Best case-worst case: UCLA

August, 5, 2009
8/05/09
5:02
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Fourth in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-10 teams, starting at the bottom and working up from my vote in the Pac-10 media poll.

Up next: UCLA

Best case

UCLA beat Tennessee in 2008 despite four first-half interceptions. When redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Prince produces a clean sheet in the return trip to Knoxville, the game becomes a rout, the Bruins rolling 35-14, the same score as their opening victory over San Diego State.

The result renders new Volunteers coach Lane Kiffin speechless. Literally. He just stands at the podium during his postgame news conference and stares wordlessly into space.

The Bruins then shut out Kansas State in the Rose Bowl, 28-0, and slip Stanford 20-17, the defense, led by linebacker Reggie Carter, defensive tackle Brian Price and cornerback Alterraun Verner proving to be among the nation's best.

UCLA jumps into the national rankings, but the schedule's degree of difficulty increases. Prince turns in his first poor performance in a 30-21 loss to Oregon, an interception return for a touchdown from Walter Thurmond III turning the game in the third quarter.

California then hands UCLA a second consecutive defeat, with Jahvid Best becoming the first running back to eclipse 100 yards against the Bruins' defense.

UCLA bounces back with a 24-20 victory at Arizona, Prince leading a game-winning, 68-yard touchdown drive with less than a minute to play, but it can't win two in a row on the road, falling 28-24 at Oregon State.

The Bruins sweep the Washington schools and then return to the national rankings with a victory over Arizona State.

That sets up a showdown with No. 2 USC, which is undefeated and on the cusp of earning a berth in the BCS title game opposite top-ranked Florida.

"It's the matchup everyone wants to see," says Kirk Herbstreit during ESPN's GameDay, which is on site outside the Coliseum.

Lee Corso puts on the Trojan helmet.

But Price knocks USC quarterback Aaron Corp out of the game in the first quarter with a vicious sack, and Verner returns two Matt Barkley interceptions for touchdowns as the Bruins roll to a 30-24 win.

The Bruins then blow out Notre Dame in the Sun Bowl.

"Anyone want to play Monopoly?" Pac-10 Coach of the Year Rick Neuheisel asks.

Worst case

It's not easy being a redshirt freshman quarterback in any event, but UCLA's Kevin Prince clearly wasn't ready for 110,000 fans in Knoxville. Tennessee sacks Prince four times and intercepts him twice in a 28-10 thrashing.

A Bruins offense that could be charitably described as anemic in 2008, doesn't look much better in 2009, even when UCLA improves to 2-1 with a 17-14 victory over Kansas State.

While the Bruins' defense is again solid, it wears down late at Stanford, with Toby Gerhart grinding out 115 yards on 26 carries in a 21-17 Cardinal victory, the first of five consecutive UCLA defeats.

Midway through that run, Neuheisel and offensive coordinator Norm Chow bench Prince in favor last year's starter, Kevin Craft. When that doesn't work -- Craft is no less interception-prone than the previous year -- they take the redshirt off true freshman Richard Brehaut, who nearly leads the Bruins to an upset win at Oregon State.

With Brehaut starting, the Bruins sweep the Washington schools and then slip Arizona State at home, leaving them one win short of bowl eligibility.

That sets up a showdown with No. 2 USC, which is undefeated and on the cusp of earning a berth in the BCS title game opposite top-ranked Florida.

"It's the matchup everyone wants to see," says Kirk Herbstreit during ESPN's GameDay, which is on the Florida campus before the Gators and Florida State play.

Lee Corso puts on the Trojan helmet. "But this one will be closer than the experts think," he says.

It's not. USC rolls 38-10.

The NCAA announces the following Monday that it finds USC's football program blameless in the Reggie Bush investigation. Curiously, it ends the press release with a, "Fight ON!" though only Bruins Nation thinks that's a big deal.

The Trojans dust Florida, winning their third national title under Pete Carroll, and sign the nation's No. 1 recruiting class on Feb. 3.

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