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Next Year Begins Now

<em>Saturday's matchup with *$c will be Coach Neuheisel's Show Me Game (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)</em>
Saturday's matchup with *$c will be Coach Neuheisel's Show Me Game (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
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I hate clichés.  They are annoying, lame, and are usually just a placeholder for a more intelligent or thoughtful comment.

But they often carry some truth.  This one does right now.


We are all disappointed with this season.  The reasonable expectations going into this season were for our Bruins to win around 6 games, and at least be competitive every week.  That we have fallen short of 6 wins is not totally shocking.  How we have fallen well short of the being consistently competitive is what really eats at me.  With the infusion of talent and enthusiasm into the program, I really expected to see this team develop more and play good football week to week.  The only thing consistent, though, has been our inconsistency.  Major changes are needed, as 03rdn9 and BlueReign have astutely written, and which BN has been discussing for weeks.


So with a bowl out of the equation, we are down to one final contest this year, and it's against these guys.


In recent years, I've privately dreaded this game.  Though I never gave up hope that our Bruins could pull off the upset, logic led me to expect the 66-19 treatment most years (Oh, sorry, that’s been vacated.  But you know what I mean).  More often than not, the final game in recent years left us with a sour taste at the end of the season and didn’t leave much to look forward to much for the following year.


But this year, the stakes are higher.  And a couple examples from the not so distant past will back me up, after the jump...

In 1992, the Bruins struggled into the *$c game with a 5-5 record, and 2-5 in conference.  We had played ourselves out of conference contention early, losing our first 5 Pac-10 matchups.  Worse, we were facing a trogan team that was 6-3-1 and #15 in the country.  Bruin fans were understandably apprehensive about the game, especially with UCLA reduced to starting a walk on backup QB named John Barnes.  But things turned around for the football program that evening...

Barnes To Stokes (via rongee)


Barnes passed for 385 yards with 3 touchdowns that evening and wide receiver J.J. Stokes set a school record with 263 yards receiving.  *$c scored a last minute touchdown, and nobly went for the 2pt conversion and the win, but *$c's pass was knocked down by Nkosi Littleton to preserve the 38-37 win. 


It was a storybook ending for Barnes, but the momentum from that win carried over for UCLA the following season when the Bruins went 8-4, won the Pac-10 conference, and earned its first Rose Bowl berth since 1985.  The game was also our second consecutive win over *$c during that glorious 8 game winning streak.


In 1996, UCLA was enduring another difficult season under first year coach Bob Toledo.  The Bruins were 4-6 entering the rivalry game, and spent the first 3 quarters getting soundly whooped by the trogan offense, led that day by R Jay Soward’s 260 yds receiving and 3 TD's.  The Bruins found themselves trailing by 17 with under 10 minutes remaining in the game


That’s when Cade McNown, Danny Farmer, and Skip Hicks, and the rest of the squad solidified their place in Bruin annals.

 1996 UCLA vs. USC Football (via jtthirtyfour)

Once again, the football program got a jolt of life.  The following year, that team matured and started a 20 game win streak that put them in the elite of college football.

So this Saturday, another struggling Bruins team finds itself with an opportunity.  While nothing will change the failures we have already endured this season, and certain changes must be made regardless of Saturday's outcome, this team can make a statement about which direction it will go.  Coach Neuheisel’s program is at a crossroads.  It can continue to wallow in frustrating and inconsistent play, uninspired coaching, lopsided losses, and unrealized potential and underachievement.

Or it can live up to the promise of the last three years.  Obvious changes can be made.  It can find its identity.  It can rally together.  It can turn the intangibles of talent and enthusiasm into tangible results on the field, and show us what kind of football team it can be.

UCLA has converted wins over *$c into a change in direction for the program and a springboard for success, and it needs to do that again this weekend.  The Bruins can beat their hated rival this Saturday, and use that win to become the football team that we hope for and believe it can be.  This game is bigger than the rivalry.  This is a chance to redirect the program.  This is Coach Neuheisel's Show Me game.