In a moment of rare prescience before the college-football season began, I named UCLA as one of two Pac-12 teams to surprise (the other was Washington).
The first part of that didn’t turn out so well.
True, I wasn’t alone. Kirk Herbstreit of ESPN picked the Bruins to play in the Pac-12 title game, and he — and I, as well — selected them to beat Texas. After that didn’t happen, Herbstreit said good-naturedly, “I’m done picking UCLA.”
Once again, me too.
With UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel proclaiming his team a contender in the Pac-12 South, the Bruins ventured to Tucson Thursday night with a lot to play for. They were 3-3 and 2-1, and a victory would put them in a first-place tie in their division. Arizona, meanwhile, was 1-5, apparently playing for nothing other than regaining a good feeling about competing in football under interim coach Tim Kish.
A national-TV audience on ESPN must have wondered which team should have fired its coach. It was 42-7, ‘Zona, at the half, it’s now 45-7 late in the third quarter and I’m going to assume the Bruins don’t have enough moxie to make the rest of it interesting the rest of the way.
It’s hard to imagine a more feckless, clueless performance than the Bruins turned in. Arizona scored and scored some more. The Bruins got no push up front defensively, played soft in the secondary and allowed the Wildcats to run like they hadn’t run this season. And there were the usual sideline shots of a UCLA quarterback gesturing with palms up and Neuheisel admonishing him.
Rece Davis, the ESPN commentator, said late in the half, “Somebody in a gold helmet has to show some pride.”
Then there was the fight. With two seconds left in the half, a brawl broke out on the field, with both benches emptying. Most of it was peace-keeping, but there was some wrestling, and two players ejected — UCLA receiver Taylor Embree (son of Colorado coach Jon Embree; as if he hasn’t had enough problems this year) and Arizona cornerback Shaquille Richardson.
Richardson is suspended for the first half of the Washington game next week, and ESPN quoted a Pac-12 official as saying the videotape will be reviewed, with the possibility of more suspensions if warranted.
As for the fight, you can only imagine how Larry Scott, the Pac-12 commissioner, was cringing. The brouhaha had started with a striped-shirted imposter official running onto the field, so for those without any stake in the proceedings, there was an element of slapstick to the proceedings — just what you want when your conference is on the national stage.
For Neuheisel, the former Washington coach, it was just about the worst-possible endorsement of his fourth-year regime. Perhaps the brawl was simply something that erupted, over which he had no control. But he can’t excuse the Bruins’ performance, which gives him an 18-26 record at his alma mater.
Said ESPN analyst Jesse Palmer early in the third quarter, “It looks to me like Rick Neuheisel has lost his team.”