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Dueling Media Narratives: Comparing the Tales of Two Programs

I will try my best not to give away what this post is about by the title. So let's try out this post with a very generic headline, no pictures and a long hypothetical. Apologies in advance if this brings nightmares from LSAT or all those law school exams.

Team A and Team B are prominent members of same powerhouse BCS conference. Both of them have anchored their conference for decades, racking up big seasons with major New Year's Day bowl wins. Both of them are located in major metropolitan areas with mega recruiting cache in their respective regions. So, both of these teams hit the hard times in recent decades under head coaches, who were perceived to low energy, listless and unimaginative leaders, with no fire in their bellies. They decided to make much needed changes by bringing in two high energy and charismatic head coaches - coaches X and Y - to revive their respective programs.

Coach X takes over Team with A with lot of bravado and infuses much needed energy in his fanbase with the right talking points and more importantly vision of what Team A should be all about - competing for conference and possibly national championships, and beating its rival. However, even before he gets going in his first season he loses his two top quarterbacks during spring ball. So he goes into his first season with a third string quarterback, who had never played a down of D-1 college football. He starts off his first game with a scintillating win over a nationally renowned program, but reality catches up with him as he finishes the season 4-8. Still, he remains relentlessly positive, hauls in a mega recruiting class, and heads into his seconds season with a lot of promise.

He starts the second season 3-0, but loses his promising red shirt freshman QB towards the waning moments of a massive road win. Still, despite losing his promising freshman QB, he manages to scrap and claw by closing the season out on a strong note, taking his team into a bowl game against lesser known program coaches by one of the hottest coaching prospects in the country (who BTW was interested in leading Team A). Anyway, Coach X finishes the second season with a record of 7-6, closing the year, winning 4 out of his last 5 games, and brought in another great recruiting class.  But it's his third season when he hits a major bump.  He once again loses his promising young QB during pre-season camp, and gets off to a bad start. His team struggles through a 4-8 season, losing lot of the momentum he gained in his second season. He is now on the hot seat.

Now Coach Y takes over Team B that was winless before he got there. The winless season was basically a throw away season by a dead man walking head coach, who played without an All World,  lottery pick level franchise QB. So Coach Y waltzes in, inherits, a lottery pick level talent at QB who is now a junior, refreshes and healthy after missing an entire season.  Yet without the injury issues Coach X had experienced with Team A, Coach Y just manages to go 4-8 with his program, and yet is perceived to be some kind of genius. Note Coach Y faced off against Coach X and went on to lose the game. So after all the hoopla, and an NFL franchise level talent at QB, he just manages to finish the season 4-8. Imagine what he would have done, if he had to deal with starting his first season with a third string QB.

Anyway, Coach Y goes into season two with a lot of hype. There are talks of competing for a New Year's Day bowl game and even winning the conference. The hype becomes unreal. Yet Coach Y stumbles out of the gate badly. He starts the season 3-6. Fans are fed up. Team Y's message boards and blog threads are being lit up for calls for firing. It has gotten downright ugly. And then comes in Team A, bruised and battered into its home turf.  Thanks to the heroics of a franchise level QB, who performed way below his potential the entire season, Team B scrapes out a win over Team A, which was reduced to playing with it's 3rd and 4th string QB because of injury related madness. Now it's Team B who finishes the season with 4 straight wins with a record of 7-6. But all on a sudden he is the toast of his town and the national media.

So, yes after all that hoopla, the record of these two coaches were the exact pretty much the same: Coach X went 11-14. Coach Y was 12-13. The difference being one of them more 1 more game with an all world QB talent leading the team, the other one scraped that record together with an injured underclassmen starter, a JUCO insurance plan, and backups who were never meant to be starters. Yet one coach is considered to have his program on an "upswing", while the other one is on the hot seat. You tell me ... isn't there something wrong with these dueling media narratives?

Obviously everyone here knows what the scenario above is all about.  The thing we - as Bruin fans - ought to be thinking about rest of this off-season is a little bit perspective. I am offering the scenario above to try to offer up a dose of perspective. Everyone knows the scenario Coach Rick Neuheisel is in heading into next season. He knows better than anyone what he needs to do show tangible sign of progress for next year. But, I think what is really important for all of us is to make sure not to get swept away in easy media narratives that have been floating around this off-season and will continue to do so throughout the traditional media. You know, the narrative of Coach Steve Sarkasian having the Huskies on a path of "modernizing" resurgence, which he is taking advantage of in the recruiting trail. And conversely, the idea of Neuheisel being in a tough spot has dominated the chatter both locally and nationally in the college football landscape.

The fact is lot of folks do not know how next season is going to turn out. Lot of folks do not know how Pac-12 is going to shape up. Washington has done NOTHING without Jake Locker in last few years. Ask yourself this question. Do you think Rick Neuheisel would have won just 11 games if he had a QB like Jake Locker leading his program? On the flipside, how many games do you think Sarkasian would have won if he had to manage the combination of Kevin Prince, Kevin Craft, Richard Brehaut, Darius Bell and Clayton Tunney? What would have Sarkasian done if he had inherited a shattered OL, and then get hit by further injuries during his first season.

Now, I didn't write this post to start some kind of flame war between Washington and UCLA fanbases. I have always had nothing but respect for Washington Huskies fans and the program they have had up in Seattle. John B from UW Dawg Pound is a great blogger, who over the years have provides us with lot of level head takes on Neuheisel from the perspective of a Husky fans. In the recent SBN Draft related fun we have been having here on BN, we lobbied BCI and rest of fellow 12 Pack members hard to include Washington in this mythical conference. So this post is not meant to start any kind of petty back and forth.

The only purpose for writing this is for UCLA fans to think about the big picture around Rick Neuheisel and next season, before drowning themselves into hopelessness. There is no question times have been tough in Bruin Nation. Yet at the same time college football can be a very strange game. I do believe, despite the challenges Bruins have been facing,  there is a good chance we could see a tangible signs of turnaround next season. For Sarkasian, even with a QB like Jake Locker, he spinned a "7 win season" with a bowl victory over not so impressive Nebraska team as some kind of gift from heaven, and blew into a positive media bonanza.

I don't know what UCLA's final win total is going to be next year. I do know if UCLA passes "the Eye Test," fight hard in every game next year, our program could come out just fine. After all we have all season how Neuheisel can recruit in the toughest of times. If the Bruins can get through this tunnel of darkness and spot the daylight, the Bruin upswing will be fun to ride on BN. So hang in there.