Monday, August 22, 2011
Best case-worst case: UCLA
By ESPN.com staff
Fifth in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-12 teams.
Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction. You can read last year's versions here.
We're going in reverse order of my post-spring power rankings (which might not be identical to my preseason power rankings).
Up next: UCLA
Someone forgot to tell Datone Jones UCLA's visit to Houston was supposed to be about the quarterbacks.
Jones provided three of the Bruins six sacks against Case Keenum, while Bruins starter Kevin Prince turned in a solid, unspectacular performance in UCLA's 28-24 win.
"I read in the Pac-12 blog that Jones was supposed to be good, but against my better judgment I chose to ignore the Pac-12 blog," Keenum says. "I have learned my lesson. Dude's a beast. Jones, not the Pac-12 blog, who I hear is very nice."
Prince and most of the other starters sit out the second half of a 55-10 win over San Jose State. Up next is Texas, which comes to town talking about revenge for the 34-12 whipping administered by the Bruins last year when the Longhorns were ranked seventh.
"We want revenge," Longhorns quarterback Garrett Gilbert says. "We're Texas. You're not supposed to mess with us, particularly if you wear pastels, though my mother thinks I look good in powder blue."
Prince passes for 250 yards and two scores and rushes for 85 in a 35-21 Bruins victory.
"Does that guy only play well against us?" queries Texas coach Mack Brown.
It's not an unfair question. But it's one Prince answers well at Oregon State, running for a score and passing for another in a 30-27 victory. UCLA, at 4-0, moves up to No. 15 in the national polls.
Headline in Los Angeles Times: "Neuheisel seat no longer so hot."
Headline in Seattle Times: "Miami scandal? Neuheisel's fault!"
Of course, Prince is no Andrew Luck. Luck, the Heisman Trophy favorite, throws three touchdown passes in a 35-24 Cardinal victory, though Jones does beat All-American tackle Jonathan Martin for a sack.
"Those two are going to be going at it 10 years from now," observes play-by-play man Brent Musburger.
The Bruins nip Washington State on a 55-yard field goal from Kip Smith, but they fall at Arizona in overtime. They beat California at home, which sets up a critical Pac-12 South showdown with Arizona State.
Down 28-21, Prince finds Cory Harkey, who hasn't dropped a pass all season, for a 17-yard TD with 38 seconds remaining.
"I'm going to tell you why we are going to go for two," coach Rick Neuheisel tells his gathered offense on the sideline during a time out. "It's because we need to show everyone who we are right now."
On a quarterback draw, Prince runs over Sun Devils linebacker Vontaze Burfict for the winning points.
UCLA, in a classic let-up scenario, goes down at Utah the following weekend. The Bruins bounce back with a 31-24 win over Colorado.
They head to the Coliseum to play arch-rival USC with the Pac-12 South Division title on the line. If the Trojans beat the Bruins for the 12th time in 13 years, they will be the South champions, even though they're not eligible for the postseason. If the Bruins win, they will be tied for first with Utah and Arizona State, which beat the Utes, but would win a tiebreaker for a spot in the inaugural Pac-12 championship game.
"Is it more motivating to win the first South division crown or to stop UCLA from doing it?" USC quarterback Matt Barkley says, repeating a reporter's question. "Well, I'd like to say us winning the division but really there's nothing better than making those guys miserable. Was I even alive the last time they beat us?"
Barkley recovers: "Oh, yeah, you're right. I was alive in 2006."
Jones sacks Barkley three times as the Bruins roll over the Trojans 33-17.
Before the Bruins play top-ranked Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game, Neuheisel is named conference Coach of the Year.
Says USC coach Lane Kiffin, "Yeah, I voted for him. He deserved it. He outcoached me."
"Vindicated?" says Neuheisel. "You know what? Tough times don't last, tough people do."
Whispers Prince to a nearby reporter: "He says that, like, five times a day."
Oregon nips the Bruins 33-31 on a 44-yard field goal at the end of regulation. The Bruins are invited to the Alamo Bowl, where they whip No. 10 Texas A&M 41-20 to finish 10-4 on the season and ranked 14th.
"We sort of own the state Texas, don't we?" Jones says.
Andrus Peat, Shaq Thompson, Kyle Murphy and Davonte Neal announce commitments to the Bruins the night of the bowl game. The Bruins 31-player class -- six elite prospects are brought in early to count against the 2011 class -- ranks sixth in the nation.
"It was great to cherry-pick Southern California recruiting," says Neuheisel. "So much talent. Glad we had a full allotment of scholarships."
UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel had pointed to the road trip to Houston as a game his Bruins needed to win in order to establish early-season momentum. If so, the season's momentum starts off flowing in the wrong direction.
Case Keenum, whose season ended in the 2010 game at UCLA, throws for 330 yards and three TDs in a 35-21 win, as the Bruins passing game again sputters with Kevin Prince under center.
Neuheisel repeatedly berates Prince as he walks off the field. "He has to play better," Neuheisel says after the game. "We've taught him what to do. He's just not doing it."
"So the coaching isn't working?" LA Times columnist T.J. Simers volunteers.
The Bruins beat San Jose State 24-10 but get humiliated at home by revenge-minded Texas, which keeps its starters in the game well into the fourth quarter of a 44-10 victory.
"Richard Brehaut will start at Oregon State," Neuheisel says. The Bruins lose 28-17 in Corvallis.
"Kevin Prince will start at Stanford," Neuheisel says. The Bruins lose 51-13 in Palo Alto.
Writes Simers, "I'm trying to figure out who is a worse coach, the Bruins head coach or its quarterbacks coach. It's hard to say who is more clueless."
Neuheisel began the 2011 season on the hotseat. It's clear he's pretty much sitting naked in a pool of lava after a 1-4 start.
"Tough times don't last, tough people do," Neuheisel says.
Neuheisel is fired after a home loss to Washington State. Offensive line coach Bob Palcic is named interim head coach.
The Bruins slog through the rest of the season with Prince and Brehaut sharing the QB duties. It works curiously to perfection in an upset of Arizona State, but the Bruins head to the Coliseum to play unbeaten arch-rival USC at 2-9.
"Do we hope AP voters rank us No. 1 if we finish unbeaten?" USC coach Lane Kiffin asks. "Well, sure. We're pretty good. We just beat No. 1-ranked Oregon. Stanford's only losses this year are to us and Oregon. Arizona State's only loss is to us and Oregon. Notre Dame's only loss is to us, though Stanford will probably beat them. "
It's pointed out to Kiffin that UCLA upset the Sun Devils. "Really?" he says. "How the hell did that happen?"
Matt Barkley throws four touchdown passes as USC rolls the Bruins 42-3. Barkley nips Stanford QB Andrew Luck for the Heisman Trophy. When Oregon beats Alabama in the BCS national championship game, the AP votes USC No. 1.
On Jan. 12, NCAA president Mark Emmert announces that after a double-secret meeting, all remaining sanctions against USC are revoked. Says Emmert: "It's easy. A Committee of Infractions hearing chaired by former Miami athletic director Paul Dee has zero credibility. I personally reviewed the case. Those penalties were exorbitant. So the Trojans get time served -- a two-year postseason ban. But they will get all their scholarships back."
Kiffin sweeps across the country, tearing away commitments from major powers in every AQ conference.
Says ESPN recruiting guru Tom Luginbill on national signing day, "It might be the best recruiting class in history."
Meanwhile, UCLA hires Paul Hackett as its head coach.
"He has a track record in Southern California," says athletic director Dan Guerrero.