UCLA turnaround could be Texas-sized

The UCLA football program, teetering on the brink of irrelevance, needs something to get back into the national college football conversation.

The once-proud Bruins, little by little losing their dignity in the past decade, must find a spark to turn things around.

Coach Rick Neuheisel, slipping ever closer to the unemployment line, has to find a way to make people once again believe in the Bruins.

A win over Texas could be just what the doctor (and critics) ordered.

Beat the Longhorns, and people will perk up. Take down Texas for the second consecutive year, and you regain a bit of respect.

The Bruins defeated San Jose State last week to get into the win column. That was nice and cute and all, but a victory over Texas on Saturday at the Rose Bowl would go a long way toward quelling the growing concerns about the current direction of the UCLA program.

A victory over Texas would deliver a collective, if perhaps only temporary, release of the angst that currently surrounds UCLA football

"Because of the perception of our program and such, to come out and play a great game against a marquee program and to find a way to win it will put at ease those folks that are concerned about where we are and so on and so forth," Neuheisel said.

That's a lot of pressure to put on one game, but then again, this is against Texas, and there is a lot of concern surrounding the Bruins.

Neuheisel began the season on the hot seat and has done little thus far to get off it with a loss at Houston and a closer-than-expected victory over San Jose State. He's now 16-23 in his fourth year as coach, and the Bruins haven't finished better than eighth in the Pac-10 in his first three seasons.

A victory over Texas would be one giant step toward getting the program on the right track simply because the Longhorns are one of the most storied teams in all of college football. They have 852 victories in school history (second all time), have won four national titles, have been to 49 bowl games (tied for second all time) and have won 25 bowl games (sixth all time).

"Whenever you get a ranked opponent and one that is as prominent and dominant as Texas has been over the years, it's a big game," UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince said.

It doesn't matter that Texas is in a rebuilding mode after going 5-7 last season and retooling the coaching staff with new offensive and defensive coordinators.

It doesn't matter that 19 true freshmen have been getting playing time for the Longhorns this season or that either sophomore Case McCoy or freshman David Ash will make his first career start at quarterback against the Bruins. The Longhorns (2-0) are No. 23 in the Associated Press poll, and any win over any Texas team in any year carries a certain je ne sais quoi.

"It can change the perception of the public in terms of how they view our program," Prince said.

Then again, maybe not.

UCLA routed Texas 34-12 last season, yet here we are still talking about the need to ease concerns and change the perception of the program. After that victory in Austin, the Bruins survived a close call against lowly Washington State proceeded to lose six of their last seven game. They started this season with high hopes but have yet to deliver a performance that makes you believe that things are headed in the right direction.

As it turned out, that victory over Texas wasn't exactly the marquee victory it had seemed because even though Texas was ranked No. 7 at the time, the Longhorns went on to lose six of their next eight games and finished below .500 for the first time since 1997. The Bruins caught Texas in a down year.

UCLA seems to have had these seemingly program-changing wins every year since Neuheisel took over. The Bruins defeated Tennessee in 2008 and again in 2009 in addition to that win at Texas last season, but they are still trying to get over the hump of mediocrity.

"I've had three games like this in my life where it's like this is the game that's going to turn it all around, so I don't put that kind of weight on it anymore," senior safety Tony Dye said. "We did it last year, and then we dropped the ball after that. It's going to be important that if we get the high this time, that we keep it. We keep going with it. That's what will turn around the program."

The current view from the outside, if you listen to talk radio and read message boards, is that the players don't care about winning, the coaches don't have the ability to turn the team into a winner and the administration isn't committed to having an elite football program.

A victory over Texas might help sway some of those opinions.

"It's not just win this and the view has changed permanently," Prince said. "We have to continue to win and show that we can win, but it definitely gets people paying attention to us again if we can win this game."

And that's why a victory over this Texas team this year is exactly what UCLA needs right now.

Peter Yoon covers UCLA for ESPNLA.com.