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Bruins want to experience the joy of six

Rick Neuheisel's team is 5-5 and needs one win in its last two games, including Saturday's against Arizona State, to be bowl eligible. Doing so would eradicate a significant 'barrier,' the coach says.

November 21, 2009|By Chris Foster
  • Coach Rick Neuheisel, right, and the UCLA Bruins need one more win to become bowl eligible this season.
Coach Rick Neuheisel, right, and the UCLA Bruins need one more win to become… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel calls it a "barrier." Former UCLA coach Karl Dorrell would call it just another season.

Either way, the Bruins can earn their sixth victory by beating Arizona State today at the Rose Bowl. It means to Neuheisel one thing.

"Progress," said Neuheisel, whose team had a 4-8 record in 2008, his first season. "In some ways we're one better already than we were a year ago. But we have a chance to keep this thing going."

Six victories may not seem like much to those around South Los Angeles, but in Westwood the corks might start popping. It could also get UCLA to postseason play, as interest in the Bruins has risen since they won consecutive games and moved to within one victory of being bowl-eligible.

Officials from the Roady's Humanitarian Bowl and the New Mexico Bowl said they have UCLA on their radars.

"If UCLA gets bowl-eligible, they will be rather coveted," said Kevin McDonald, executive director of the Humanitarian Bowl, which will be played Dec. 30 in Boise, Idaho. "We have thought about them. We have talked to the Pac-10 about the possibilities."

A Bruins victory today would give them a 6-5 record. UCLA fans became dissatisfied with six- and seven-win seasons under Dorrell, whose team had a 10-2 record in 2005 but was 25-26 in his four other seasons. But six victories after inheriting a talent-starved program -- UCLA had no players drafted by the NFL last spring -- would be a significant signpost in Neuheisel's eyes.

"When you're building a program, you have to keep breaking through barriers," Neuheisel said. "Six wins is a barrier. We've got to get there."

If they do, the chances of toppling the bowl-game barrier will have increased considerably since the Bruins' five-game losing streak at the start of conference play.

Qualifying for one of the Pacific 10's six bowl slots remains an outside possibility. Those scenarios will become clearer after this weekend. Except for the Rose Bowl, the bowl games affiliated with the conference will chose which team they want if two or more are tied.

Even if the Bruins are shut out of conference bowl games, gaining a spot as an at-large team has become a possibility.

That could hinge on whether the Mountain West Conference has enough teams to fill its bowl slots, which include the Humanitarian and New Mexico bowls.

The Mountain West has four teams that are bowl-eligible and could lose one, Texas Christian, to a Bowl Championship Series game.

"Obviously there will be a finite number of at-large teams," said Jeff Siembieda, executive director of the New Mexico Bowl. "UCLA would be attractive. They have to get eligible and we have to wait and see if the Mountain West gets enough teams."

The conference's two "bubble" teams are Wyoming and San Diego State. Wyoming, which is 5-5, plays fourth-ranked TCU and Colorado State to close the season. San Diego State, which is 4-6, finishes with No. 23 Utah and UNLV. If neither of those teams gets to six wins, the Mountain West would have only four bowl-eligible teams, including TCU, creating two openings if TCU goes to a BCS game.

If UCLA finishes 6-6, it would have to wait until teams with winning records are slotted into bowl games. If the Bruins beat Arizona State and USC and finish 7-5, they will almost certainly get an at-large bid if they don't go to a bowl affiliated with the Pac-10.

Other bowls could have at-large openings, including the EagleBank Bowl in Washington, D.C. But, Siembieda said, "You start looking regionally" because of financial concerns.

UCLA turned down a Humanitarian Bowl invitation in 2001 because it did not want to pay for five days in Boise. That, however, would not be held against the Bruins, McDonald said.

UCLA has not received a credential request for officials from any bowl for today's game. But McDonald said that if the Bruins win, he will attend their game against USC next Saturday.

Neuheisel said he would welcome a bowl bid, as "it will give us another a week of practice" and would also help recruiting.

The administration is willing, Athletic Director Dan Guerrero said.

"We would be interested in pursuing [bowls] not currently affiliated with the Pacific 10 Conference if that situation arises," he said.

That will depend on how the Bruins play.

Said McDonald: "This is a big weekend for UCLA."

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