Saturday, October 22, 2011

UCLA, Skid or Soar?

UCLA players are mired in a nasty quandry, grappling with this prickly question: do we play hard or dog it for the rest of the season?

They clearly are done with coach Rick Neuheisel. If you have a strong stomach, just look at the tape of the first half of the Thursday night drubbing in the desert, that bottom-scraping, 48-12 loss to Arizona. The players were making a statement, loud and clear, dumping all over the coach and his staff.

But what if, in an attack of pride and conscience, the players spiral out of this skid and soar, up and up? It's possible. Remember, this isn't a bad team.  Preseason forecasts pointed to questions at QB and a lightweight offense, but predicted that a powerhouse defense would power the team to the upper levels of the Pac12. What's ailing UCLA has nothing to do with skill or talent. The problem is coaching and motivation.

But what if the players played all out and either won a few games or at least were impressively competitive? That would mean Neuheisel was suddenly Supercoach and maybe athletic director Dan Guerrero might not fire him. The players naturally want to play their best but they also want Neuheisel out. Playing well is also feathering Neuheisel's nest, which is not in the best long-term interests of the players or the program.

What to do? The notion of dogging it for the rest of the season and further embarrassing themselves really sucks. But that's the easy way out and the obvious answer, since it would ensure Neuheisel's exit.  In four of the remaining games--California, Utah, Colorado and USC--a revved up, motivated UCLA has a shot, though a strong showing in next week's Cal game will be tough considering six players were suspended because of the Arizona melee. In the fifth game, against Arizona State, the third best team in the Pac 12, they don't have prayer.

So do the UCLA players finish with a flourish, cannons blasting, or feebly, popgun-style? Would hate to be in their shoes.

But I know what I'd do.