Joel Klatt on UCLA’s opener: Neuheisel isn’t stupid

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A brief Q-and-A with Joel Klatt, the former University of Colorado quarterback under Gary Barnett and current Pac-12/Big 12 analyst for Fox Sports Net, who is calling Saturday’s UCLA-Houston game (Prime Ticket, 12:30 p.m.) with Craig Bolerjack and Petros Papadakis:

Q: Not to steel your thunder from Saturday’s broadcast, but maybe you can give us your take on the UCLA quaterback situation. Rick Neuheisel has said Tuesday that Kevin Prince will start, but Richard Brehaut will also get in, and there are followers who say actualy the freshman Brett Hundley is the one who could be there. If you’re looking at the big picture here, building positive sutations, is this the best way to attack it?

Klatt: “Clearly there’s the old adage where if you have two quarterbacks it means you don’t have one. It’s true that UCLA has struggled here. Kevin has had a heck of a time staying healthy, but Rick seems to be so much more comfortable with him than Brehaut, who tends to look better. You can’t underestimate how important it is for a staff to be comfortable with who’s taking the snaps. Clearly, that’s Kevin.
“I’m excited to see both guys play. UCLA has a good offensive package, a good offensive line, great running backs. It just seems to be the need to get the quarterback spot to click.
“And Rick has really figured out how to draw focus away from those two, and Hunley, by saying he’s on the hot seat. That’s a brilliant move. You only get three hires as an athletic director. That’s terrific on his part, to take pressure off everyone else.”

Q: So you don’t buy that Neuheisel is in trouble?

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A: “He’s a smart individual. We know him well in Colorado. He was here (starting in 1994 as an assistant, then ’95-’98) long before I played (2002-05), but he’s well known in the circle of alumns. All the players who played for him speak well of him.
“I think coaches that know they’re in trouble and don’t have a good feeling about the upcoming season won’t address it. They talk about everything else except their status. So, especially from a veteran guy, he quietly knows he has a good club. He’s sitting there thinking, ‘Boy, you know, clearly people say I haven’t had success. I’ll admit that.’ But if you get the attention away from everyone else, they can have success.”

Q: Were you ever in a smiliar quarterback situation coming up at CU back in the day?

A: “Every quarterback goes through that. In my first year, it was a battle to see who’d start. In 2003, I was able to come out and have some success early. We beat a ranked Colorado State team, and we beat UCLA at home, and we got momentum early. But the next year, we struggled and I got sat down. I didn’t deal with it to the extent Prince and Brehaut are dealing with it. But unless you’re name is Colt McCoy or Tim Tebow, you have to battle for your job. It’s only going to make them stronger team leaders.”

Q: Again, looking a the big picture, will Neuheisel have critics no matter what he accomplishes this season, or doesn’t accomplish? How much of this is really a make-or-break season or just a facade as you think?

A: “Clearly, he’s had some success tanglable success. If ask people last year that UCLA will go on the raod and beat Texas, and then beat handily a Houston team with Keenan at quarterback, they’d say the team would win eight, nine, 10 games. That didn’t happen. But those are games that fans want to use to say ‘we’re getting better.’ The fact that Houston and Texas fell off the map hurt those as benchmark wins. Then they struggled in the Pac-10. For me, they need more tangible wins. A total of seven or eight would be about average for this team, candidly. They’re a better team, and in this new Pac-12 format, I’m much higher on UCLA than most are. Is Rick in trouble? He’s got a great chance to win eight, nine or 10 games.”

Q: How does Colorado and Utah fit into the Pac-12 picture?

A:“It’s harder for me to speak to Utah. I’m not as familiar with them, having covered the Pac-10 and Big 12 the last few years. Utah is an anomaly. Four years ago, I wouldn’t have thought a team from the Mountain West could give any big conference team a legitimate game, but Utah has proven to be a proven commodity, winning BCS games. The fact USC can’t play in a championship game really helps Utah. They can be with UCLA and Arizona State battling it out for the South title.
“As for Colorado, it’s a perfect fit for the Pac-12. I don’t know if many in the Pac-12 footprint agree, but there is so many alumni out West. I know when we played UCLA out there in 2002, we had two sections of the Rose Bowl filled, field to the top. Colorado fans always travel well.

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“The past five years hasn’t been a good representation of the program. Colorado is a football program, on top, since 1989, Top 20 programs, contending for conference championships, national titles, Heisman winners. When John Embry (left) — not if, when — he brings them back to that level, it’ll be a fantastic addition for the entire Pac-12. This year, they’ll struggle with a new staff and having to right a lot of wrongs, but it coule be a year to upset some pretty good teams and find itself in a bowl game. Colorado has the toughest schedule in the NCAA. So it will be some tough sledding, but they’ll be down the road a great addition.”

== Klatt is a sports-talk show host with former Colorado quarterback C.J. Johnson on 102.3 FM “The Ticket” in Denver from 3-to-7 p.m. Mountain time.

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