Bumped. GO BRUINS. -N
UCLA had been scheduled to open the season with Fresno St. at the Rose Bowl with Tennesse visiting later in the season, but then ESPN came to the table with an intriguing propostion. Switch the schedule around and open the season versus the Vols on ESPN in primetime on Labor Day. With a program lacking a lot of talent and a new coaching staff trying to build an identity there were a lot of reasons to decline. Chris Foster outlined the pros and cons pretty well on Sunday.
UCLA gets a national television game to open the Rick Neuheisel era. The rewards can be extravagant. The dangers can be expensive.
An upset could pay dividends. A pasting could put the Bruins in debt.
"We want to be a national recruiter," Neuheisel said. "To have this kind of exposure is terrific. We want to have people across the United States look at this game and think this would be a cool place to play."
The glass-is-significantly-less-full side is, the Bruins could also look like a program in need of major repairs, which could have recruits turning off UCLA along with the TV should the game become a rout.
Well, following the 27-24 overtime bruin victory, Neuheisel looks to be a genius. He showed more confidence in his team than anybody outside of the program did by throwing them into the fire on national television so let's take a look at what this game could mean for the program.
1) The most obvious benefit the Bruins received from this win with the nation watching is what Neuheisel outlined as the reason for scheduling the game: recruiting. Recruits all over Southern California are often tuned into UCLA games, but on Labor Day recruits from Arizona, Alabama, Texas, Virginia and every other state under the sun were in front of the tube watching the Bruins pull out an upset victory at the historic Rose Bowl filled with blue clad Bruin fans. Yes, it is unfortunate our next game versus BYU will be on Versus, but I guarantee you more recruits across the nation will search for the channel in hopes of catching the game than would have on Sunday.
2) The Bruin fan fan base will be revitalized with this win. Many UCLA football fans were put to sleep in the past five years, but on Monday night they were awakened. Over 68,000 fans filled the Rose Bowl on Monday night and you can bet that some of those in the LA area who chose not to attend hopped on Ticketmaster today to buy tickets for games the rest of the season.
3) You can bet that had the Bruins gotten off to an 0-3 or 0-4 start (which was a very real possibility) the press would have come down hard on the program. Those who follow the program know the Bruins face a tough schedule with an undermanned roster, but Neuheisel is a character and he has had issues at past universities. It would have been an easy target for the national and local press. The media would constantly bash on the program and that kind of stuff wears on the players. While I'm sure the players won't ease up now because they have a win under the belt, they sure do have a weight lifted off their back. The pressure is off and they can focus solely on what they do best: playing football.
4) A game like this could push the Pac 10's new commisioner, whoever he may be, to improve the conference's TV contract. I'm sure Dan Guerrero will see the impact of being on a nation stage and you would have to think he'll be a proponent of moving some games to ESPN when the time comes for a new contract. That's one AD on board and hopefully others take notice and inform the school presidents of the benefits when contract time comes around.
5) The media will take notice of the Bruins. With the exception of 13-9, has there really been any reason to take notice recently? Now the media has a reason to take notice it is paying dividends already. As hoo mentioned in his fanshot, UCLA is #23 in the newest AP poll. The Bruins are also on the verge of cracking the coaches poll, checking in as the last team to be left out this week by a single vote. Had the Bruins beaten Tennessee on Saturday afternoon on FSN there is no way the Bruins are sniffing the polls. People would have been watching East Carolina's upset of Virginia Tech or SC's win over Virginia. Later in the day they'd check the scores from around the nation, see UCLA pulled out the win and go "wow, that's a nice win." Instead, everybody watched the entire game, it led off SportsCenter and the highlights were shown twice in a one hour broadcast. The media and people around the country saw what happened at the Rose Bowl and the media has taken notice only one day later as evidenced by the newest polls.
The list of benefits could go on and on and in retrospect it's easy to question why Neuheisel would even consider leaving the schedule as it was originally planned and skipping the Labor Day opportuinity. Let's keep in mind the effects of a loss Monday though. The nation could have laughed at the Bruins, recruits dismissed the program and nobody would make a UCLA game a must watch for the rest of the year. We'd just be that rebuilding team that has nothing to offer for a few years. Neuheisel showed confidence in his team though and took a big risk, but as we know, with big risk comes big rewards.
Photo credit (LA Times)