UCLA has one game remaining, Saturday’s grudge match against cross-town rival USC at the Rose Bowl, but Rick Neuheisel’s 2011 passion bucket is already starting to fill.
In the face of a 4-7 record and the team’s second bowl-less offseason in three years, the UCLA head coach continues to wave the flag of optimism.
Even after the Bruins’ 55-34 loss at Arizona State on Friday.
“We’re going to be a better football team,” Neuheisel said. “To have that actually come to fruition, you have to count on a few things. You have to count on a reasonable amount of health. You’ve got to count on the fact there’s going to be an unbelievable amount of work in winter months. That I can promise.
“I would be crushed if we don’t make postseason next year.”
Despite the guaranteed losing record, Neuheisel looks back at winnable games this season to maintain his faith, believing a few crucial games changed the course of the year.
“I think we’re close,” Neuheiel said during his Sunday conference call with reporters. “The score is 10-7 when (sophomore quarterback Richard Brehaut) goes out against Washington. (Sophomore quarterback Kevin) Prince doesn’t get any training camp time against Kansas State. The Arizona game was there, we had chances, we didnt get it done. I think we’re close.”
Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, though, and certainly not in college football recruiting, so Neuheisel will have to do his best sell-job of his short UCLA tenure during the offseason.
The Bruins have had three straight top-15 classes in Neuheisel’s reign, as he’s been able to sell the future now.
With now looking pretty spotty, the future is all he’s got.
“I’m tired of doing excuses,” Neuheisel said. “I’m looking for some hungry guys who want to play ball who want to get an education at the best place in the country. We’ll do fine in recruiting. We will do fine.”
Bumps and Bruises
Sophomore cornerback Andrew Abbott and freshman defensive tackle Cassius Marsh and Andrew Abbott both suffered concussions against the Sun Devils and are going through the protocol early this week. Neuheisel expects them to play against USC.
Mitch or Matt?
Despite USC quarterback Matt Barkley’s proclamation to ESPN Los Angeles on Saturday that he would play against UCLA on Saturday after suffering a high ankle sprain against Oregon State on Nov. 20, Neuheisel is preparing for both Barkley and backup Mitch Mustain.
In place of Barkley, Mustain completed 20-of-37 passes for 177 yards and an interception in the Trojans’ 20-16 loss to Notre Dame on Saturday.
“I’m just watching that tape right now,” Neuheisel said. “Mitch Mustain is a quality, quality quarterback. He was a superstar as a freshman. No question they can run that offense with Mitch Mustain in there.”