Peter Yoon has written a great article for ESPN-LA that details last season's big win over Texas in Austin, and the subsequent failure of that win to springboard any lasting success. You should read the whole piece. Don't be thrown off by the title of the article - Yoon didn't write the headline. As usual, the management at BSPN is misrepresenting things like truth. But Yoon should get a lot of credit for his fair and accurate reports and opinions on U.C.L.A. football this year. It's really refreshing to see someone in the Los Angeles media being a professional sports writer, instead of being a snarky (Looking at you, Simers) unprofessional (you, Foster) ass (you, Dufresne).
Anyway, going back a year, the Bruins were 1 - 2, had already been embarrassed by some academic school up north, and were heading to Austin to face the #7 team in the country, just an off-season removed from a national championship game, the perennial power Texas Longhorns.
And we smoked them like a fattened hog at a roadhouse barbecue. Yummm. (Sorry, PETA. Texans will get the analogy).
Sure, we'd beaten Texas before. But that was with McNown and Farmer and a burgeoning national contender. Last year we had a program on the rebuild, a new offensive system, young and unproven players, a team still struggling to find an identity.
We thought that game was it, the landmark win that would show that Neuheisel finally had this team on the right path back to national prominence. The turning point for U.C.L.A. football.
Maybe that was part of the problem. Maybe we were all so proud of ourselves for going to Austin and making their men cry uncle and making their women see God that we forgot that after the U-turn, you have to straighten the wheel to proceed in the opposite direction.
But that didn't happen. Texas wasn't what we thought, and neither were our Bruins.
The steering wheel was never straightened, and the Bruins just did doughnuts after that. The next week saw a squeaker over lowly Wazzu followed by a 1-6 finish as the football season spun into oblivion. And the Bruins have been driving around in circles ever since.
U.C.L.A. has come around to Texas again and has another opportunity to show that the football team is on the way back. Yoon rightly points out, however, that the Bruins have been though this turning point business before.
UCLA seems to have had these seemingly program-changing wins every year since Neuheisel took over. The Bruins defeated Tennessee in 2008 and again in 2009 in addition to that win at Texas last season, but they are still trying to get over the hump of mediocrity.
Another year has passed since last year's marquee win, and the Bruin faithful are still looking for that turning point. If Neuheisel and Guerrero want to keep their jobs, that turnaround has to come soon. We need some sign that things have changed with this football program and the light bulb has finally clicked on. And while beating Texas on Saturday could fulfill that initial criteria, it's not a turnaround if the momentum is lost and the team slides back into its maddening spiral of bad habits and underachievement. It is the sustained progress toward success that is the key. Senior safety and team captain Tony Dye recognizes this.
"I've had three games like this in my life where it's like this is the game that's going to turn it all around, so I don't put that kind of weight on it anymore," senior safety Tony Dye said. "We did it last year, and then we dropped the ball after that. It's going to be important that if we get the high this time, that we keep it. We keep going with it. That's what will turn around the program."
Dye gets it. It's not about one win in Texas, or one win in Tennessee, or finally getting over on our stupid rival. Heck, it's not even about winning this particular game on Saturday. It's about raising the level of play of this football team and keeping it there. Lots of the parts are there. The biggest part that remains is for this program to change the culture and accept only its best. Coach didn't talk about winning - he talked about doing the best you could with what you had. His teams did that and the winning just fell into place after that, because they coupled that culture of excellence with talent. Well, we think our football roster has a lot of talent. We know the part that has been missing thus far. If this team and coaching staff demands and then realizes its best, then the Longhorns will have their hands full on Saturday. And so will all the Bruins' opponents for the rest of the season.
Same goes for us fans on BN and in Westwood and in Pasadena on Saturday. We're still here. We keep going with it, too, no matter what. Because that's what our culture should be as U.C.L.A. fans.