Friday, August 16, 2002
Strong finish key to Bruins' season, Toledo's job
By Ted Miller
Special to ESPN.com
2001 record: 7-4 (4-4)
Coach: Bob Toledo (13th season, 71-63; at UCLA, 42-27, 6 years)
Starters returning: 6 offense, 5 defense, 2 specialists
Outlook: When his team was 6-0 and ranked among the top-5 in the country last season, UCLA coach Bob Toledo proclaimed that he was not on the hot seat.
If Toledo still thinks the same after the Bruins dropped four of their last five games, he's wearing some very thick underwear. With a new athletic director, his job security is an issue this season.
A glittering array of big-name players have departed, including tailback DeShaun Foster and linebacker Robert Thomas. Most prognosticators have dumped the Bruins into the bottom half of the Pac-10.
First on a lengthy concerns list is quarterback Cory Paus, who owns 25 career starts but will have to battle for his job during preseason practices. Toledo has said he won't name his quarterback until a week before the season opener against Colorado State.
A pair of alcohol-related driving offenses and eight interceptions with no touchdowns during the Bruins' four-game losing streak have put Paus on a one-legged stool.
Whoever runs the offense will have four returning starters on the line protecting him. Akil Harris and 240-pound Manuel White figure to share the responsibility of replacing Foster. Four of the team's five leading receivers return, led by Craig Bragg and Tab Perry.
Five starters are back from the Pac-10 leader in total defense. Tackle Rodney Leisle is outstanding as is cornerback Ricky Manning, Jr. Matt Ware started at corner as a true freshman but could become a star at free safety.
The conference schedule is forgiving, even without a bye weekend. Oregon, Washington State and USC each visit the Rose Bowl.
Key game: After a rugged non-conference schedule, UCLA starts the Pac-10 slate at Oregon State on Oct. 5. A loss there -- to a team it beat by 35 points last year -- and fans in powder blue will start calling for Toledo's noggin on a plate.
Keep an eye on: Freshman Marcedes Lewis. The athletic, 6-foot-6, 240-pound Lewis figures to contribute immediately, either at tight end or as a pass rusher.
It's a good year if . . . The Bruins record eight wins, including a victory over USC, which should be enough to save Toledo's job.
Ted Miller covers the Pac-10 for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.