proud of that happened during my time here. They don't always make it to the front pages of a newspaper."

According to the Los Angeles Times, Neuheisel's buyout is only $250,000. So he'll need to start thinking about his future fairly quickly, something he hadn't done on Monday.

"This has kind of hit me between the eyes a little bit," he said. "I hadn't thought about that. I'm on one track to do the best I can for this particular team. That'll be the case at least through Friday. I love coaching. I know that. I'll take some time to figure it out."

It's hard to imagine Neuheisel getting another shot atop a AQ-conference program any time soon. He could return to the NFL as an assistant. Or he could go into broadcasting.

What's next for UCLA? Almost immediately, big names were included in reports. reported that Boise State's Chris Petersen will be athletic director Dan Guerrero's first target. The LA Times said Guerrero "is expected to make a trip to Boise to meet with Petersen. UCLA is believed to be able to offer a contract worth more than $3 million annually that includes donations from boosters."

We'll see. I'd rate those odds as remote, though getting Petersen would be a monumental coup. The Times also lists Houston coach Kevin Sumlin and former NFL coach Jon Gruden as candidates. Yes, at this early juncture, you roll out the usual suspects.

But there's the immediate present first: Neuheisel's final game, one that most would project as a blowout defeat.

Neuheisel has made a habit of finding ways out of messes throughout his tumultuous career. But he wasn't able to do that UCLA, and it's hard to imagine a happy ending for the Bruins on Friday in Eugene.

Can Kiffin coach? Maybe the answer is yes

November, 21, 2011
If Lane Kiffin keeps this up, he's in danger of becoming "coach Lane Kiffin," not "Lane @#%$@ Kiffin" or "%&@# Kiffin" or just "@#$%@," for short.

You say "Lane Kiffin" to a college football fan -- a football fan, really -- and you get many reactions. Most of the bad. Dude has some baggage. He's best known for off-field controversies in large part because he's not done much -- good or even bad -- on the field.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesAfter another big road win, it's time to state the obvious -- Lane Kiffin is a very good football coach.
Off the field? Well, take your pick of controversies. Kiffin was involved in a coup at USC that led to legendary offensive coordinator Norm Chow getting pushed aside. Kiffin fell afoul of team owner Al Davis as the Oakland Raiders coach and was fired after 20 games. At Tennessee, he trashed talked most of the league, infuriating commissioner Mike Slive, got in trouble with the NCAA and bolted after just a single season for USC.

This is old news, of course. And Kiffin has mostly behaved and avoided controversy at USC.

But we were left with an important question: Can he coach?

An 8-5 finish in 2010 didn't reveal much. It was adequate but hardly impressive. A 7-3 start was greeted by mostly positive reviews, then he lost consecutive games to Notre Dame and Oregon State.

So that was the question in 2011. Hate Kiffin. Love Kiffin. But, again, can he coach?

The 38-35 win at Oregon on Saturday hinted that, yes, he can. That he might be growing into the job. That he's matured as a leader and motivator. At 9-2 and ranked 10th in the AP Poll as well as the Power Rankings, he's a win over rival UCLA away from what would unquestionably be considered a successful season: a "true" South Division championship, 10 wins, a top-10 ranking, a win over top-five team (Oregon) and wins over rivals Notre Dame and UCLA.

There's always been some substance to the Kiffin dislike, even beyond the off-field issues. For one, more than a few folks saw him as born with a silver coaching spoon in his mouth, a guy had successfully conned his way into big-time jobs before he deserved them or was ready.

When he got hired at USC in 2001, three years after graduating Fresno State, he'd never been a position coach -- anywhere. He got the job because his dad, Monte Kiffin, was Pete Carroll's defensive mentor. Four years after arriving, Chow was pushed aside for him -- just in time for Kiffin to coach the 2005 Trojans, one of the most talented offenses in college football history. After two seasons, at age 31, he was hired by the Raiders.

When that didn't work out he immediately got hired by Tennessee, an SEC power. One year later, he took over USC, among the top-five programs in the nation. All that after going 5-15 (Raiders) and 7-6 (Tennessee).

The point is there wasn't much you could finger to justify why so many seemingly smart people kept hiring Kiffin.

Until Saturday in Eugene, though the performance at Notre Dame in a 31-17 win was pretty darn good, too.

The Trojans had effective plans on both sides of the ball against the Ducks, which got them a 38-14 lead. Sure, Oregon stormed back but Oregon does that. And, sure, if that 37-yard field goal to tie the game on the final play of regulation had been good, most money would have been on the Ducks in overtime.

Details and what might have beens. The W is what matters.

With no hope for a conference or national title or even the postseason, Kiffin has the Trojans playing their best football. They started slowly against a weak schedule but have steadily improved. He's kept the team motivated and focused, even though he's got plenty of underclassmen eyeballing the NFL.

Now, of course, comes the tough part: Losing 30 scholarships over three years will challenge the Trojans as they try to remain competitive at the top of the conference. We'll see how Kiffin and USC weather circumstances that would try Bear Bryant.

Still, Kiffin has started to push back against his critics with evidence of his skill. All the snarking about his past is backgrounded by his present, by what he created last weekend and this season.

But, Lane, make sure you take care of UCLA on Saturday. Don't make me come back next week with a "Never Mind."
Utah and UCLA were written off after their seventh games. The Utes got stomped at Cal, and the Bruins were humiliated at Arizona on ESPN. Utah fell to 0-4 in the Pac-12. UCLA seemed on the cusp of a coaching search.

[+] EnlargeRick Neuheisel
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireAfter a rough start, UCLA and coach Rick Neuheisel control their destiny.
And now they play Saturday in Salt Lake, each riding a two-game conference winning streak, with the winner earning bowl eligibility. And UCLA in the South Division lead.

Stuff changes. The unexpected can happen.

So maybe we'll see plenty of passing on Saturday. Just don't count on it.

UCLA and Utah like to run the ball and aren't terribly good at passing it. UCLA ranks 11th and Utah 12th in the conference in passing yards per game. They've combined for 23 TD passes, which is fewer than USC, Stanford, Washington and Oregon.

This won't be a four-hour game.

UCLA is better on offense overall and is better at running it, see its 191 yards per game out of a pistol offense. It averages 4.8 yards per carry, while the Utes average 3.6. It has three legitimate rushing weapons in running backs Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman and quarterback Kevin Prince, while the Utes rely almost entirely on John White.

"[White] has been a big part of our success," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "When he goes over 100 yards, we win, and when he doesn't, we've lost."

Utah is much better on defense, though. It ranks second in the conference against the run and third in total defense. UCLA is 11th against the run and 10th in total defense.

The Utes' front-seven is particularly tough.

"A huge challenge," Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel said. "Our offense is predicated on winning at least your share at the line of scrimmage and being able to run the football. And they are as stout as anybody we've played this year."

Beyond the Xs and Os, there's the Norm Chow factor. The legendary offensive coordinator was hired by Whittingham after he parted ways with Neuheisel after three mostly poor seasons. All parties have played down any perception of bad blood this week, as well as any major competitive advantage.

"I think the advantage or disadvantage is a wash," Whittingham said. "I don't think that will play into it at all. I think they've changed both coordinators, so I don't see that as an advantage one way or another."

Still, Chow will be able to provide the Utes coaches plenty of insider details about the Bruins' players, their tendencies, likes and dislikes and strengths and weaknesses.

"He's going to know our personnel as well as anybody, so we have to understand that," Neuheisel admitted.

Still, Neuheisel observed, the game will come down to "blocking and tackling" as most games do. And turnovers.

As for what the game means in the big picture, Neuheisel didn't take the bait. He brought up Pac-12 and postseason possibilities in advance of the Arizona game, and that didn't go well.

"Our future is Saturday," he said. "Nothing else matters. We made that mistake before talking about this, that or the other thing."