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Friday, December 2, 2011
UCLA aims to pull rabbit out of its helmet

By Ted Miller

EUGENE, Ore. -- Larry Scott has had a pretty magical ride as as Pac-12 commissioner. And he's an optimist who can turn back a pointed question from a reporter with a rhetorical flourish.

Still, the Pac-12 championship matchup isn't ideal, and there's really not a way to put lipstick on that pig.

"There's disappointment that we've got a 6-6 team that fired its coach," Scott said.

Yes, UCLA just fired coach Rick Neuheisel this week after his team lost 50-0 to rival USC in the regular-season finale. The Trojans, ineligible due to NCAA sanctions, should be here playing Oregon, and that would give Scott a top-10 matchup. Still, as Scott noted, it's a luck stroke that this game is in Autzen Stadium instead of a neutral site. It's not likely many would have flown in from all points across the West Coast if the game were in, say, Phoenix. An empty stadium is the last thing the conference wanted for its first championship matchup.

No one believes UCLA has a chance. It's a 32-point underdog. But what we've learned many times is there are no sure things in college football. USC lost to 41-point underdog Stanford in 2007. Michigan lost to FCS Appalachian State. This year, No. 2 Oklahoma State lost at Iowa State.

Stuff happens.

"Despite all the difficulty and all the adversity on the field or off with injuries or the like, we’re a game from playing in the Rose Bowl, which is the amazing thing about all of this," Neuheisel said. "We’re going to take our swings."

That, first of all, means playing mistake-free football and hoping Oregon doesn't produce the same. That means taking some chances -- blitzes, trick plays, deep throws, etc. The problem with the latter, as Ducks coach Chip Kelly pointed out, is it's been a short week of preparation. It's not like UCLA had a bunch of extra time to re-write its playbook.

The stakes are the Rose Bowl. For Oregon, that's business as usual. It's trying to win its third consecutive conference championship. The Ducks challenge is winning their BCS bowl game, which they failed to do the previous two years under Kelly.

For UCLA, nothing is usual. If it shocks the world with a win, it will go to the Rose Bowl as a 7-6 team, and athletic director Dan Guerrero will find himself in the dubious position of looking like a jerk if he doesn't allow Neuheisel to coach the Bruins in that game.

So, you know, last minute change of plans. And imagine if the Bruins then win the Rose Bowl? Here, Coach Neuheisel, is a trophy your program hasn't won since the 1985 season... you're still fired.

Of course, the Bruins would have to pull a couple of massive rabbits out of their helmets for that surreal scenario to happen.