Somebody get Rick Neuheisel an iPad.
The UCLA head coach remained blissfully ignorant as the murmuring grew while the Bruins de-planed and got onto the bus that would eventually take them home from a brutal 31-6 loss at Utah, which seemingly ended the team’s chances for a berth in the Pac-12 title game.
Only Washington State’s 37-27 upset of Arizona State later Saturday night breathed second life into these Bruins, who remain tied at second in the South division with 4-3 conference records, behind USC, which is ineligible for the postseason.
His players, active on their newfangled doohickeys, started buzzing – albeit quietly, Neuheisel said – while the not-so-old ball coach had to be “told by some people who were paying close attention.
“The players certainly knew,” Neuheisel said. “The players, with all their devices, had been keeping track. But we are not going to deviate from one game at a time.”
Neuheisel’s battle this week is two-fold: shifting the focus away from the Utes and onto the Colorado Buffaloes, who come to the Rose Bowl on Saturday fresh off a 48-29 stunner over Arizona, while simultaneously not allowing the team to look ahead, tempting as it may be.
And it certainly is a dangling carrot for the Bruins, the elephant in the room being a season-ending matchup at USC.
“Listen, I can talk til I’m blue in the face, but it’s not like these kids aren’t aware,” Neuheisel said. “They know. It’s just (about) what we focus on.”
Neuheisel would eventually admit, “We’re in it. … and we are excited about trying to stay in it,” but the fact that the Bruins do still control their destiny in this up-and-down season is perplexing.
Three weeks ago, UCLA seemed just happy to have rebounded from a blowout loss to Arizona with a win over Cal when the Sun Devils headed to the Rose Bowl. But UCLA did away with Arizona State, 29-28, to pull into a tie, and the Sun Devils were again tripped up by the Cougars.
To make it simple: UCLA will win the division outright with two wins, even in Arizona State wins its last two, by way of tie-breaker. If Arizona State wins both and UCLA loses one, the Sun Devils advance to face the North division champion, likely Oregon, which handled Stanford on Saturday. If Arizona State loses both and UCLA loses one, it would leave Utah as the victor.
Somehow, the vastly inferior South division will send a representative with at least four conference losses.
That doesn’t scare Neuheisel off, though.
“I went to the Rose Bowl as a senior at 6-4-1 and we did just fine.”
Bumps and Bruises
Neuheisel was noncommittal on the return of senior safety Tony Dye (neck), who returned to practice last week in a non-contact jersey.
“Tony’s chomping at the bit to get back in there,” Neuheisel said. “We’ll look and see how he does, if he gets into practice and starts to see if he can have some contact.”
Neuheisel sounded unsure about the status of senior running back Derrick Coleman (hip), saying, “We’ll wait and see. But we’ve got our fingers crossed that he’ll be ready to go.”