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UCLA and Notre Dame, but Does Anybody Care?

October 19, 2006|Chris Dufresne

It has been a year and four days since USC traveled to South Bend, Ind., to play a game so memorable that the parking pass from it still warrants a thumb-tack posting on your office wall.

It was the type of mid-October surprise that graces amateur enthusiasts about twice a lifetime, a perfect pairing marriage of anticipation and outcome.

Grantland Rice, called back from the grave, may not have been able to do it justice. "Outlined against Weis' blue-gold windbreaker ... ah, I can't write this. -30-".

A selective memory recalls:

* How short Notre Dame Coach Charlie Weis' hair was compared to the grass.

* ESPN's Stephen A. Smith, trailed by his entourage, calling attention to himself in the pre-game hallows outside Notre Dame Stadium.

And then, minutes later, Joe Montana, with arm draped around wife Jennifer, walking unimpeded through the same air space.

* The game ... the Game ... The Game! Weis announcing early his chess-match intentions, going for it on fourth and one from his own 29; Brady Quinn's late touchdown run; Matt Leinart to Dwayne Jarrett, 61 yards. The Bush Push, a thousand camera flashes.

A year and four days later, another Southland program turns its wheels toward the "Knute Rockne Travel Plaza" and a game that, relatively, is being trumpeted by a kazoo.

UCLA at Notre Dame, why are we going, what does it mean?

Is UCLA out to avenge Notre Dame's snapping of the basketball team's 88-game winning streak in 1974? Or Notre Dame's dramatic shootout victory against the UCLA women's soccer team in the 2004 NCAA championship?

Like most comparisons, UCLA vs. USC, Karl Dorrell vs. Pete Carroll, UCLA at Notre Dame doesn't stack up.

It is the first meeting of the teams since 1964, when quarterback John Huarte and receiver Jack Snow led Notre Dame to a 24-0 win.

That's nice.

Meanwhile, the lunar eclipse continues.

You wonder whether Dorrell can ever get his 15 minutes as long as USC is hogging 45 minutes of every hour glass.

There would have been a different measuring device had Dorrell taken over UCLA as USC was being shepherded by Paul Hackett or Larry Smith.

Dorrell, as he stands, is any good Clippers' coach in the 1980s standing next to Pat Riley.

You could say an upset win at Notre Dame might do wonders for UCLA's national image.

"It has been on our schedule, it has been on a lot of people's minds for the last two or three years I would say," Dorrell said during this week's Pacific 10 coaches' conference call where he, naturally, came on after Pete Carroll. "It is a game I think we're all anticipating for us to go in there and play well."

It's a fine line between chaos and creation.

UCLA at Notre Dame is important because, if you're UCLA, you have to draw a hash mark in the sand somewhere.

Last year's home win against Oklahoma was a barometer, if only because Oklahoma was vulnerable and, as it turned out, beatable.

That Bruins triumph got lost, though, in the subsequent thunderclap of two terrible defeats and a 10-2 year that became almost invisible.

The alternative to beating Notre Dame is falling to 4-3, which puts the Bruins on a crash-course toward 6-6, a trip to the Lackluster Bowl and more off-season grumbling.

The coach's job is safe as long as Dan Guerrero is athletic director and Dorrell can keep players out of handicap parking spots.

Someday, though, and we don't know when, UCLA will have to step up and win a game like this, across the country, and then win one across the city.

For now, it's off to South Bend, to another fall day, to witness something that promises to fall short.

Rose Buds

There's a long way to go, but right now Pasadena is looking at handing over a classic No. 1 vs. No. 2 Rose Bowl match-up to Glendale (Arizona).

Any 1-2 combination of USC, Michigan or Ohio State puts those teams in the Bowl Championship Series national title game on Jan. 8 and leaves the Rose Bowl scrambling for replacements.

This is the price the Rose Bowl paid for joining the BCS in 1998.

The upside was last year, of course, when Granddaddy got to stage USC vs. Texas.

"Last year's game couldn't happen without the BCS," Rose Bowl chief executive Mitch Dorger reminded this week. "The system is the system. Some years you're going to have Nebraska-Miami, some years you're going to have USC-Texas."

The prospect of losing the Pac-10 or Big Ten conference champions, or both, would leave the Rose Bowl with some interesting options.

If the BCS title game is the Ohio State/Michigan winner vs. USC, the Rose Bowl gets first dibs to replace those teams.

One answer would be to sub in California, which has not been to the Rose Bowl since 1959. Cal, which would probably be 10-2 in this scenario, would have to be ranked in the top 14 of the final BCS standings and maybe higher than that to justify the pick.

"We clearly have eyed Cal as a possibility," Dorger said. "That's not surprising."

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