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Despite Loss, UCLA May Find Place in the Sun : However, Bruins Could Be Left Out of Bowl Picture If They Finish Season 6-5

November 11, 1986|THOMAS BONK | Times Staff Writer

The UCLA Bruins still feel bad about losing to the Stanford Cardinal, the only Pacific 10 Conference team named for a color. They're kind of blue. Not to mention nostalgic.

At UCLA, it is a time to remember better days. So guess what ranks No. 1 on the list of Coach Terry Donahue's good times.

He said it's the day after the Bruins receive the bid to play in the Rose Bowl. He has savored that day three times. He won't enjoy it this year.

It really isn't hard to understand how Donahue felt the day after UCLA disappeared from the Rose Bowl picture by losing to Stanford.

"Not too good," he said. "In fact, I'll say it in one word: no good."

That indicates that although Donahue has lost his chance for yet another magic moment, at least he hasn't lost his sense of humor. And that may become important in the next two weeks because the Bruins are in danger of a big fall in the old bowl game.

One more defeat and UCLA is looking at a 7-4 season, a prospect that does not exactly stimulate the salivary glands of bowl scouts.

Even if the Bruins finish the season by defeating Washington on the road and USC at the Rose Bowl, and those tasks are likely to be extremely difficult, UCLA would still finish 8-3. That's border line for a New Year's Day game.

But no matter what record the Bruins wind up with or what bowl wants them, Donahue said it wouldn't matter. UCLA will surely go, he said.

"I would always want to take our team to a bowl game," Donahue said. "If we can go to a bowl, we will."

Later, however, Donahue amended his statement.

"I would want to take our team to a nice bowl game," he said.

Nice?

"I'll leave it up to you to define nice," he said.

Nice is nicely subjective, but in the context of UCLA bowl opportunities, it's probably not difficult to rule out at least one. That would be the Bluebonnet. It would be a nice bowl, all right, a nice bowl to avoid.

The Bruins had a simply rotten time at the Bluebonnet in 1981. The players hated Houston and they didn't feel much better about the game, since they got crushed by Michigan, 33-14.

For UCLA to go to a somewhat nicer bowl, the Bruins are going to have to keep on winning. If they don't, they may not go anywhere.

"I don't think we'd go to a bowl (with a record of) 6-5," Athletic Director Peter Dalis said. "That would be a real longshot. But if you're 7-4, you should go to a bowl game."

One possibility for UCLA is the Aloha Bowl, which has wooed the Bruins before. Apparently, however, UCLA is not keen on it. After research, UCLA found that a trip to Honolulu would cost more than the $500,000 the school would make by playing there.

What's left? At 7-4 or even 6-5, the Bruins could perhaps play in the Freedom Bowl at Anaheim, a possibility that neither Donahue nor Dalis would rule out.

But at this moment, less than two weeks before the bowl invitations are made, it appears that the Bruins are high on the list of the Sun Bowl.

Despite the Bruins' 28-23 loss to Stanford that dropped UCLA to 6-3, the Sun Bowl is still pursuing the Bruins.

"They'd be a real feather for us," said Jeff Jenkins, assistant director of the Sun Bowl. "Just because they're UCLA. That's excitement."

But would the Bruins still be exciting at 7-4?

"We'd still be interested in them," Jenkins said.

And what if they are a positively electrifying 6-5?

"They're still a possibility, although with each loss they're not as attractive," Jenkins said. "But it may be that it doesn't make any difference what their record is."

UCLA finds the Sun Bowl attractive because of the exposure it affords, since it is carried on Christmas Day by CBS-TV and is unopposed by another bowl game.

The Sun Bowl also pays each team $750,000. UCLA would get $500,000 of that, the balance being divided among the other Pac-10 teams.

Because it covets the Los Angeles television market, the Sun Bowl also has interest in USC, which has a better record than UCLA at 6-2. It could very well turn out that the winner of the USC-UCLA game Nov. 22 will advance to the Sun Bowl, although Dalis said that has not been discussed.

Dalis said a conference call today among six Pac-10 athletic directors--himself, USC's Mike McGee and those from Washington, Stanford, Arizona and Arizona State--might result in an agreement on the acceptance of bowl bids by those six conference schools.

All of these negotiations might not have been needed, at least not this early, if UCLA hadn't lost to Stanford, which threw the Rose Bowl to Arizona State the earliest anyone has won it in five years.

In any event, Donahue said that maybe UCLA can learn something from not going to the Rose Bowl.

"The psychology of life is interesting," he said. "Sometimes you get spoiled. You get something too much and you get spoiled, take it for granted.

"In the locker room after the game, the reality of it all was evident in the players' reaction," he said. "There was a sense of finality. But there was also a sense of resiliency. There were no long dirges.

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