The UCLA backstory

In the week that followed UCLA's first victory over USC in eight years, a 13-9 outcome that derailed the Trojans' national title hopes, Karl Dorrell made a bold move: the Bruin head coach forbade his team from talking to the media. All week. Just like that. Silence. A year later, he was fired.

The 2007 canning of the Bruins' former Rose Bowl hero showed the kind of urgency UCLA has toward football. Sure, his teams reached three bowl games in his five years. Yes, he could actually get fired up, like his Howard Dean-inspired postgame speech in front of the UCLA student section after his club KO'd Oklahoma in 2005.

But as his teams were prone to fits of mediocrity, Dorrell never did enough to make the Bruins a compelling story in a town where box office appeal is vital. As Pete Carroll built his USC dynasty, the Bruins scuffled. And just as teams take their identity from their coaches, so did UCLA from Dorrell. Los Angeles Times scribe T.J. Simers dubbed him "Karl Dullard." (Stanford backers, of course, can relate to being overshadowed by a hated rival. Cal hired Jeff Tedford the same year Buddy Teevens came aboard on The Farm.)

Rick Neuheisel so far has it half right. The third-year coach is an electric personality -- just one who has yet to turn UCLA into a serious threat. The Bruins remain hard up for national prominence, and Saturday's nationally-televised game versus Stanford will be revealing as to Neuheisel's progress.

The Cardinal camp, using history as a guide, should stay weary. Stanford is a paltry 4-10 all-time in the Rose Bowl taking on the Bruins. Last-second defeats there in 1990 and 2008 eventually kept the Card from going bowling.

For conversation's sake, consider Stanford's worst home losses in Pac-8/Pac-10 conference play: they were smackdowns courtesy of the Bru Crew, 59-13 in 1973 and 49-0 in 1987.

A Stanford loss pushes UCLA into contention for a Pac-10 crown, a destination Bruin fans/media know-it-alls see the Bruins seriously challenging for next year. Star linebacker Akeem Ayers is a junior. Quarterback Kevin Prince is a sophomore. Tailback Malcolm Jones, last year's Gatorade Player of the Year as a high school star, and a serious Stanford recruit, is a freshman.

"If you look at the UCLA roster, they set up nicely for 2011," says ESPN.com's Ted Miller, who covers the Pac-10. "That's when Neuheisel's strong recruiting should pay off."

But a victory by the favored Cardinal would keep the Bruins stuck in gear, where they've been for over a decade.

How did UCLA get to this point? A football game can only have one of two outcomes, but a program can veer in a myriad of directions following a particular contest.

Despite 670 yards of total offense, the 10-0 Bruins suffered a crushing 49-45 defeat at Miami in 1998. A victory would have put UCLA in the first-ever Bowl Championship Series title game. (Instead, Tennessee beat Florida State.) Hurricane fans stormed the field. Bruin receiver Brian Poli-Dixon, tears streaming down his cheeks, spiked his helmet in disgust. A gracious Miami 'backer handed him the headgear. Poli-Dixon tossed it 20 yards forward.

The Bruins then fell flat against Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, where Badger fans outnumbered those from the hometown team. UCLA proceeded to go the entire decade of the 2000's without winning a Pac-10 title, a drought that hadn't occurred since the 1930's. Since 2000, the Bruins have beaten Oregon and USC once apiece.

The last time USC went on probation, UCLA capitalized. The Trojans' ban from postseason play in 1982 and 1983 coincided with consecutive Rose Bowl wins courtesy of Terry Donahue's Bruins. As the Sons of Westwood wait for encore, they also remember high expectations of years past.

"There are actually a lot of people here who believe Donahue didn't do enough with what he had," said one Bruin alum/regular ticket-holder. "They think he should have competed for national championships. As far as Neuheisel goes, he didn't have much to work with right away. I think next year is the year."


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