Pac-12: Todd Barr

Our look at position groups in the Pac-12 continues.

Arizona: Coach Rich Rodriguez is confident in both Reggie Gilbert and Dan Pettinato and anxious to get junior-college transfers Jeff Worthy, who also spent a year at Boise State, and Jerod Cody acclimated to the system. Calvin Allen, Jack Banda and Luca Bruno are coming off redshirt seasons and represent a group Rodriguez said the team needs production from.

Arizona State: With the departure of Gannon Conway and Davon Coleman, there is a question about the team's depth at end. Without Will Sutton clogging things up next year, the Sun Devils' lack of experience is even more of a concern. Sean O'Grady backed up Conway and Coleman last year, but ASU has several well-regarded junior-college transfers in Edmond Boateng, Marcus Hardison and Demetrius Cherry.

California: The Bears list seven defensive ends, but former junior-college transfer Kyle Kragen and Puka Lopa gained the most experience last season listed at the rush position. Antione Davis was outgoing starter Dan Camporeale's primary backup, but Brennan Scarlett's return is more important. He started nine games in 2012 and has been cleared to play following a hand issue that cost him the 2013 season. Todd Barr, Sione Sina and recent-transfer Jonathan Johnson are also in the mix.

Colorado: Colorado must replace Chidera Uzo-Diribe, but Juda Parker is back for his senior season, and several others have game experience. Samson Kafovalu is the likely candidate to start opposite him after making 18 tackles in seven games last year. Jimmie Gilbert was Uzo-Diribe's backup, Kirk Poston and De'Jon Wilson also played.

Oregon: The Ducks took a hit with the departure of Taylor Hart, who was named second-team All-Pac-12, but have a talented player in Arik Armstead lined up to take his spot. Armstead started five times in 2013 and left the basketball team midseason to shift his focus back to football. T.J. Daniel, Jason Sloan are projected to be in the mix for playing time.

Oregon State: Scott Crichton is gone, but Dylan Wynn remains and will likely be the Beavers' best defensive player a year after finishing fourth on the team in tackles. Lavonte Barnett, Crichton's primary backup in 2013, and Jaswha James figure to compete for the starting job, but there are two others to keep an eye on. Obum Gwacham recently switched from receiver and Mike Riley has been complimentary of Titus Failauga, who is coming off his redshirt.

Stanford: Henry Anderson has a chance to be one of the best defensive players in the conference and Blake Lueders, who switched from OLB, began the spring atop the depth chart. The intriguing prospect is Luke Kaumatule, who was recruited to play defense but began 2013 as the team's starting tight end. Spring will be important for his development, but his raw ability is impressive.

UCLA: Both Ellis McCarthy and Eddie Vanderdoes were all-Pac-12 honorable mention last season and highlight a talented UCLA defensive line. Their return will help account for the loss of Cassius Marsh, who started 12 games last year. Both McCarthy and Vanderdoes can play inside or outside, but the Bruins listed them both at end. Highly recruited DE Kylie Fitts saw playing time as a true freshman last season.

USC: Leonard Williams, the only sophomore named first-team all-Pac-12 on defense last season, is the best in the conference. Delvon Simmons, who sat out last season after transferring from Texas Tech, has a lot of game experience. He started 12 games for the Red Raiders in 2012 and had regular playing time as a freshman there in 2011. Both Simmons and J.R. Tavai, who was an all-Pac-12 honorable mention selection, can play inside or outside.

Utah: There's no replacing Trevor Reilly, who made 100 tackles despite lingering effects from a torn ACL, but Nate Orchard and Hunter Dimick both saw extensive playing time last season. The Utes have five other defensive ends on the roster, but of that group only LT Filiaga made a tackle last season.

Washington: The Huskies are in great shape with the return of Hau'oli Kikaha, a second-team All-Pac-12 selection, Cory Littleton and Evan Hudson. Josh Shirley has 10 career starts, while Joe Mathis and Psalm Wooching provide depth.

Washington State: With Toni Pole expected to move back inside, the depth chart will look similar to how it did going into last season, minus Matt Bock. After making 50 tackles last year, Xavier Cooper will start on one side, with Destiny Vaeao and Lyman Faoliu strong candidates for more playing time. Emmitt Su'a-Kalio is coming off a redshirt, and the Cougars also signed a pair of defensive ends from Hawaii in Kingston Fernandez and Hercules Mata'afa.

Previous positions

Tight end
Quarterback
Running back
Receiver
Offensive line
Defensive tackle

Pac-12's top sack men

June, 3, 2013
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The Pac-12 is welcoming back a strong crew of quarterbacks, but life might not be terribly fun in the pocket for even the best of them. Perhaps the strongest returning group in the conference in 2013 will be defenders who specialize in knocking quarterbacks on their rear ends.

Nine of the top-10 sack men in 2012 will be back this fall. And 14 of the top-20. And just two teams -- Utah and Washington State -- don't welcome back at least one of their top pass rushers.

Five of six pass rushers who recorded at least 10 sacks will be back.
So who might join the double-digit sack club this fall? Here are some thoughts.

Arizona: Linebacker Marquis Flowers led the Wildcats with 5.5 sacks in 2012, but rushing the passer was one of the biggest issues with last year's overmatched defense, which was 108th in the nation with just 16 sacks. Maybe a young player, such as redshirt freshman Kyle Kelley, will rise in the fall?

California: The Bears spread out their 28 sacks last year, with OLB Chris McCain and DT Kendrick Payne leading the way with 3.5 apiece. McCain is back, Payne is not, and the Bears are converting from a 3-4 to a 4-3. Guys who should be first to the QB include McCain, Todd Barr and Brennan Scarlett.

Colorado: End Chidera Uzo-Diribe led Colorado with seven sacks last year -- no other Buff had more than three -- and it's a good bet he will again this fall. He has 12.5 sacks over the past two seasons.

Oregon: Underrated end Taylor Hart recorded eight sacks last year to lead the Ducks, but Oregon wasn't as good rushing the passer last year as it has been in the past. That might have been by design though, seeing the Ducks were 15th in the nation in pass efficiency defense. Hart is back, but it will be interesting to see if one of the young D-linemen, such as Arik Armstead or DeForest Buckner, steps up as a pass rusher this fall.

Oregon State: First-team All-Pac-12 end Scott Crichton, who led the Beavers and tied for eighth in the conference with nine sacks, fell just short of the list at the top. It seems almost certain he will lead the Beavers in sacks for a third consecutive season.

Utah: Joe Kruger led the Utes with six sacks last year and Star Lotulelei was second with five. A good bet to lead the pass rush this fall is hybrid LB/DE Trevor Reilly, who had 4.5 sacks last year.

Washington: Both the Huskies top two sack men are back: Josh Shirley and Andrew Hudson, who both had 6.5 sacks in 2012. Shirley, who seemed to have a lot of near-misses, is talented enough to get to double-digits this fall.

Washington State: Travis Long had been the Cougars best defensive player for four consecutive years, so he leaves behind a significant void. How will the Cougs replace his 9.5 sacks? No other defender had more than three sacks last fall. Logan Mayes, likely to replace Long at "Buck" LB, is the most obvious candidate.
USC-Oregon, Oregon-USC. Ducks-Trojans. Kiffin-Kelly! Barkley-Black Mamba!

Golly, doesn't anybody else have a chance in this Pac-12 conference? Should we just call off the regular season and have the Ducks and Trojans settle things in a 13-game series?

(That actually might be fascinating to watch. Think about all the interesting weekly coaching adjustments).

Well, that's not happening.

So then the question before us is a radical one. It might very well split up the space-time continuum and send us spinning into a massive black hole: Which team possibly might shock the world? Which team could break up this apparently preordained marriage at the top of the conference, one reportedly written in gold leaf onto the granite facade of Mount Rushmore?

[+] EnlargeWynn
Kirby Lee/US PresswireJordan Wynn and the Utes have a favorable schedule this season.
It's a dangerous question, I know. Not the sort of one entertained by the meek. But if you are brave, read on.

Hey, you in the gray shirt, you're not brave! Better stop reading.

We warned you.

Kevin Gemmell: The general consensus is that Oregon and USC will meet for the Pac-12 title. But which team could put a wrinkle in that plan?

Whenever you are dealing with a could question, you always have to stipulate with ifs. X could happen if Y and Z fall into place. The team that strikes me as having the fewest ifs is Utah.

My first thought was to go wayyyyy out there and tinker with the idea of Oregon State being the team to shock the Pac-12. The Beavers could be the surprise team if they get the running game in order, and if the offensive line holds up, and if Sean Mannion continues to mature, and if all of that experience from last season pays off. But that's just too many ifs, and way too far to reach.

Utah, however, has a lot of pieces in place already to be the surprise team this season. First, its schedule helps, because the Utes don't have dates with Oregon or Stanford. Their first three games are in-state, and the fourth is at ASU, which will likely still be adjusting to life under a new head coach. That's potentially 4-0 out of the gate.

Then they get an extra week to prepare for the big showdown -- at home -- with USC. That game will be high-noon in the Pac-12 South, and Rice-Eccles will be jumping. If the Utes can somehow get over that hump, they have four more winnable games before traveling to Washington, which could be a hiccup. That notion alone, however, is one major if. USC also has extra time to prepare, because it's a Thursday game.

Another reason to be encouraged is that all reports are that quarterback Jordan Wynn is healthy. He's chock full of experience, and has shown he can be an elite quarterback when he gets his rhythm. The only reason to think the running game will take a step backwards is that Utah has to replace two stud offensive tackles in Tony Bergstrom and John Cullen. But John White IV has shown to be a very capable -- if not special -- running back. He shouldn't have any trouble adapting.

Also, unlike a lot of other teams with new coordinators, the transition to Brian Johnson should be silky, since he's a veteran of the system and has worked with Wynn since Day 1.

The Utes have one of the top -- if not the best -- defense in the conference. With plenty of returning starters and the most feared defensive lineman in the Pac-12, they should be able to win a game or two on defense alone.

Given the way their schedule is laid out -- combined with returning talent on both sides of the ball and an outstanding coaching staff -- it's not outside the realm of possibility that the Utes could emerge from the South.

Ted Miller: One word: Plastics.

[+] EnlargeJeff Tedford
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesJeff Tedford and California could be on the cusp of a return to prominence in the Pac-12.
No, wait. That's something else. Our word is "schedule."

Now we have four words: California Freaking Golden Bears! You're back. Welcome. You remember where everything is, right, up here in the national rankings? No, coach Tedford, you don't have to sleep on that twin mattress in your office. You have the view suite down the hall. Yes, it has been a while. Yes, breakfast is included. Eggs Benedict? Well, your wife did tell us about your cholesterol. You want us to stick it? Well, then, Eggs Benedict it is!

The Bears have the schedule to upset the Trojans-Ducks destination wedding. And the talent, by the way.

Schedule? Cal plays host to Oregon, Stanford and Washington, the likely three top teams in the North Division. Plays host, by the way, at an awesomely cool renovated Memorial Stadium that will put the Strawberry back in the Canyon. The Bears went 30-9 in Memorial Stadium between 2005-2010 before playing their home games in AT&T Park in 2011, including 7-0 marks in 2006 and 2008.

Every team is better at home. Cal fans would tell you their team is better-er at home. Sure, it's had its share of mega face-plants in front of the home fans -- Oregon State in 2007 (altogether now "ouch"), USC in 2009, and that three-game home losing streak to end 2010 with a whimper. But there is no doubt it will be better to play the Ducks, Huskies and Cardinal at home, particularly with the Ducks and Cardinal breaking in new quarteracks.

And Cal isn't breaking in a new quarterback. What if, just maybe, Zach Maynard plays the entire season like he did the final four games of the 2011 regular season? And what if offensive coordinator Jim Michalczik works his magic with the line his second year back in Berkeley? And what if all that young talent -- Mustafa Jalil, Stefan McClure, Todd Barr, Viliami Moala, Brennan Scarlett, David Wilkerson, Chris McCain, Michael Coley, Avery Sebastian, Cecil Whiteside, etc. -- breaks through on defense?

We'll probably get a pretty good measure of the Bears early on. They will take a 2-0 record to Ohio State on Sept. 15. That is a winnable game, but it will require the Bears to go East and show some fire. You might recall that they didn't exactly do that in recent years at Tennessee and Maryland.

Then they visit USC. Jeff Tedford is 1-9 against USC, losing those nine by a combined count of 291-144. The Bears can afford to lose at USC, though a poor showing might cause the team to question itself and make it seem like these are the "same ole Bears." That, however, is not a divisional game. The larger issue is holding serve at home, which would give Cal an advantage in the event of a tie atop the North.

As Kevin noted above, we have a surfeit of "ifs" for both scenarios. It just feels as though Oregon and USC are that far ahead of everyone else.

But you do know that you never know until you do know.

Some note from Cal's first pads practice

March, 21, 2012
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California had its first full pads spring practice Tuesday at Witter Rugby Field, and there were a couple of interesting notes coming out of it.

First, Joel Willis has moved from defensive back to receiver, a position where the Bears are very thin and inexperienced, other than All-American candidate Keenan Allen, who will miss spring after ankle surgery.

Said Tedford in quotes provided by Cal, “He’s going to be a great addition for us at that position the way he runs and with his athleticism. It’s a good fit for him. He’s been kind of chomping at the bit to play receiver and with our receiver depth right now it’s a good time for him as well.”

The Bears are replacing both defensive ends from 2011 -- Trevor Guyton and Ernest Owusu -- but this doesn't seem like a problem. End, in fact, looks like a defensive strength, with Deandre Coleman and Mustafa Jalil the likely starters and Todd Barr and Gabe King providing quality depth.

“Both of those guys played a lot last year and are talented guys,” Tedford said of Coleman and Jalil. “I’m expecting both of those guys to step up and be leaders at that position. Todd Barr made a couple of nice plays today as well, but those two guys [Coleman and Jalil] should be the starters there right now. Gabe King is doing a nice job as well. He’s really gained some size and has kind of transformed his body, but he hasn’t played so he needs to gain the experience that Coleman and Jalil have.”

UW recruit is Parade Player of the Year

February, 1, 2011
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Washington will be looking for a new quarterback this spring, but it appears it has found an outstanding target in its recruiting class who should make life easier for whoever wins the job.

The Parade Magazine All-America team will be published this weekend, and Huskies recruit Kasen Williams is the Player of the Year.

Williams (6-foot-2, 200 pounds), who hails from Skyline High School in Sammamish, Wash., is ranked 70th overall on the ESPNU 150.

Other players committed to Pac-12 teams on the list include offensive lineman Cyrus Hobbi (USC) and defensive tackle Viliami Moala (California).

The "Bench" -- honorable mention -- included running back Amir Carlisle (USC), receiver George Farmer (USC), receiver Richard Mullaney (Oregon State) and defensive end Todd Barr (California).

Receiver Marqise Lee, who is deciding between USC, Oregon and Miami, also made the "Bench."

Cal posting a big recruiting week

December, 14, 2010
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California didn't have a great season on the field, but it's surging in recruiting.

The Bears received commitments from two ESPNU 150 players this week: defensive tackle Todd Barr of Lakewood, Calif., and linebacker Jason Gibson of Serra (Gardena, Calif.).

And they might pull a trifecta: touted defensive back Avery Walls of Eagle's Landing Christian High School (McDonough, Ga.) is expected to decide Tuesday between the Bears, Oregon and Michigan.

Barr and Gibson give Cal 14 commitments.

Barr, 6-foot-3, 265 pounds, is ranked the nation's No. 3 defensive tackle and No. 31 overall prospect. He made official visits to Oregon, Washington and Florida, but he had offers from every BCS conference.

"It's where I always wanted to go," Barr told ESPN's Greg Biggins. "I have a great comfort level there and I'm very comfortable with all the coaches. I'm super tight with Tosh [Lupoi], the defensive line coach and that made a big difference for me. I think the defense is a great fit for me, I love the academics and I like how the school is far enough away from home to get the college feel but still close enough to come home whenever I want to."

The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Gibson is ranked the No. 6 outside linebacker and No. 129 overall in the nation. He also received offers from every Pac-10 school, among others across the country.

The Bears' 2010 class finished ranked 15th in the nation. Is this one on pace to match or even eclipse it?

Best case-worst case: USC

July, 23, 2010
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The final post 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: USC

Best case

It starts with a Tennessee football helmet.

Perhaps it is fitting that Lane Kiffin, who always took the high road after his completely reasonable departure from Tennessee, would use the symbol of a program that hated him to solve a major environmental crisis. Where the oilmen and scientists failed, Kiffin, with an assist from USC quarterback Matt Barkley, successfully plugs the BP oil spill in the Gulf.

"It was pretty cool," Barkley says. "I don't know where the Tennessee football helmet came from, but he just swam right into the middle of the oil flow -- it was really jetting out of there -- and slammed the helmet in the hole. I was a little worried about him for a second, but all of the sudden -- slam! -- and the oil stopped. And then, of course, there was that trip to the White House."

The trip to the White House turns eventful when Kiffin invites President Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader John Boehner and Rush Limbaugh out for a beer.

"Pelosi is a riot -- you don't get that on TV," Kiffin says. "She and Limbaugh start singing "99 Red Balloons" together, and the President manages to extract this pesky splinter from Boehner's thumb. Dude just brightened. Great smile. Everybody got along famously and agreed to stop bickering over fatuous things and actually solve problems. I joked that a good start would be NCAA sanctions against the Trojans."

While USC enters the season as a slight Pac-10 favorite, much of the preseason talk centers on Kiffin's skill as a diplomat and humanitarian.

"Look guys," Kiffin tells reporters after the Trojans open with a 42-7 win at Hawaii. "This isn't about me. I've never been a 'me' guy. I'm about team, whether you're talking about the world, the United States or USC. But I'm the USC coach and let's keep the focus on USC and not Lane Kiffin. Darn it! Did I just talk about myself in the third person! That's terrible. Sorry."

USC doesn't allow a touchdown in wins against Virginia and Minnesota. Barkley throws his 11th TD pass of the season at Washington State before sitting out the second half of a blowout victory. USC needs a late scoring run from Allen Bradford to beat Washington and Steve Sarkisian.

"Steve is a friend first and rival second," Kiffin says afterwards. "Men of character can compete and compete hard but still break bread together. I would hope that's a lesson for my team. We're not just about winning at USC, though we do a lot of that. We're about family and character and building leaders."

USC whips Stanford 33-10.

"I don't know anything about 'What's your deal?'" Kiffin says afterwards. "Revenge? That's not why we play football at USC. We play for the pure joy of sport and competition. We should share that with our opponent. So we should always strive for a respectful relationship with our foe. That's the deeper meaning to me."

The Trojans beat California and a ballyhooed showdown with No. 5 Oregon becomes just another blowout win. USC rises to No. 1 in the AP poll.

There simply is no stopping the Trojans. Their defense ranks No. 1 in the nation. Barkley leads the nation in passing efficiency. They are the nation's least penalized team. Meanwhile, on the student side of things, players switch majors from criminal justice and recreation science to pre-med, English and political science.

"Unusual to hear players talking about theoretical physics?" linebacker Chris Galippo replies to an eavesdropping reporter's question. "Really? We talk about stuff like that all the time here in the locker room. Coach Kiffin encourages it. You should hear [fullback Stanley] Havili. He's obsessed with movies. He's always going on about 'mise en scène'. You should have heard him after movie night at the Boys & Girls Club when we saw 'The 400 Blows.' Dude really has a thing for François Truffaut."

USC rumbles past Arizona State, Arizona, Oregon State and gets a standing ovation from Notre Dame fans after a flawless performance in South Bend.

A column appears on UCLA blog "Bruins Nation": "Is it wrong from Bruins to respect Kiffin?" Writes "Nestor": "It's like John Wooden and USC fans. Wooden's greatness transcended the bitter rivalry. So it's possible to acknowledge that a great man is the leader of your hated enemy. Of course, I'm not yet ready to compare Kiffin to Wooden after just one season. But the idea obviously has hatched."

USC beats UCLA 30-17. Kiffin and Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel share a warm handshake afterwards.

Once-beaten Florida wins the BCS title game. The AP crowns unbeaten but NCAA-sanctioned USC national champions.

"Are we the true champions?" Kiffin says. "Well, I like our team. I like its character. But Florida is a great team with great character, too. [Gators coach Urban] Meyer has done such a great job down there. I called him yesterday to congratulate him. I feel bad about how things started between us. I feel like we're both ready to move past that. I think doing so would be a great example to our players and our fans."

In the spring, the NCAA apologizes to USC and gives it all of its scholarships back.

Worst case

Four games. Four blowout victories. It doesn't look like USC has taken a step back. Perhaps it's taking a step forward under Lane Kiffin?

And, yes, Trojans players, knowing they are banned by the NCAA from the postseason, start to crow. The general theme is: "We're the best and everybody knows that."

Such talk gets a bit quieter when Washington quarterback Jake Locker takes a Heisman Trophy turn in the Coliseum during a 35-21 Huskies victory. Kiffin runs off the field yelling at the officials instead of meeting his friend, Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, at midfield for the postgame handshake.

Last year, Toby Gerhart dominated USC during Stanford's blowout win. This year, it's quarterback Andrew Luck, who tosses four TD passes in a 41-24 victory.

"Do I think [Jim] Harbaugh ran up the score on us?" a steaming Kiffin says. "Absolutely. His quarterback throws TD passes. Ours throws interceptions. His guys are physical. Ours quit when things get tough. We had a good plan. Our players just didn't execute it. Harbaugh's got a good thing going. But we won't always be down. We'll get our guys in here and then let's see how things go."

After said speech, even those who are just learning English become familiar with all the nuances of the phrase, "throwing under the bus," a cliche that appears in nine out of 10 columns about the game.

"We're playing for ourselves, for our teammates, not for Kiffin," an anonymous player is quoted in the LA Times after the Trojans beat California.

Oregon rolls up 510 yards in a blowout win in a half-empty Coliseum. After the game, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin announces that he will retire at the end of the season.

The Trojans beat Arizona State 10-9, an effort that's attributed to a show of respect for the elder Kiffin. But the Trojans drop their next three games before visiting arch-rival UCLA.

"Any of you guys think it's funny UCLA plays in the Rose Bowl?" Kiffin asks reporters during his weekly press conference. "What's the word I'm looking for? Ironic? Isn't it ironic that the Bruins play in the Rose Bowl? The Rose Bowl is the Trojans home. We'll be back playing in the real Rose Bowl soon enough."

Replies UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, "Whatever."

The Bruins prevail 21-3, holding Kiffin's offense to 215 total yards.

"I'm not going to talk about [Kiffin]," Neuheisel says after the game. "This is about us, not them. This is about building classy hotels on Park Place and Boardwalk. We don't care about the other guys. Just as long as they pay rent when they land on our squares."

After UCLA trounces Missouri in the Holiday Bowl, Christian Westerman, George Farmer, Todd Barr and Antwaun Woodsannounce they will sign with the Bruins, who finish 9-4 and ranked 14th.

UCLA finishes a consensus No. 1 in the nation in recruiting. With its last full class before scholarship limitations are invoked, USC finishes fifth in the Pac-10.

"Recruiting rankings don't mean anything," Kiffin tells reporters. "We didn't want any of those guys that went to UCLA. Sure, we recruited a lot of them. But when I looked in their eyes, I could tell they weren't Trojans."

The NCAA rejects USC's appeal of sanctions.

Tennessee fans put up 15 billboardsaround the USC campus.

Best case-worst case: UCLA

July, 14, 2010
7/14/10
9:00
AM ET
Third 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: UCLA

Best case

Rick Neuheisel's critics might have called it "smug," but his reaction after UCLA's much-maligned "pistol" offense rolled up 450 yards in a 42-17 win at Kansas State more accurately should be termed "vindicated." Might even have been a bit of relief there.

"It took us a lot of hard work to get here," he says after the Bruins impressive road win. "But it will take us even more to get where we want to go."

Solid wins over Stanford and Houston mean the Bruins carry a No. 19 ranking to No. 3 Texas on Sept. 25.

"We aren't afraid of them," Bruins linebacker Akeem Ayers says before the game. "It's not like UCLA hasn't won at Texas before." Ayers refers to the 66-3 stomping the Bruins delivered the Longhorns during their last visit to Austin in 1997.

Of course, Texas isn't the same in the Mack Brown Era as it was during John Mackovic's ill-fated tenure. Still, the Bruins don't yield until a Kevin Prince pass is intercepted in the endzone in the waning moments. Texas holds on 20-17, despite four Bruins sacks of QB Garrett Gilbert.

"Ten [Ayers] and 56 [end Datone Jones] -- those guys can really run," Gilbert says afterwards. "Seemed like they were in my face all day."

After dispatching Washington State, it's made clear, however, that the Bruins haven't arrived. Four turnovers sinks them at California, and Oregon surprises the Bruins by going to the air, with Ducks QB Nate Costa throwing for 320 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-24 win.

The Bruins beat Arizona when kicker Kai Forbath drills a 55-yard field goal with 30 seconds left, but lose in double-overtime to Oregon State. The visit to Washington feels like a must-win, and the good news for everyone is it has nothing to do with Neuheisel's controversial tenure as the Huskies coach. Both teams are trying to fight into the top-half of the conference.

Huskies QB Jake Locker puts on quite a show. Only, on this evening, he's not as good as Prince, who runs for two scores and throws for three others as the Bruins win a shootout, 45-42.

A win at Arizona State then sets up the annual showdown with city rival USC. The stakes? Well, if the Bruins prevail, they earn a Holiday Bowl berth. And if USC wins? It goes undefeated and likely is voted No. 1 in the AP poll, despite NCAA sanctions that prevent it from playing in the postseason.

"It's clear we are the best team in the nation," Trojans coach Lane Kiffin says before the game. "Just look at the numbers. We've won every game by double-digits playing in the best conference in the country. Heck, even UCLA can almost win at Texas and the Longhorns look like they are going to play for the BCS title."

Kiffin uses finger quotes when he says, "BCS."

The Bruins win 21-3, holding Kiffin's offense to 215 total yards. "I'm not going to talk about [Kiffin]," Neuheisel says after the game. "This is about us, not them. This is about building classy hotels on Park Place and Boardwalk. We don't care about the other guys. Just as long as they pay rent when they land on our squares."

After UCLA trounces Missouri in the Holiday Bowl, Christian Westerman, George Farmer, Todd Barr and Antwaun Woods announce they will sign with the Bruins, who finish 9-4 and ranked 14th.

The NCAA rejects USC's appeal of sanctions.

Worst case

Who's idea was this freaking "pistol" offense anyway?

That is the general feeling among UCLA fans after a lackluster 13-10 win at Kansas State, with Akeem Ayers 38-yard fumble return giving the Bruins their only touchdown.

Even the defense looks bad in a 30-17 loss to Stanford. The Bruins get their feet back under them -- after reverting back to a more pro-style scheme -- and outlast Houston and QB Case Keenum 33-30, but the Bruins' multiple issues are laid bare in a 35-10 embarrassment at Texas.

The offensive line can't protect Kevin Prince. It can't open holes. And the defense is good but not dominant.

A win over Washington State only preludes a desperate five-game losing streak -- Cal, Oregon, Arizona, Oregon State and Washington. Neuheisel and offensive coordinator Norm Chow bench Prince in favor of Richard Brehaut for the trip to Arizona State.

"The offensive struggles aren't Kevin's fault," Neuheisel says. "But we need something to change. We want to see what Richard can do."

Brehaut does just enough to lead the Bruins to a win over Arizona State, but few fans are happy with the state of the program as it limps toward its annual showdown with USC, which is unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in the AP poll.

It further doesn't help the Bruins mood that the week is dominated by talk of how USC coach Lane Kiffin and QB Matt Barkley had, in late July, together plugged the BP oil spill in the Gulf, earning a commendation from the president.

"It wasn't that big of a deal," Kiffin says. "We were on the beach and Matt said he wanted to swim out there and take a look. So we did. I just happened to have an old Tennessee football helmet with me, and Matt said we might be able to plug it with that. Not that I needed the helmet anymore. Hey, it worked. But you have to understand: That's what we do. We're USC Trojans."

USC wins 45-3. After two irrelevant teams play for the BCS title, the president and congress jointly decree that -- just like in 2003 -- anyone who says "BCS national champion" is required to use finger quotes.

In the spring, the NCAA apologizes to USC and gives it all of its scholarships back.

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Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12