Nestor, I have to start this by saying that I mean no disrespect by putting the team we play on Thanksgiving weekend in this subject line, but the fact is that, although I haven't seen it discussed here on BN or anywhere else, my feeling is that a no-longer-as-scary Southern Cal team makes this weekend's game against the Sun Devils a little more dangerous.
A couple weeks - and a couple Bruin victories - ago, still trying to stay optimistic after not being there to see UCLA win a game in 63 days (couldn't travel to Tennessee, and went to a wedding at the last minute rather than the Kansas State game), a friend and I looked at the remaining schedule and discussed how it was still possible to become bowl eligible, because Washington, Wazzu, and Arizona State were all beatable teams, if the fourth quarter in Corvallis proved not to be a fluke. In order to not sound like we were being overly optimistic, we were indirectly ceding the biggest game of the year because Southern Cal, even after its two losses at that point, was perceived as so dominant that you couldn't realistically expect to come out of the Mausoleum with a win.
Now, don't get me wrong. I was there in 2006, the guy with blue hair running around in the parking lot after the game lighting red-and-yellow pom-poms on fire with lighter fluid. (I still don't know why their fans were letting me have them after I asked - maybe they were trying to jump off the bandwagon as quickly as they could?) UCLA never lost to the team across town during my years in college. I know instinctively that you don't write off this game under any circumstances. But it sounded more reasonable to say we could win those next three games than to say that we could beat what was at the time still a top-10 ranked team.
If we were to start that conversation today, though, I have to think that the last game of the regular season doesn't look as daunting as it did a few weeks ago. If Karl Dorrell and his staff could beat the Hated Ones in a year when they would go on to win the Rose Bowl, they look much less scary under the current regime, and with a UCLA team that's starting to show that it might be gelling. I'm starting to hear, more and more, about how UCLA has a decent chance to end the season 7-5, and I'm finding it harder to convince myself to think only of the game this weekend. Even if we don't win this weekend, after all, we can still fulfill Rick Neuheisel's promise to Dan Patrick.
Just a couple minutes ago, looking at the standings, I was reminded that we are playing a team that is 4-6 going into the game at the Rose Bowl. We have to assume that Arizona State also wants to finish the season bowl-eligible. Unfortunately for them, that means they can't lose any more games. Suddenly, if UCLA sees Southern Cal as a beatable team, Arizona State goes into the weekend needing this game more than UCLA does.
A couple weeks ago, watching Dennis Erickson pace the sideline as an ASU player was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after a sack that would have forced the Trojans to punt (on a drive that led to a Trojans score, arguably losing the game for Arizona State with that one stupid celebratory moment), I recalled the anger I felt watching a Toledo-coached UCLA playing against a Dennis Erickson-coached Oregon State years ago. The guy doesn't historically seem to bring out the strongest character traits in his players. (This was before he went on to continue the destruction of "my" 49ers, cementing Erickson as one of my least-favorite coaches.) Erickson and his players will be doing whatever they think they can to win. And UCLA had better be ready for it.
So now I'm torn. I want to be happy that the Trojan dynasty might be falling apart. I want to be happy that Pete Carroll is in a place where he's pissy that teams are running up the score on him. (OT - I want to see that halftime show; I've always been a fan of the Stanford band since they got into formation and spelled out "USC SUX" for us at homecoming and sent a contingent downtown in the middle of the week to play "Fight On" as OJ Simpson walked into the courtroom my second year at UCLA.) I want to be happy that I can feel like the game on November 28 is winnable.
But I want to be there when we win on November 21, first.