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A Matter Of Perspective (Over Uninformed Perception)

So there has been some discussion in reaction to Ted Miller’s observations on WWL that if the Bruins lose to Fresno State and to BYU this season, “most folks will view a UCLA loss to either as an embarrassment.” Miller wrote a stand alone post yesterday explaining where he came from:

My guess is most folks assume Tennessee will beat UCLA. My guess is Bruins fans would utter a "drat" and move on.

I don't think they'd react the same to losses to Fresno State or BYU. They'd immediately register their first pang of doubt over Rick Neuheisel. It might be the lightest of flickers, but it would appear.

Fair or unfair, even with recent history as our guide, most folks still believe in the superiority of the BCS conferences. It's mostly OK to lose to another BCS conference foe, particularly a storied one like the Vols.

But the WAC or Mountain West? No.

That, by the way, is why many BCS teams run screaming when Fresno or BYU come looking for a game. It feels like a no-win situation.

The general feeling persists that if UCLA, Fresno State and BYU are competing for a recruit, said recruit will choose UCLA in a vast majority of cases (unless he's Mormon or sports a cool Fu Manchu).

That means the general feeling persists that UCLA's players are better. Or should be.

That is not the general feeling with Tennessee.

UCLA losing to BYU or Fresno State will be an edgy story on CollegeGame Day (perhaps a BCS-Buster angle). UCLA losing to Tennessee will not.

My guess is there's a decent chance UCLA loses all three games. Neuheisel inherited a flawed team that has had horrible injury luck over the past few months.

But UCLA fans will feel far more diminished by losses to Fresno State and BYU than they would to Tennessee.

Reasonable or not, they will be embarrassed.

Let’s get one thing out of the way first. Losing sucks. I think I am not the only one in this blog whose stomach is tied up in knots every time UCLA loses in any sports (not just football or basketball). I don’t like that feeling and I especially don’t like the feeling of logging on my computer or getting the paper on a Sunday morning following a black Saturday (or Thursday night) either in football or hoops. It burns.

However, at the same following these programs on a day to day basis for almost two decades (and I imagine its longer for many folks here and elsewhere in the hyper engaged Bruin online communities) brings a certain sense of perspective.

I agree with that Ted that as a UCLA alum I would never find our football team losing to a non BCS conference acceptable. Just like I would never find our basketball team being mired in 6 games losing streak or getting blown out by mediocre teams. But guess what? That is what happened in Coach Howland’s first season at UCLA. Not once, but twice.

If folks have forgotten Howland’s first season already, take a look at the results from 2003-04 season. Howland’s first season were dotted with two 6 game losing streaks. That team was repeatedly humiliated at home and on the road, ending the season with 6 straight losses. Did those losses burn? Yes they did. Were we embarrassed when St. Johns was destroying UCLA in front a national TV audience at the Garden. Of course we were.

But here is the deal. We were neither embarrassed for Howland nor we had a “pang of doubt” concerning his ability to methodically rebuild our program. Even though we were embarrassed about those losses, we had a sense of perspective about the talent level in our program and what Howland inherited from his predecessor. I would submit similar situation is at play here. I am not going to rehash the whole discussion re. expectations v. predictions. Just click on the “dose of reality” tag at the bottom of this post and they will pull up the discussions we had on this topic to date.

I think Ted is right that there will be some fans who will be “embarrassed” if UCLA loses to a well coached BYU team at Provo or Fresno State at Rose Bowl. Nothing wrong with that. People should have that kind of pride in our program. However, I would submit that it would be ignorant for any UCLA fan to register doubts about Neuehisel’s coaching ability given the talent level in our program on both sides of the ball (as discussed in detail in our depth chart analysis over last two weeks). Neuheisel doesn’t have the horses right now. And one good recruiting class (from last year) will not automatically turn this into a contending program. This will take a while and a matter of patience and perspective.

Miller himself wrote this (emphasis mine):

So what does "embarrassment" have to do with this? It's about perception -- not informed perception but general perception.

Well I would hope folks who are informed about the bigger picture around our football programs will not get suckered into that general perception. I would hope Bruin alums, students and fans will maintain perspective like many of us did during Howland’s first couple of years (when we withstood the painful losses, but were mindful of the bigger picture). I know it will not be a problem here on Bruin Nation because being informed on all aspects of our athletic programs is not an issue for the members of this community.

I just hope Miller and others in the traditional media don’t treat the UCLA fan base as a monolithic community when they hear some isolated reactions in talk radio or via their email feedback as the general barometer of how the extended Bruin Nation is feeling about our programs. I believe Bruin fan base deserves lot more credit than being diminished as an uninformed bunch without a sense of perspective. Judging by how it gave Coach Howland room despite the results from his first two season, I think they have proven to be more than reasonable with a sense of perspective. I am confident we will treat a coach like Neuheisel who is a proven winner (as a coach and player) and is looking for a chance to redeems himself from his past mistakes the same kind of room.