Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Bowl miss: UCLA
By Ted Miller
In 2009, coach Rick Neuheisel's second season, UCLA won a bowl game and finished 7-6. That represented clear improvement from the Bruins' 4-8 finish the season before.
So that was progress.
But UCLA faceplanted in 2010, returning to its 4-8 record of two years before. Neuheisel entered the season talking about a wide-open Pac-10 and bowl hopes. At the end of the season, more than a few fans were grumbling about regression and wondering if Neuheisel was the right guy for the job.
ESPN.com is taking a look today at teams that didn't earn bowl berths in 2010, breaking down how the hopes of August were dashed by December.
What went wrong? Lots of things went wrong, but if you want to name a starting point it was quarterback Kevin Prince's inability to stay healthy -- and we're not just talking about the knee injury that ended his season. During the Bruins' 0-2 start, back and shoulder injuries prevented Prince from practicing. In fact, Prince essentially missed all of preseason camp, so he had little to no preparation going into those games in the new pistol offense. And when he did practice? UCLA looked impressive in wins over Houston and Texas, scoring 65 points in the process. But he first hurt his knee at Texas, and his return for the visit to California on Oct. 2 was a disaster. Are we saying the season would have been different had Prince been healthy for 12 games? Yes. But we're not going to re-engage in the whole Prince vs. Richard Brehaut debate, because there were plenty of other issues this season, including Neuheisel's obvious frustration with both coordinators -- Norm Chow on offense and Chuck Bullough on defense. And for good reason: The Bruins were sloppy -- their 29 turnovers were six more than any other Pac-10 team -- and statistically terrible. They ranked ninth in the Pac-10 in scoring offense, total defense and run defense. They ranked 10th in passing offense and total offense. But it didn't really become a lost season until a feeble effort at Washington on Nov. 18 became defeat No. 6. That was a team the Bruins beat last year, but the Huskies seemed more hungry to get bowl eligible after falling short in 2009. So the teams went off in different directions.
How can it be fixed? First, Neuheisel has to be confident in his coaches. And his coaches need to be confident in -- and loyal to -- him. He'd take a PR hit for dumping Chow, who's darn near an offensive coaching legend, but it's his team and it might be the right call, particularly if he wants to stick with the pistol. Question is: Can he get an A-list replacement(s)? Once the coaching staff is squared away, Neuheisel needs to turn his attention to quarterback. Is it time to move on from Prince? Just like passing accuracy, durability is a requisite quality -- in fact, one of the most important -- for a football player. But if Prince is put on the backburner, can Brehaut get his mental game together? Or is it time to just hand the keys to incoming freshman Brett Hundley this fall? Oh, and by the way, the offensive line must be rebuilt. There's some young talent on defense, but the consistency will need to take about four steps forward.
Bowling again in 2011? Just like this year, the Bruins likely will be picked in the bottom half of the conference during the 2011 preseason. The nonconference schedule includes a road opener at Houston and a visit from a Texas team that will surely be hungry for revenge. The good news on the schedule? No Oregon. If you squint hard enough at the schedule, you can see six wins. Maybe seven. More than that seems unlikely. Six might be enough for a bowl berth. And Neuheisel may need at least six wins in order to survive into season five.