Sunday, May 10, 2009

Rivalry Recession

Remember the good old days? You know, way back in 2008, when cars were still made in Detroit and Rick Neuheisel was the newly minted head coach in Westwood. People were excited back then and, dare I say it, optimistic.

Even though the Bruins had lost eight of their last nine games against the Trojans, there was talk that things would be changing. Some even had the audacity to believe that the days of Pete Carroll's football empire were numbered. The once dead rivalry between UCLA and USC was about to be resurrected and Neuheisel was poised to put the Bruins back on top.

Then the season started.

After watching eight losses, a school-record twenty interceptions, and a parade of overwhelmed offensive lineman, one thing became perfectly clear... Neuheisel and the Bruins were a long way from challenging USC for conference supremacy. A very long way.

The other truth was that Karl Dorrell had left the cupboard bare. UCLA was short on size, speed, and athleticism and even a dream team of assistant coaches wasn't going to turn the ship around in one season.

Not that any of this should surprise anyone who has been paying attention the last few years.

Pete Carroll has been not-so-quietly amassing a collection of all star players over at USC. When you land a top-5 recruiting class year after year, it's kind of hard not to dominate everyone in your path.

During that same time, the football program in Westwood was content to let Carroll pick the creme of the crop from southland high schools, hoping to scoop up the leftovers.

The complete trouncing that the Bruins received this past December at the hands of the Trojans pretty much sums up the state of the rivalry at that point. Outmatched, under sized, and overwhelmed, the boys in blue never really had a chance to win.

If that wasn't bad enough, the exclamation point came a few months later when eleven USC players were taken in the NFL draft. Not a single UCLA player was chosen... not even the punter.

Amidst all of this doom and gloom, there are some signs of recovery. The Bruins last two recruiting classes have been head-and-shoulders above their predecessors.

Last year's freshman and the new arrivals this fall should inject some much needed talent into the program. Impact players like Rahim Moore, Derrick Coleman, and Jeff Baca have already claimed starting roles. Redshirt freshman Kevin Prince has been named the starting quarterback and some very talented offensive lineman will be arriving this August.

In fact, I expect over half of UCLA's starters on offense to be underclassman this year.

Neuheisel has finally brought a little competition back to the recruiting trail as well. He managed to steal some of Carroll's thunder this past February when he convinced two highly regarded USC recruits to switch their allegiance to UCLA.

Wide receiver Randall Carroll and H-back Morrell Presley were much needed additions to the latest Bruins class. Presley has already impressed the coaches this spring with his intensity and Carroll is one of the fastest high school seniors in the state. Both have the potential to be big time play makers.

The Bruins will continue to rebuild this season while the Trojans reload with another round of Parade All Americans. The results on the gridiron may not be markedly different from last year but give it some time. Like declining global economies, football programs take a while to turn around.

If anyone is going to bring life back to this rivalry it is Rick Neuheisel and all he needs is a few more stocked recruiting classes. Well, that or an NFL program with lots of money, no head coach, and Pete Carroll's cell phone number. Whichever comes first.

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