It's really amazing how things can change in life - and in college football.
Literally one moment you have visions of a very positive 8-4 season, and the future looking bright with a recruiting class that's jumping on the bandwagon.
The next moment that vision for the season turns to 5-6 - with all the requisite accompanying visions concerning the future and recruiting.
The loss subsequently puts UCLA's back massively up against the wall.
We've talked about crossroads for the program this season, but this is about the most heightened crossroads situation you could have possibly imagined. UCLA will need to win one of its two last remaining games to get bowl eligible and to eke out a winning season. Without it, the season will generally be put in the "failure" column by everyone concerned - the fans, boosters, alumni, and certainly also the players and coaches.
And probably the recruits.
UCLA needs one win, against either Oregon next week in Eugene, or against USC at home in the Rose Bowl December 5th. Both seem like tough propositions, but we're not naive enough to believe that it couldn't happen.
As we've learned time and time again, especially Saturday: anything can happen in college football. Fortunes can shift with the wind.
There were some moments of clarity in the game against Washington State. At halftime, down 21-10, it was quite apparent what was on the line for the team, the season and the program. You said to yourself: "This is it. This upcoming half probably decides the season and possibly determines the path of Karl Dorrell's head coaching career at UCLA." The drama was certainly set, being down in a game where you were getting out-played, with two of your best players and offensive weapons (Maurice Drew and Marcedes Lewis) on the sidelines injured. You knew that UCLA would have to show what it was made of, have to show some resolve to win the game.
The team definitely didn't lose heart. In fact, they played quite a bit better and with more intensity in the second half than they did in the lethargic first half. They fought back and came within one 2-point conversion of sending the game into overtime.
While you can't give credit to the team for coming out incredibly flat and seemingly distracted in the first half, you do have to give them credit for the effort and desire they showed in the second half. This team this season has been quite a bit different in that aspect than some recent Bruin teams under Bob Toledo - they definitely had heart and resolve.
Overall, looking down the tunnel at the potential future that this loss might have laid before us, you have to be objective and sober in recognizing the impact of the loss. If UCLA does indeed go 5-6 this season, after it did make progress as a program overall, the season will generally be judged a failure by most on-lookers. It's amazing that so much of what the team and coaches did well this season could potentially be erased in the minds of most. It's almost Twilight Zone-esque to think that one game, even one half, could change a perspective on a season so drastically. If UCLA had just held on to that 11-point lead against Arizona State two weeks ago with 7 minutes remaining in the game, or beaten Washington State Saturday, everything would be different. But without either of those two scenarios in UCLA's favor, all of the good from this season could very well be forgotten.
It's plainly not fair. But then again, what is?
Given that, given the unfairness of it all, how could this impact the program and Karl Dorrell? Well, first UCLA still does have two more games to play, as any player or coach would tell you. And that's a legitimate point, because many huge determining factors to the future haven't played out just yet. But that doesn't mean we can't do "what-ifs." What if UCLA loses its last two games and goes 5-6? It's going to be a hard situation to spin for the program and the coaches. Where they'd need to do the most selling is on the recruiting front with recruits. First, keeping the good recruits that have already committed committed. Secondly, trying to continue the recruiting momentum that UCLA had built a bit this season. How do you do that? You have to sell the positives of the season, the turnaround for the offense; how all of the foundation is in place and that the program just needs some more talent to get it where it's going. But being objective and sober, it will probably be tough, fighting the perception that the program followed up a disappointing first season under Dorrell where the team went 6-7 with a 5-6 season. Even a 6-6 season (a win in one of the last two games and a loss in a minor bowl) you'd be able to sell as a step in the right direction.
One huge factor is Ben Olson. We've analyzed it before and it's not difficult to look down the road and see that, when Drew Olson leaves after next season, the quarterback position is a huge question mark. If UCLA doesn't get a quarterback prospect that can take over the offense successfully after next season, the program would potentially struggle, enough that, if you're being objective and sober, Dorrell could be in trouble. You don't ever want to say that a certain recruit is the potential savior of a program, but Ben Olson is very much needed for the future of Dorrell and his program.
Even if Dorrell goes 5-6 this season, if he gets Ben Olson, he'll have a very strong chance of being successful. Next season, as we've analyzed, UCLA should have a winning season under Dorrell. The issue will be that 2006 season, and with Ben Olson Dorrell would have a fighting chance of more than likely putting together two successful seasons in a row and turning around the program. And, if there's any kind of sentiment about firing Dorrell after this year if he goes 5-6, he then really needs to get Ben Olson to help combat that.
So, it's amazing how simple the concept is, really:
If UCLA pulls out a win in one of its last two games, and goes either 6-6 or 7-5 (depending on the outcome of the bowl game), the program under Dorrell has a chance with or without Ben Olson.
If UCLA goes 5-6, you need to get Ben Olson.
This is not to say that either of these scenarios are certain or etched in stone, of course, in determining the future. If UCLA doesn't get Ben Olson it could still have another quarterback step up and be successful in 2006 and lead UCLA to its second consecutive winning season under Dorrell. It could have such a hugely successful season next year, go 11-1, for instance, and be ranked in the top five, and that creates enough buzz and momentum itself.
But we're playing the odds here. Objective and sober playing the odds you'd have to say it doesn't look likely.
But then again, objective and sober playing the odds anyone would have believed that UCLA would be 6-3 right now.
As we stated, anything can change -- in life and in college football - and very quickly. We'll see if UCLA can do another quick-change of direction in the next two games and avert the objective and sober playing of the odds.