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T.J. SIMERS

For Rick Neuheisel to rule at UCLA, he'll need Prince

Development of Kevin Prince at quarterback is what matters most as Bruins move forward after EagleBank Bowl win over Temple.

December 30, 2009|T.J. Simers

OK, so UCLA proved it can win a game played in a dump that felt oddly like a walk-in freezer built on a skating rink.

"We're very excited about being the EagleBank Bowl champions," Coach Rick Neuheisel said Tuesday, and how many coaches could or would ever want to say that?

Sure, it was brilliant, finishing 6-6, putting the Bruins in position to face a bowl patsy and ending the year on a positive note.

And good for the Bruins, they beat a Temple team that until this season hadn't had a winning season since '90, and that's 1990, hadn't played in a bowl game since 1979, and beat only one team all year long with a winning record, and that team was missing its starting quarterback.

But the UCLA victory doesn't mean a thing other than it wasn't a loss. What matters the most to the Bruins, beginning with Temple and moving on, is the development of Kevin Prince as UCLA's franchise quarterback.

Prince is going to decide if the Bruins are going to be successful, and if Neuheisel is going to make it as UCLA's head coach.

That's just the way it goes, Neuheisel & Co. already two years on the job and the next two or three years belonging to Prince, his development deciding the fate of both the team and its coach.

Neuheisel & Co. have one, probably two years to become a champion contender. That doesn't allow for another recruit to come in and the time it takes to overcome such inexperience.

UCLA's defense will be losing more than half of its starters because of graduation and an early call to the NFL. It's going to need a steady hand on offense.

As much as Pete Carroll is tied to Matt Barkley, and he's made it clear he wouldn't want it any other way, Neuheisel is hitched to Prince, which brings me to Norm Chow.

Chow has been championing Prince's cause from the start, while Neuheisel has been the relentless doubting Thomas.

"That's fair to say," Neuheisel said, and as if to prove the point, when asked what he learned about Prince after beating Temple, Neuheisel said, "He's still a work in progress."

Neuheisel has tried to edge Richard Brehaut into the Bruins' plans, the biggest roadblock his inability to get past Chow.

"I'm sold on Prince," Neuheisel said, "but not to the point where Brehaut can't see a chance of winning the job. We want good competition at every position.

"Kevin will start the spring as first-string quarterback, and while I've seen marked improvement in him, I want to see more."

The only question then, will Chow be here next season to oversee Prince's development?

His answer, nothing but a smile after the bowl win, and when the question was repeated, Chow said, "Check back next week."

How's this for a devilish thought? Would USC try to bring Chow back, thereby appeasing irritated Trojans fans unhappy with the play-calling, while heightening the tension between UCLA and USC?

"That'd be interesting," Chow said with another grin.

Would Carroll agree to such a thing? A few weeks ago he raced 50 yards down the field to embrace Chow, the guy Carroll is not supposed to like, so was that for show, or an initial overture?

Whatever, isn't it odd that Chow's answer wasn't an immediate "Of course I'll be back"? Isn't it odd he never did answer the question?

Maybe this is a leverage play to win a raise, and if Prince is the key to the Bruins' success, pay him.

Chow is sold on Prince, and how much is that worth to UCLA, given his ability to develop quarterbacks? He believes Prince possesses the No. 1 quality to be successful, "the mental capacity to get the job done," he said.

"He's smart," Chow continued, football's best quarterbacks featuring different throwing motions, "but they are all smart.

"I think toughness comes next, and this kid has shown me he's tough and will do whatever it takes to win."

Prince had to leave late with an injured shoulder, the shoulder injured against USC, but that was after getting his lip bloodied and putting UCLA in position to win.

He began the season getting his jaw broken, and now the offensive line looks as if it will need another overhaul. I'd be just as worried about Prince not coming back.

The next two years, though, belong to Prince, Neuheisel and we'll see about Chow -- the common goal, you would hope, to never be so bad again as to qualify to play in this freezer.

If things go really well, the Bruins might even find themselves good enough next year to make the Nut Bowl.

THE LOS ANGELES Daily News named Zac and Abby Sunderland, the kid sailors, Los Angeles Sportspersons of the Year.

What's next -- naming the Sunderlands' mother and father L.A.'s Parents of the Year because no one knows how to endanger the good health of their children as they do?

Abby hasn't even started her trip, and she's part of the duo named L.A.'s Sports-

persons of the Year? Ahead of Kobe Bryant, who led the Lakers to a championship?

In announcing the newspaper's selection, reporter Tom Hoffarth likened the Sunderlands' honor to one given jointly to Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart years ago.

"Zac and Abby Sunderland, for reminding us how to dream big no matter what the obstacles," wrote Hoffarth, "are just as worthy dual recipients. Maybe even more so."

What a joke. By the way, Hoffarth is known best for his humor writing.

TODAY'S LAST word comes in an e-mail from USC David:

"You really are not in touch with reality. We're quite confident Uncle Pete will have us back to 11-3 or 12-2 next season. Contrary to what you seem to think, we don't all expect to be 14-0. Good, upstanding young men first, graduation rates second and championships third."

Thanks man, for keeping it real.

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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