We're all great at parsing every move by every coach and every player.
It's one of the things that's fun about blogs and message boards, too. The game gets played or the recruit gets recruited and then we sit around and try to figure out what happened after the fact.
Well, that's all well and good, but what if the reasons don't matter so much. What if we're just not a good football team and it doesn't matter if it's the player's fault or the prior coach's fault or the current coach's fault or the fan's fault or the marketing department's fauit or the administration's fault or it's the fan's fault.
What if, in 2008, Bruin football is just not that good? What if, no matter what anyone does, the team is going nowhere?
And -- if that's the case -- when do you start packing it in and start playing for next year?
Or do you never pack it in and play for next year?
If Rick Neuheisel was ever going to have the luxury of playing for next year, this is the time, though. As much as he may care about the seniors, he didn't recruit them and in a couple of months, he'll never coach them again. Their careers, for all intents and purposes, are done. They aren't winning a national title. They aren't going to a BCS Bowl game. They are headed for the history bin of UCLA football as a group of kids who played on the prior coach's 10 win team and many of them played in the 13-9 upset of USC.
Before going any further, what does playing for next year mean? To me, it means that younger players start getting longer looks, regardless of whether or not it is the best move for winning every game. In practical terms, it would mean that while Khalil Bell would continue to play, young runners would get more carries than they normally would if winning was paramount. It would also mean that Ben Olson doesn't get to play much down the stretch -- like it or not Kevin Craft and Chris Forcier need the work more than he does.
The answer could be that you never pack in the season and start playing for next year. Maybe you just keep going with your best players and you don't worry about getting returing players more reps in games or practice. It could be that if you shelve the senors, you'll do some psychological damage to the team. Or, maybe, you need to go with the younger guys as a morale boost.
Is it a philosophical question? Is there something "owed" the seniors because they are seniors -- is there something they've earned because they are in the program four or five years and have given a lot of time, blood, sweat and effort to the team? Or is it practical -- we appreciate all you've done, but hell -- SCOREBOARD -- you haven't let the team to all that many victories and now we have to go with the younger guys. Just thinking out loud, does the fact that Neuheisel is a Bruin himself factor in? Does he "relate" to the seniors because they are Bruins and he's a Bruin and therefore he'll stick with them? Would a more mercenary coach with no prior ties to the program be more willing to protect his own career by thinking about next year, this year? Is philosophy better in the long run than pragmatism?
I really don't know the answer to this one. I also think that even if you might start playing for next year, this year, you can't start yet, even if the ultimate outcome might already be obvious. Technically, we can still win the conference. We can still play in the Rose Bowl. Yes, we'd probably have to win out, but there is still that chance.
On the other hand, in two or three weeks, it could become painfully clear that the season is a wash -- nothing more than a transition to some better future. If that became more obvious to everyone, when does this year become next year?