Pac-12: Volunteers

Best case-worst case: UCLA

August, 15, 2008
8/15/08
12:15
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

This is the eighth in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-10 teams, starting from the top of our preseason power rankings and working down.

Up next: UCLA

Best case

When Tennessee's 44-yard interception return of a Kevin Craft pass gives the Volunteers a 10-0 first-quarter lead, most UCLA fans sigh and start thinking about what will surely be a long slog of a season.

But things settle down, and a defensive struggle begins that looks a little bit like a typical high-level SEC game -- incompetent offenses making good defenses look great.

When Brigham Harwell forces a Tennessee fumble on a sack halfway through the second quarter, the Bruins can only advance 17 yards to the Vols' 30. But that is enough for kicker Kai Forbath to get UCLA on the board.

The 10-3 score holds through nearly the entire third quarter. Then Craft finds Marcus Everett behind the coverage for 42 yards to the Vols 18. On third-and-8, Kahlil Bell slashes through a small gap in the defense for a 16-yard touchdown on the last play of the third to knot the score at 10-10.

The teams play field position with a series of punt exchanges, and the Bruins' Aaron Perez pins Tennessee back on its 12 with five minutes left.

But Vols running back Arian Foster breaks a tackle and scampers 42 yards into UCLA territory. That seems to energize the Vols offensive front. Five Foster carries later, and they're inside the Bruins 20 with the clock ticking away. The defense stiffens, but the 34-yard field goal gives Tennessee a 13-10 lead.

Craft and the Bruins start off well in their 2-minute offense, but stall at mid-field. Tennessee escapes.

Still, the game showed the Bruins a recipe for success: Play good defense and special teams; don't make mistakes on offense.

That was on display as they won four in a row, including sound beatings of ranked BYU and Fresno State teams. Through five games, the defense is yielding just 9.8 points per contest -- a point less than a certain cross-town rival.

A trip to Oregon doesn't go so well, though. A year after shutting out the Ducks, the Bruins get sliced and diced in a 31-17 defeat.

A solid win over Stanford is followed by a lackluster performance at California. After the game, a triangle of tirade is formed in the minute visiting locker room at Cal, with Rick Neuheisel, DeWayne Walker and even mild-mannered Norm Chow lighting into the Bruins.

Mediocrity will not be accepted. On Sunday, Ben Olson, back from his preseason foot injury, is announced as the new starting quarterback.

And a pair of stellar performances follows in wins over Oregon State and Washington that make the Bruins bowl-eligible.

After an overtime loss to Arizona State, the hated Trojans come to town.

For three quarters UCLA fans envision another 2006 -- see an identical 13-9 lead. But two fourth-quarter TD passes from Mark Sanchez cut short the upset bid.

That means a return trip to the Las Vegas Bowl. The opponent: Utah.

Without speaking, Neuheisel fires up the giant screen on Sunday and plays a repeating spool of highlights from the 2007 game between the teams: a 44-6 humiliation at Utah.

UCLA comes out frothing at the mouth. Olson throws four TD passes and the Bruins celebrate redemption, 37-10.

On Feb. 4, the recruiting rankings come out. USC again ranks No. 1.

But UCLA ranks fifth. 

Worst case

Sometimes preseason worries prove unfounded. Other times not.

With UCLA, concerns proved valid: The offensive line just didn't have the horses to help the Bruins score. And scoring is necessary, no matter how good a defense is.

Tennessee pitches a shutout, winning 17-zip and sacking Kevin Craft six times. Things are no better at BYU, which is hungry to make a statement for a BCS bowl berth. This time the Bruins go down, 24-3.

Arizona yields a touchdown, but rolls, 28-10.

No breaks on the schedule to regroup: Fresno State 24, UCLA 13.

Things are bleak, and there are frustrated, if isolated, rumblings that maybe Rick Neuheisel and his so-called all-star staff aren't up to snuff.

But the Bruins manage to win two of their next three, sandwiching victories over Washington State and Stanford around a competitive loss at Oregon.

Quarterback Ben Olson, cleared to play after his preseason foot injury, takes over in the third quarter against California when Kevin Craft throws his third interception. Olson nearly leads the Bruins to a comeback, but Cal survives, 24-20.

Olson is sharp the following week against Oregon State, throwing two first-half touchdown passes, but he re-injures his foot in the third quarter and the Bruins lose, falling to 2-7.

The visit to Washington is a tough one for Neuheisel. His team is languishing, while the Huskies appear to be righting themselves for the first time since the program unceremoniously fired him.

Nothing goes right for the Bruins in a 33-10 defeat. Huskies fans spend much of the game taunting Neuheisel with a variety of chants.

Lackluster losses to Arizona State and rival USC follow. The season, as bad as any for the program since World War II, mercifully ends.

The Trojans then beat Georgia for the national title and sign the nation's No. 1 recruiting class. Neuheisel's class ranks 32nd.

Norm Chow is lured away by an SEC team, which gives him a three-year, $6 million contract.

DeWayne Walker is hired as the Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator.

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