The other football team in town resumes its trip to irrelevance

Back on September 30, I wrote what I considered, at best, a slightly optimistic, but mostly realistic look at the fortunes of the UCLA football team after an upset win at Texas.

Since then, the Bruins have seen almost nothing go right for them. UCLA was able to get its record to 3-2 with a 42-28 win at the Rose Bowl over Washington State, but then lost by 28 at Berkeley, by 47 at Eugene against #1 Oregon on national TV, and then lost by eight at home to an Arizona team that was playing with its backup quarterback. With just four games left in the season, UCLA is 3-5 overall and 1-4 in Pac-10 play.

The remaining four games for UCLA don't present many opportunities for a win. UCLA hosts Oregon State on Saturday. The Beavers have three losses, but all were on the road and two of them were to two of the best teams in the country: Boise State and TCU. (The other was an overtime loss at Washington.) UCLA might have a chance to win at Arizona State or Washington, but another season-ending loss to USC seems all but certain.

Also, the win over Texas looks far less impressive as the Longhorns have gone on to lose twice more at home, to Iowa State and Baylor.

The Bruins have lost their starting quaterback, Kevin Prince, for the season due to a knee injury that he suffered during the win at Texas. Sophomore Richard Brehaut has taken over the job, with mixed results at best. Brehaut threw two long touchdown passes against Arizona on Saturday, but, with four chances in the fourth quarter to lead UCLA to a go-ahead or tying score, failed to get the team anywhere near the end zone.

Coach Rick Neuheisel and offensive coordinator Norm Chow have tried a new offense this season, The Pistol, but it is producing just 313 yards a game, the worst of any team in the Pac-10. Nevada, the team that UCLA's offense is modeled after, has produced 520 yards of offense per game. (No. 1 Oregon has the top offense in the country in terms of yardage at 573 per game.)

Every week UCLA looks more and more like they are forever consigned to the second half of the Pac-10 (or the Pac-12 next year if you prefer.) In a conference where offense is king, UCLA looks to be nowhere near being able to keep up with the Oregons, Stanfords, and USCs of the world. (Having to play Utah every year in the new Pac-12 isn't going to help, although one game each year against an inept Colorado squad probably won't hurt.)

However, it could be off-field activities that could be hurting UCLA more than what it does on the field. For its last two games, four different players (two each game) have been suspended for unspecified infractions of team rules, although it was reported that the players had failed drug tests. In a season when USC is on probation, UCLA is doing its best to fritter away any positive P.R. it could generate.

UCLA has been receiving its share of ridicule in the press from T.J. Simers, which is to be expected (and deserved). But, now the Bruins are even receiving harsh criticism for their jersey from sports uniform expert Paul Lukas. (You can watch a commercial for them with "Friday Night Lights" actor Michael B. Jordan for the uniforms here. It is really hard to read the words to a college fight song without it sounding unintentionally dorky.)

2010 looks to be another in a line of rather undistinguished seasons for the Bruins. Since last making the Rose Bowl in 1999 (after blowing a chance to play for the BCS championship), UCLA has had one 10-2 season (in 2005 and the losses were by 38 to Arizona and by 47 to USC), 4 losing seasons (with another likely this year) and have just three bowl wins. And those came against Northwestern, New Mexico, and Temple.

Is UCLA ever going to experience a resurgence in football that Neuheisel promised when he was hired? It seems a long way off. And with the amount of money that college football provides (or doesn't provide if your team isn't very good), universities aren't likely to stick with a losing coach just for sentimental reasons.

Another 4-8 season could put UCLA football on the same spot on the Los Angeles sports pecking order that USC basketball occupies. Or even, gulp, the Clippers.

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