With Rick Neuheisel on his way out and the UCLA Bruins again thrown into uncertainty, we asked our experts for insight into what has transpired in Westwood, and what's ahead.
1. Can UCLA compete against Oregon and USC? What will it take?
Peter Yoon, UCLA beat writer: Anyone can compete at that level if it commits to it. UCLA needs to pay a top-tier coach and top-tier assistants, upgrade the practice facilities and reduce the academic restrictions on admitting athletes. Basically, UCLA needs to start playing by the same rules as those programs.
Ramona Shelburne, columnist: Not right now and not for the next few years. The Bruins are too far behind in talent, organization and facilities to compete consistently with those programs in the immediate future. But if they're serious about spending all the extra money they're getting in revenue from the Pac-12 TV contract, snagging a coach like Chris Petersen and giving him what he needs to build a successful program, things could change in a few years.
Mark Saxon, USC beat writer: Yes. Stanford is proof of that. It will take hiring the best recruiter UCLA can find, because whoever it is will be going head-to-head with Lane Kiffin and Ed Orgeron, two good recruiters with a lot of momentum behind their program at the moment.
Blair Angulo, ESPN L.A. contributor: The Bruins can be competitive, if only because they reside on a gold mine. Talent-rich Southern California is loaded year after year, so the resources for success are there. All the new coach has to do is change the second-tier perception many high school kids have of UCLA's football program. A victory against USC or another top school would likely create a ripple effect.
2. Should Chris Petersen take this job? If not, then who?
Yoon: I'm not sold that Petersen is the home run hire everyone thinks he is. He's had undeniable success, but I'm not sure success at Boise State translates to success outside of Boise State. He plays two or three big games a year there. At UCLA, he'll have eight or nine. And how many of his top players could qualify academically at UCLA? He's the safe choice, though, and UCLA likes to play safe.
Shelburne: It really depends on what he wants out of life. Everything I've heard about Chris Petersen is that he loves it in Boise, values the stability he has there and enjoys the small-town charms of the place. Other schools have tried to lure him away and he's said no. The difference this time is that the school is moving to the Big East Conference soon, he's graduating quarterback Kellen Moore and a majority of the starters off this year's team. The time might be right. If it's not, I'd like to see UCLA step back and find a young, hungry coach with something to prove, such as former defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker or University of San Diego's Ron Caragher.
Saxon: I don't think he will. He seems content in his small pond. Personally, I think they should bring in a coach who will run a pro-style offense, because so many topflight players in Los Angeles want to play in the NFL. A spread offense might be more effective in some ways, but it will give UCLA a local disadvantage in finding talent.
Angulo: Yes, Petersen should take the job. If Petersen's nonconference scheduling over the years has told us anything, it's that he likes a challenge or two. Attempting to restore a reeling Bruins program would be his biggest challenge yet. He'd have a chance to make noise at a BCS automatic-qualifying school -- something he hasn't had at Boise State.
3. You're in the living room of a top local recruit. What's your UCLA pitch?
Yoon: You have a chance to be part of the reason UCLA's program turns around. If you come here and UCLA starts winning, you will forever be known as the reason. You will come in with a new coach, so there will be no preconceived notions about current roles, which means you will compete for playing time right off the bat. And you get to play in Cowboys Stadium in 2014.
Shelburne: The same as it's always been for UCLA: Why go to USC to back up Robert Woods and Marqise Lee when you can come to UCLA, play right away and help build something up. There's a lot to like about UCLA if you're a recruit. The Bruins play in a beautiful stadium, in a conference with a great national television deal now, at a school with great academics. Who cares if the practice field isn't the most modern?
Saxon: That's easy. You'll be coming to one of the best public universities in America. You'll be competing in one of the three best conferences in the country. You have a chance to end the football monopoly in Los Angeles. Invite them to visit campus and you're done.
Angulo: I wouldn't leave the room without discussing the academic side of things with the recruit's parents. That's usually what parents want to hear, and UCLA has a lot to offer in that aspect of college life. With recruits -- especially the elite five- and four-star prospects who have aspirations to play in the NFL -- I'd offer opportunity. There isn't one All-American (or all-conference selection, for that matter) entrenched in a position. Every spot is up for grabs. Freshmen can come in, make an immediate impact and start their own legacy.
4. UCLA has been a top-10 program in the past. What's different now?
Yoon: The landscape of college football has changed, but UCLA didn't. Lately, there seems to be a correlation between victory total and NCAA investigations. UCLA hasn't gotten with that program yet, although the last time UCLA was Pac-10 champions, players were receiving "extra benefits" of handicap parking placards.
Shelburne: Everyone else has gotten better at everything else. UCLA hasn't really upgraded its way of doing business in the last two decades. Aside from a few grand gestures like persuading Norm Chow to join the program, UCLA hasn't evolved nearly enough to keep up with the leaders of the pack in college football. This infusion of money and influence from the Pac-12 should help, but UCLA must spend well because it's going to everyone else in the conference too.
Saxon: Other than Stanford, no school in the conference has such difficult academic requirements for its athletes. People say Cal, but that's not quite true. Cal has majors that UCLA does not, so marginal students can get by. There's nothing UCLA can do about this, so it may as well accept it and try to do what Stanford has done. That might require more national recruiting.
Angulo: UCLA has always been a short drive from the Santa Monica beaches and within jogging distance of the Hollywood hills. But now maybe more than ever before, the common belief that UCLA players are "soft" appears to be true. From what I've gathered by speaking with players, it's a mentality issue: too much thinking, not enough playing. The Bruins too often seem to play scared, intent on not making mistakes rather than taking risks. The new coach has to instill a tougher mindset.
5. What is the biggest challenge UCLA faces going forward?
Yoon: Academic restrictions on athletes. It's simply too difficult to recruit consistently when many top targets are denied admission. The standards are high at UCLA and athletes receive little leeway. It reduces the talent pool significantly when you can recruit only kids with certain GPAs and SAT scores.
Shelburne: UCLA's biggest problem the last decade or so has been in recruiting, specifically in Los Angeles. The best players in this town have been consistently going to USC or other schools in the conference. Only a few have found their way to Westwood. Karl Dorrell's last few classes at UCLA had started to stem that tide with players like Brian Price (Crenshaw) and Rahim Moore (Dorsey) but the last couple of seasons that's fallen off again. The next coach needs to own L.A., or at least do a lot better.
Saxon: Two challenges spring to mind. Academics, as I mentioned, and the fact this state is so broke, it had to shut down state parks. Let's hope the economy picks up, because UCLA's coaching search is the least of our problems if it doesn't.
Angulo: Three letters: USC. The area's best players are signing with the Trojans or other Pac-12 schools. UCLA can't afford that to happen on a yearly basis given the fact that it can't nab the premier out-of-state kids, either. And really, with the Bruins playing in a big-market city like Los Angeles, their crosstown rivals should be the only team standing between them and Pac-12 South titles. UCLA has to start winning battles in its own city before it sets its sights elsewhere.