Pac-12: Temple Owls

Video: Spring practice 411

April, 13, 2012
4/13/12
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ESPN writers and bloggers cover keys for teams transitioning to new
conferences.

Houston step one for UCLA, Neuheisel

August, 30, 2011
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UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel was asked at Pac-12 media day how he and the Bruins could restore sagging confidence in the program this season and get fans to return to the Rose Bowl. His answer was surprisingly straight-forward.

"Beat Houston," he said of the Bruins opening game.

[+] EnlargeRick Neuheisel
AP Photo/Damian DovarganesRick Neuheisel's Bruins are looking for a fast start against Houston in Week 1.
"Because we play the next week against San Jose State. So if we can go on the road and beat Houston and do so in an impressive way, look like we're a well-coached, sound, fundamental football team, I think they'll come out the next week and be excited. If we can find a way to win that one, the next one's against Texas. It can happen that fast. It doesn't take long to win back your constituency. They just want to know there is reason for your optimism. So, we just got to come out of the gate ready to play."

The solution: A fast start, starting with a road trip to Houston.

Of course, the Bruins blew Houston out 31-13 last season. Sure, the Cougars lost quarterback Case Keenum in the second quarter, but UCLA led 21-3 at that point and was dominating the action. So the Bruins have, and probably should, beat Houston on Saturday, though playing on the road is never easy.

Further, one of the oddities during Neuheisel's three years back in Westwood, where he won a Rose Bowl as the Bruins quarterback, is the program's infuriating fits and starts. Just when one is ready to write them off and throw a handful of dirt on the Neuheisel tenure, a run of success appears. And just when folks want to theorize about a turned corner, Neuheisel and the Bruins go rear-end-over-tea-kettle.

Recall Neuheisel's debut: A thrilling home victory over Tennessee. What happened next? A 59-zip humiliation at BYU became the first of three consecutive losses.

In 2009, UCLA started 3-0. Then it lost five in a row. Then it won three of four to become bowl eligible and won a bowl game, albeit over Temple in the EagleBank Bowl.

And last fall, after an 0-2 start that included a humiliating 35-0 home loss to Stanford, the Bruins not only beat Houston, they then won at Texas and extended their winning streak to three games with a comeback victory against Washington State. A turnaround, perhaps? Nope. They lost six of seven to finish 4-8 for a second time under Neuheisel.

So what's the larger meaning of the opener at Houston when Neuheisel sits atop many lists of coaches on the hot seat?

"It's an important game for us," Neuheisel said. "Will it make or break our season? Absolutely not. But it will help get us on the right track believing things are going our way."

What UCLA needs to rekindle fan support is consistency -- a feeling that the Bruins are playing up to their potential on a regular basis. While this doesn't look like a 10-win team, it certainly has the talent to earn bowl eligibility, maybe even work its way into the South Division race.

If you look over the depth chart, there is a decided sense of "maybe."

Start with the Bruins leaving preseason camp a mostly healthy team for the first time under Neuheisel. Then there's a defense that looks sneaky good on all three levels (a healthy Datone Jones at end and Patrick Larimore at MLB could prove transformative for a unit that couldn't stop the run last fall). On offense, the Bruins have a solid offensive line, particularly when Jeff Baca returns this month, and plenty of speed and depth at the skill positions.

Quarterback? That's the big question, and not just because Neuheisel has opted not to name his starter until late Tuesday (it's likely to be Kevin Prince over Richard Brehaut).

As for the hot seat talk, Neuheisel said it hasn't been a distraction.

"If you are asking if I am feeling it from outside, the answer is 'no,'" he said.

While Houston won't provide a definitive answer on Saturday, it is fair to say this. Neuheisel will take a step toward saving his job with a victory. And he'll go the opposite way with a defeat.

UCLA staff not Seto

February, 7, 2011
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UCLA still doesn't have a defensive coordinator after coach Rick Neuheisel's flirtation with former USC linebacker and Trojans assistant Rocky Seto abruptly ended.

It appeared last week that Neuheisel was on the cusp of announcing Seto's hiring, but apparently things turned sour in the eleventh hour, perhaps in part because many Bruins fans didn't want a former Trojan running their defense, particularly one without a proven track record. Seto is presently on Pete Carroll's staff with the Seattle Seahawks helping with the secondary.

Further, Nevada running backs coach Jim Mastro is still deliberating whether he will accept a position as the Bruins' running game coordinator. The Orange County Register reported that Mastro would coach tight ends and F-backs while Bruins running backs coach Wayne Moses would stay in his current position, if Mastro opts for Westwood.

Other than Seto, the L.A. Times reported that Neuheisel talked to former Stanford defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, now with the San Francisco 49ers, former Miami head coach Randy Shannon and former Florida defensive co-coordinators Teryl Austin and Chuck Heater. Heater was a Washington assistant when Neuheisel was the Huskies' coach from 1999-2002, but Heater was hired to coordinate Temple's defense.

So what now?

Well, maybe Neuheisel just moves down to the next name on his list. Or maybe he regroups and casts out a new net. It would be a bit of a surprise at this point if he pulls a rabbit out of his hat and lands an experienced, "name" defensive coordinator. And, by the way, that might not be a bad thing.

Neuheisel's stated preference for a 3-4 scheme -- or at least a hybrid of it -- suggests his best candidates are NFL assistants who are itching to call their own plays. But how committed is Neuheisel to a 3-4 if he was serious about Seto, whose mentor -- Carroll -- is a 4-3 guy?

While some might think a jump to UCLA under Neuheisel might be risky -- Neuheisel is under a lot of pressure to win in 2011 -- there's solid, young talent on the Bruins' defense. Even a single impressive season in Westwood could provide a career boost. It would certainly be a way to get on a Pac-12 coach's radar.

As it stands now, Neuheisel isn't inspiring much confidence with his constituency. A second 4-8 finish in three seasons, combined with coaching staff turmoil,and a disappointing recruiting class isn't sending the Bruins into the offseason on an uptick.

Of course, all the hullabaloo between now and September could be easily forgotten if Neuheisel simply does one thing this fall: Win.

Best-worst case redo: Stanford

February, 1, 2011
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Every preseason we take a look at potential best-case and worst-case scenarios for every Pac-10 team. While these are often tongue-in-cheek, they nonetheless represent the top and bottom we see for each team.

So it might be worthwhile to revisit each.

Next up is Stanford, which finished 12-1 after whipping Virginia Tech in the Discover Orange Bowl.

Best Case: 12-1 with a Rose Bowl win against Ohio State and a final No. 2 ranking.

What was right: A number of Stanford fans have written, pointing out how much the 2010 season resembled the Cardinal's "best case." Most notable is the final spot in the BCS standings at the end of the regular season: No. 4. The best case gets the final record -- 12-1 -- correct, including a BCS bowl victory and final top-5 ranking. Quarterback Andrew Luck did end up staying. Moreover, the whole tone of Stanford gradually earning national respect approximated what actually happened.

What was wrong: Stanford's lone loss was at Oregon, not at Washington, which it whipped 41-0. The Big Game win against California was a blowout, not a nailbiter. The BCS bowl was the Orange, not the Rose. The Cardinal finished ranked fourth, not No. 2. Coach Jim Harbaugh bolted for the San Francisco 49ers instead of signing a lifetime contract.

Worst case: A 7-6 finish after a win against Temple in the Eagle Bank Bowl.

What was right: Well, seven wins were correct, as was the loss at Oregon. Stanford did win its bowl game. Harbaugh did leave.

What was wrong: A lot, most particularly envisioning the defense as being particularly weak. Stanford's defense ended up being one of the best units in the nation. Harbaugh did leave, but for the NFL, not Michigan. California most certainly didn't play in the Rose Bowl. Luck is returning for his junior year. Stanford hired David Shaw, not Walt Harris, though that was entirely a joke.

Conclusion: Considering it was one of the best seasons in program history, it makes sense that the "best case" prevails here by a wide margin. And going 1 for 2 with Harbaugh and Luck is probably as much as anyone could ask for.

UCLA's Akeem Ayers will enter draft

January, 4, 2011
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In a decision that comes as no surprise, UCLA linebacker Akeem Ayers has decided to forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft.

“I will miss playing with my UCLA teammates next year but I feel that the decision to go to the NFL is what is best for my family," Ayers said in a statement. "I will always be a Bruin.”

Said Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel: “Akeem has been a big-play performer throughout his career at UCLA and we support his decision to move to the next level. Who will ever forget his interceptions against Oregon and Temple that he turned into touchdowns or his many sacks? We will miss Akeem, but we look forward to watching him make those same types of plays on Sundays in the NFL.”

Ayers, a 6-foot-4, 255-pound junior, was a second-team Walter Camp All-American, a Butkus Award finalist and an All Pac-10 selection after finishing with 68 tackles, four sacks, 10 tackles for loss and two interceptions.

Ayers is a likely first-round pick. ESPN.com's Scouts Inc. ranks him 15th overall for the 2011 draft. Mel Kiper ranks him 16th and writes, "His exceptional athleticism makes him so versatile. Ideal every-down 3-4 OLB who can rush and cover. Ayers should test well at the combine."

The Bruins continue to wait on official word from All-America safety Rahim Moore, who is likely to follow Ayers to the NFL as an early-round selection.

Best case-worst case: Stanford

July, 20, 2010
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Seventh 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.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction.

Up next: Stanford

Hard to say when it really started. "It" being the notion that Stanford was a national title contender. And a team to be feared.

The blowout win over Sacramento State didn't exactly reverberate with the college football nation. Nor did three running backs combining for 225 yards and doing their best Toby Gerhart imitation at UCLA earn top billing on SportsCenter.

A 24-3 win over Wake Forest pushes the Cardinal to 14th in the nation. A 31-17 win at Notre Dame lands them just outside the top-10. Still, things were mostly quiet outside the Farm.

"Things are mostly quiet here," says coach Jim Harbaugh. "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. That's what Stanford football is about. Not noise."

Oh, but there are whispers.

"What about the Stanford Cardinal?" Kirk Herbstreit asks on College GameDay. "Their quarterback may end up the No. 1 pick in this year's NFL draft. They may have the best offensive line in the nation. They're averaging over 200 yards rushing per game, despite the departure of Toby Gerhart. And, finally, they've got a defense to match."

Replies Chris Fowler, "Let's see what they do at No. 5 Oregon."

What they do is Luck throws for three touchdowns and the Cardinal rolls up 485 yards of offense in a 31-24 win.

The Cardinal climbs to No. 7 in the national polls. Yet some are still not sold.

"I'm still not sold," says Lou Holtz. "Let's see what they do against Southern Cal."

What they do is stink up the joint. For three quarters. But Luck completes 10 of 12 passes for 148 yards and two TDs in the fourth quarter, including a 28-yard seeing-eye bullet that finds Ryan Whalen for the winning score with 15 seconds left.

"That's two unbeaten, top-10 teams in two weekends," Rece Davis says to Holtz. "Are you sold?"

"Yep," says Holtz.

After a bye week, Stanford easily dispatches Washington State. It then heads to Washington. Scouts from every NFL team are on hand to watch Luck's showdown with Jake Locker. Luck and Locker each account for three TDs apiece, but the Huskies get the ball last, and that proves the difference. Stanford suffers its first defeat. When Oregon wins at USC that night, it looks like the Cardinal and the Ducks will engage in a race to the Rose Bowl finish.

After wins over Arizona and Arizona State, the fifth-ranked Cardinal heads to Berkeley for the Big Game, with California eagerly embracing the role of spoiler. Stanford leads 28-14 in the third, but a pair of TD passes from Kevin Riley ties the count with two minutes left. Then Jeff Tedford shocks everyone in the stadium with an on-side kick. The Bears recover. Riley expertly leads his offense to the Stanford 10-yard line, and Giorgio Tavecchio lines up for the chip-shot winner.

Stanford blocks the kick. Chris Owusu picks up the ball and runs it the other way for the game-winning score. "D'oh," is the one-word column on California Golden Blogs that night.

After beating Oregon State 28-24, Stanford finishes fourth in the BCS standings. It's consolation prize is the Rose Bowl opposite No. 3 Ohio State, which is one of three unbeaten teams. The mighty Buckeyes, Rose Bowl champs the year before and ranked No. 1 in both human polls, aren't happy they got computered out of the national title game.

"We're going to make a statement," says quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

Before taking the field, Harbaugh gathers his team.

"From this day to the ending of the world, but we in it shall be remembered," he says. "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother."

Whispers Whalen to center Chase Beeler, "Is it Saint Crispin's Day?" Replies Beeler, "Forget the Rose Bowl. We're at Agincourt!"

Stanford wins 21-17, securing its first Rose Bowl victory since 1971 after stopping the Buckeyes on fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line.

The 12-1 Cardinal finishes ranked No. 2 behind Alabama. Harbaugh announces he's signed a lifetime contract.

"Yes, I'm coming back," Luck tells reporters a week later. "We have unfinished business."

Worst case

A switch to a 3-4 defense evidently isn't the answer for Stanford's defensive woes. That's made clear when UCLA and quarterback Kevin Prince roll up 468 yards in a 35-30 win.

Despite beating Wake Forest and Notre Dame, it becomes clear that Stanford has to score a lot of points to win. Its defense still lacks top-end athleticism, which is abundantly evident during a 45-30 loss at Oregon. Moreover, a backfield-by-committee approach does not a Toby Gerhart make.

That puts pressure on quarterback Andrew Luck to make plays downfield against defenses scheming to stop him. USC does just that in a 31-20 win, sacking Luck five times.

Washington State doesn't have the talent to follow the plan. Luck out-duels Washington's Jake Locker in Husky Stadium and leads a comeback win over Arizona. But, in the first quarter at Arizona State, Luck feels a tweak in his hamstring as he tries to elude Vontaze Burfict. With Luck out, the Sun Devils record the upset.

A Big Game in Berkeley without Luck is not a good thing for Stanford. California rolls 38-17. Luck again isn't available for the finale vs. Oregon State, and the Beavers drop the Cardinal to 6-6 on the year.

Luck returns to lead the Cardinal to a victory over Temple in the Eagle Bank Bowl, but it's hardly a day of celebration when Harbaugh announces he's headed to Michigan.

That's big news over at Rose Bowl practices for both California and Ohio State.

A week after Cal's victory, Luck announces he's entering the NFL draft.

"I'm sure the program will do great things during the second tenure of Walt Harris," Luck says.

Next step for UCLA LB Ayers is stardom

March, 17, 2010
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A pick-six interception is just about the best thing a defensive player can do. Some players, however, never experience one over their entire career.

UCLA's Akeem Ayers got two of them last year. But that's not even the best part.

Ayers, an outside linebacker, wasn't in coverage when he made the plays. He produced his two pick-sixes while rushing the passer. Yes, he reached up and snagged balls that were intended to sail over his head.

Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesUCLA's Akeem Ayers has potential to be an all-conference player next season.



Against Oregon, he was right in quarterback Nate Costa's face when the ball was released from the back of the endzone. Ayers jumped, grabbed the ball and then showed the presence of mind -- and nimbleness -- to drop both feet in bounds before he fell out of the back of the endzone.

Then, in the EagleBank Bowl against Temple, he added a new element, falling on his face as he charged out of his stance before leaping into the errant pass and jogging four yards for the TD.

While most would rate the Oregon play higher in degree of difficulty, Ayers prefers highlight No. 2.

"Just because of the whole situation, being down [UCLA trailed 21-20 at the time] and being in a bowl game," the rising junior explained.

Those are notable sentiments: Ayers cares more about the team's situation than his own spectacularness. That's the sort of team-first mentality the Bruins will need if they expect to take another step forward in year three under Rick Neuheisel.

While just about every Pac-10 team must replace key defensive players this spring, UCLA perhaps takes the hardest hits of all: It loses six starters, including three first-team All-Pac-10 players, including conference Defensive Player of the Year, defensive tackle Brian Price.

Of course, Ayers doesn't see it that way.

"We have a lot of young talent on defense," he said. "We lack playing experience, but as far as talent we have players who will step up in spring ball and fill the gaps."

Ayers ticks off linebacker sophomore Patrick Larimore, a candidate to replace Reggie Carter at middle linebacker, and sophomore defensive lineman Damien Holmes as two examples.

He could toss himself into the mix, though he's no newbie. Ayers ranked third on the Bruins in 2009 with 75 tackles, including 14.5 tackles for a loss, which ranked second on the team and fifth in the conference. Playmaking? He recorded six sacks, grabbed four interceptions, forced four fumbles and recovered two.

If you're looking for a defender to rise from mostly unknown to first-team All-Conference in 2010, Ayers might be your man.

But he's still got areas to improve. For all his instincts and athletic ability, the 6-foot-4, 252-pound Ayers has a tendency to freelance outside of his assignments in the specific defensive scheme, something that used to infuriate Carter.

"If the guy is not near the play or ball, Akeem doesn't always want to be bothered with it," Carter told the LA Times last year. "That's understandable when you're young. As you get older, you realize you have to work in the scheme. He could hurt us one day."

Ayers, who saw Carter as a mentor on and off the field, is as aware of this as anyone. When asked what he needs to do to ascend from young talent to star, he said, "It's not so much physical. It's more the mental aspect, getting the defense down pat."

Despite the new starters on defense, that may not be the side of the ball that most worries Bruins fans. The offense ranked ninth in the Pac-10 in scoring a year ago (22 points per game), and that's got to improve if the goal is to win more than seven games and to push into the top half of the conference standings.

Ayers said he's seen sophomore quarterback Kevin Prince working hard and taking a leadership role this offseason. As for the Bruins offensive line, which has been among the worst in the conference for the past three seasons, Ayers said he expects dramatic improvement.

"That's probably the least of my worries this season," he said.

Despite replacing several key starters, Ayers believes the Bruins are moving up in the Pac-10 and closing in on rival USC for one important reason.

"We have players who can play now," he said.

Pac-10 lunch links: California starts spring in bad mood

March, 11, 2010
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There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who believe there are two kinds of people in this world and those who are smart enough to know better.

Final Pac-10 power rankings

January, 13, 2010
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These are mostly about 2009. But there's a little 2010 mixed in.

1. Oregon: A disappointing Rose Bowl loss doesn't ruin a great first season for coach Chip Kelly. And it's hard not to look ahead to an extremely promising 2010.

2. Oregon State: Making distinctions from here until No. 9 is difficult, but the Beavers finish No. 2 because, despite a bad loss to BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl, they played for the Rose Bowl in their regular- season finale. And the returning cast should inspire optimism for 2010.

3. USC: Team turmoil! Still, the Trojans won their bowl game -- the conference's only bowl victory over a BCS foe -- and that means they finished with the second-most wins in the conference (nine).

4. Stanford: Sure, the Cardinal lost the Sun Bowl to Oklahoma, but it was a competitive game and the Cardinal were playing without their starting quarterback, Andrew Luck.

5. Arizona: The Wildcats fall in here and they know exactly why. Three words: Holiday Bowl disaster.

6. UCLA: While beating Temple isn't the sort of thing to lead a résumé with, a bowl win means the Bruins are one of just three conference teams to head into the offseason coming off a victory.

7. Washington: The Huskies finished the season with a two-game winning streak, beating Washington State and California, and a home run: Quarterback Jake Locker is returning for his senior season.

8. California: When California won five of six after getting whipped by Oregon and USC, it looked like the Bears had righted the ship. Nope.

9. Arizona State: The pressure is on coach Dennis Erickson to get the Sun Devils back to a bowl game in 2010.

10. Washington State: After another terrible season, the big question for the Cougars is what are optimistic yet reasonable expectations for 2010? Ninth in the conference?

Pac-10 all-bowl team

January, 12, 2010
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The Pac-10 bowl season didn't go well, but that doesn't mean you don't make an all-bowl team.

You may notice a lot of USC and UCLA players. You might remember that the LA schools posted the conference's only two wins.

OFFENSE

QB Matt Barkley, USC: Barkley completed 27 of 37 throws for 350 yards with two touchdowns against Boston College in the Emerald Bowl. He also had two interceptions.

RB Toby Gerhart, Stanford: Against an Oklahoma defense ganging up on him, he rushed for 133 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries in a Sun Bowl loss.

RB Stanley Havili, USC: He only rushed for 2 yards, but he also he caught six passes for 83 yards with two touchdowns.

WR Damian Williams, USC: He caught 12 passes for a season-high 189 yards.

WR Damola Adeniji, Oregon State: He caught seven passes for 102 yards and a touchdown in the Beavers' Las Vegas Bowl loss to BYU.

TE Anthony Miller, California: He led Cal with five receptions for 55 yards in the Poinsettia Bowl loss to Utah.

OL Chris Marinelli, Stanford: The offense was without its starting quarterback, but Gerhart gained 133 yards and the Sooners only had one sack.

OL Mike Tepper, California: Cal's pass protection wasn't great against Utah, but running back Shane Vereen finished with 122 yards rushing and two touchdowns.

OL Charles Brown, USC: The Trojans didn't run terribly well vs. Boston College, but they only yielded one sack and gave Barkley plenty of time to throw.

OL Jake Dean, UCLA: He was thrust into the starting lineup after starting center after Kai Maiava was ruled academically ineligible, and the Bruins yielded only one sack vs. Temple.

OL Chase Beeler, Stanford: See Marinelli.

K Kai Forbath, UCLA: He kicked field goals of 40 and 42 yards.

DEFENSE

DE Kenny Rowe, Oregon: He set a Rose Bowl and Oregon bowl record with three sacks in a losing effort against Ohio State.

DT Jurrell Casey, USC: Casey had five tackles, a sack and a 22-yard return of a fumble.

DT Brian Price, UCLA: Price started slowly vs. Temple but he dominated the second half and finished with five tackles, with one coming for a loss.

DE Tyson Alualu, California: Alualu had five tackles, with 1.5 coming for a loss.

LB Akeem Ayers, UCLA: Ayers led the Bruins with nine tackles, two for a loss, and his leaping interception at the Temple 2-yard line, which he returned for a TD, was the play of the Pac-10 bowl season.

LB Kyle Bosworth, UCLA: He finished with seven tackles and 1.5 sacks.

LB Eddie Young, California: Young had seven tackles and returned an interception 31 yards for a TD.

CB Shareece Wright, USC: In his first game back after academic ineligibility, Wright grabbed a key interception.

CB Alterraun Verner, UCLA: Verner had seven tackles, two for a loss, and a pass breakup.

S Rahim Moore, UCLA: Moore had four tackles and an interception.

S Taylor Mays, USC: Mays had five tackles for a Trojans defense that shut down Boston College in the second half.

P David Green, Stanford: He averaged 44 yards on six punts, three of which were downed inside the Sooners' 20-yard line.

Best and worst of the Pac-10 bowl season

January, 11, 2010
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The Pac-10 went 2-5 during the bowl season, so it wasn't difficult to find many "worsts."

But there were some good things that shouldn't be overlooked.

Best performance, defensive player: Oregon's undersized but quick defensive end Kenny Rowe set a Rose Bowl and Oregon bowl record with three sacks in a losing effort against Ohio State. He finished the season with 11.5 sacks, which led the Pac-10.

Best performance, offensive player: In his final game in a USC uniform, receiver Damian Williams caught 12 passes for a season-high 189 yards in the Trojans' 24-13 win over Boston College in the Emerald Bowl. It's fair to say that Williams was USC's most consistent player over the entire season.

Worst performance, period: There was nothing good about Arizona's 33-0 loss to Nebraska in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl. Nothing. Feel free, though, to look at this box score and try to find something.

Best play: With UCLA trailing Temple 21-20 in the fourth quarter, and the Owls pinned on their 8-yard line, Bruins outside linebacker Akeem Ayers -- after falling down on his initial pass-rush burst -- leaped into the air and intercepted Vaughn Charlton's pass and gamboled 2 yards into the end zone.

Worst play: Trailing 19-17 in the Rose Bowl, Oregon faced a second-and-2 from Ohio State's 18-yard line. A huge hole opened. But running back LeGarrette Blount couldn't handle a high handoff from quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. The Buckeyes recovered the fumble and dominated the rest of the game.

Worst play, II: After BYU tied Oregon State 7-7 in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas, the Beavers took over at their 40-yard line. On second down, running back Jacquizz Rodgers couldn't handle a backward pass from Sean Canfield, and Matt Bauman returned the loose ball 34 yards for a touchdown. That was the first fumble of Rodgers' career, and the Cougars dominated the game from then on.

Best performance under tough circumstances: Oklahoma knew Stanford had no passing offense without quarterback Andrew Luck. So it ganged up on running back Toby Gerhart. Nonetheless, the Heisman Trophy runner-up rushed for 135 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries in a rugged effort in the Sun Bowl loss.

Worst pass defense: California made Utah true freshman quarterback Jordan Wynn look like an All-American in the Poinsettia Bowl. Against what was supposed to be one of the nation's best secondaries heading into the season, Wynn completed 26 of 36 passes for 338 yards with three touchdowns. He shook off an early pick-six to run the Bears ragged.

Best second-half defense: UCLA held Temple to 41 yards and zero points in the second half of the EagleBank Bowl.

Worst performance you didn't see coming: Canfield, Oregon State's quarterback, earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors this season. He has been invited to the Senior Bowl and is going to have an NFL career. Nonetheless, he had a horrible Las Vegas Bowl and was outplayed by BYU's Max Hall, who threw three touchdown passes. Canfield completed just 19 of 40 passes for 168 yards with an interception and no touchdowns, and he seemed completely befuddled by a strong wind and the Cougars' secondary.

Best unsung performance: USC fullback Stanley Havili always seems to sneak up on folks. In the Trojans' win over Boston College, he caught six passes for 83 yards with two touchdowns, including a 53-yard jaunt on a screen pass. He also had a critical tackle after one of Matt Barkley's two interceptions.

Pac-10 bowl season overview

January, 11, 2010
1/11/10
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Only one coach at 2010 Pac-10 media day will be able to say he led a bowl winner the previous season.

Unless, of course, UCLA's Rick Neuheisel joins now-former USC coach Pete Carroll and opts to bolt for another job. Then there will be none.

Ah, there are many ways to slice and dice a 2-5 bowl season. None is very tasty.

Things started badly: Oregon State got thumped 44-20 by BYU in a frigid, windy MAACO Bowl Las Vegas. Then California meandered through a 37-27 defeat to Utah in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.

Hey, 0-2 vs. the Mountain West.

Things appeared to reverse course with victories by the LA schools, with both USC and UCLA winning with dominant second halves. The Trojans bested Boston College 24-13 in the Emerald Bowl, while UCLA held Temple to 41 yards after halftime of a 30-21 win in the EagleBank Bowl.

But that was the end of the, er, glory.

Arizona got throttled 33-0 by Nebraska in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl, an inexplicably bad performance. Stanford, playing without starting quarterback Andrew Luck, who injured a finger during the regular-season finale vs. Notre Dame, fell to Oklahoma 31-27 in the Brut Sun Bowl.

And, finally, Oregon went down 26-17 to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Citi, with Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor turning in the game of his life while the Ducks' offense sputtered.

It was a very bad end to what had been a good regular season.

The Pac-10, discussed much of the year as perhaps the nation's best, or at least, deepest conference, led all conferences with five teams ranked in the final BCS standings. But only two -- No. 11 Oregon and No. 22 USC -- ended up ranked in the final polls.

The bowl season also left a large crack in what had been a 21-9 record vs. the nation's toughest nonconference schedule.

Still, this was only the second time the conference had seven bowl teams (2002 was the other). The Pac-10 never previously had boasted six teams with eight or more wins, and seven teams finished with winning records.

And the conference, with eight returning starting quarterbacks, looks to be even deeper in 2010.

So perhaps these postseason woes will prelude a breakthrough next year: Two BCS bowl teams.

Pac-10 bowl season: Yuck

January, 1, 2010
1/01/10
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PASADENA, Calif. -- So how did the Pac-10 do this bowl season?

Did we mention the Pac-10 went 5-0 last year?

[+] EnlargeDejected Oregon
Kevork Djansezian/Getty ImagesThe Pac-10 finished 2-5 in this year's bowl season following Oregon's loss to Ohio State.
Yeah, what about this year?

Pac-10 went 4-2 in 2007.

This year!

Er, the Pac-10 blog went 5-2 in its bowl picks.

No, the Pac-10 football teams.

Er. OK, the Pac-10 went 2-5 in the 2009 bowl season, its best win coming against 8-4, unranked Boston College.

One word: Bad.

The worst game? Arizona got stomped 33-zip by Nebraska.

Oregon State's 44-20 loss to BYU in the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl wasn't terribly impressive, either, nor was California's 37-27 defeat to Utah in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, which made the Mountain West 2-0 in the post-season vs. the Pac-10.

Oregon, the Pac-10 champion, got decisively handled by Ohio State, 26-17, in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi.

Stanford gets a pass. It lost 31-27 to Oklahoma in the Brut Sun Bowl, but it didn't have quarterback Andrew Luck, who was out with a broken finger. How can a team hope to win without its star quarterback? What's that Sooners fans? Oh, Sam Bradford. Yeah. Good point.

Ah, but kudos to USC for taking the Emerald Bowl 24-13 over Boston College. And you too UCLA, for holding powerful Temple to 41 yards in the second half of a 30-21 win in the EagleBank Bowl.

How about those LA teams!

Yes, Pac-10 fans, you will take your knocks in the marketplace of trash talk. Accept it. The bowl season certainly put a footprint onto most of the talk about the conference being the best -- or at least the deepest -- in the nation this year.

But take heart. Lots of good players are coming back next year, including eight starting quarterbacks. The Pac-10 will be even deeper in 2010.

Maybe it will show a pulse next bowl season.

So just wait until next year.

Pac-10 lunch links: Luck is doubtful for Stanford

December, 30, 2009
12/30/09
2:30
PM ET
Listen to the ground, there is movement all around.
There is something goin' down and I can feel it.
On the waves of the air, there is dancin' out there.
If it's somethin' we can share, we can steal it.

Will Norm Chow return to UCLA in 2010?

December, 30, 2009
12/30/09
11:17
AM ET
UCLA dominated the second half to beat Temple 30-21 in the EagleBank Bowl on Tuesday, but a big question hangs over the victory: What direction will the Bruins struggling offense take going forward?

In other words: Will offensive coordinator Norm Chow return in 2010?

T.J. Simers of the LA Times asked Chow that very question after the bowl game and didn't get a clear answer.

His answer, nothing but a smile after the bowl win, and when the question was repeated, Chow said, "Check back next week."

Hmm. Chow was a little more chatty here, but he hardly closed the door on the notion that he might not return in 2010.

Couple of notable issues here.

First, Chow and head coach Rick Neuheisel had different takes on the Bruins quarterback situation this season. Chow was all-in with redshirt freshman Kevin Prince. Neuheisel wanted to see more of true freshman Richard Brehaut.

Neuheisel never hid that there was a difference of opinion but he also insisted there was no rift between the two.

There's another issue: Money. UCLA is not known for handing out big money to coaches, particularly assistant coaches. And Chow will cost the Bruins if he comes back in 2010.

Neuheisel was able to hire Chow in 2008 because of some creative negotiating. When UCLA hired Chow, he was due $1 million over each of the next two years -- 2008 and 2009 -- from the Tennessee Titans, who fired him after he'd signed a two-year contract extension. Chow's base salary with UCLA his first two seasons was a manageable $250,000 plus a $50,000 talent fee.

But Chow's three-year contract with UCLA was backloaded because of his Titans contract, which deducted his UCLA salary but paid him the remainder of his $1 million annual salary. In 2010, his deal with the Titans over, Chow is due a $140,000 talent fee as well as a $250,000 retention bonus on top of his base salary.

That retention bonus will be paid to Chow on the first day of spring practices, according to a 2008 report on the contract in the Los Angeles Daily News.

So, for whatever reason, if Chow doesn't return to UCLA this spring, the school will save $250,000, though it obviously will have to pay off the final year of Chow's contract if he is terminated.

Simers, however, throws out an intriguing scenario. There's a certain school across town that hasn't won a national championship since Chow left.

How's this for a devilish thought? Would USC try to bring Chow back, thereby appeasing irritated Trojans fans unhappy with the play-calling, while heightening the tension between UCLA and USC?

"That'd be interesting," Chow said with another grin.

Again, hmm.

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