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T.J. SIMERS

Listening to Rick Neuheisel is a brutal undertaking

Columnist doesn't believe anything the UCLA coach has to say.

September 01, 2009|T.J. SIMERS

It's usually a waste of time listening to anything Rick Neuheisel has to say, but it's the start of a new season, and I'm the optimistic sort, so I stopped by UCLA.

Once again I left disappointed, which is probably the best way to prepare for another season of Bruins football.

The guy almost never tells the truth, everything so sugar-coated the malarkey turns to muck, Monday unfortunately no exception.

UCLA gets a bye to start the college football season, playing San Diego State, the Bruins 20-0-1 against the Aztecs -- the tie coming in 1924 -- and winning by the average score of 32-10.

A year ago, the Aztecs ranked 99th offensively, 113th defensively, and there are only 119 teams -- giving up an average of 37.2 points per game.

"It's going to be a great coaching challenge," says Neuheisel, who has years of practice offering such nonsense without even the hint of a grin.

"They were on the doorstep of beating Notre Dame last year," Neuheisel says, and just about everybody beat Notre Dame last season.

"Not everybody," Neuheisel says, "but I'm not going to fight you."

Pete Carroll would.

But then why is it so hard to just say, "If we've improved as much as I think we have, we should beat San Diego State?"

Worried about bulletin-board material?

Maybe that's why San Diego State has managed to win only nine of its last 36 games -- not enough bulletin-board material.

"So how's that football monopoly in L.A. going?" I wonder, a year ago Neuheisel pictured in an ad below a headline that reads: "The football monopoly in Los Angeles is officially over."

"We said what we said and we stand by it," he says. "We aren't there yet but still aiming in that direction."

That's a little hard to believe if a doormat like San Diego State offers such a "coaching challenge" to UCLA.

On a promising note, some folks already think well enough of UCLA to vote for the Bruins in this year's preseason USA Today top 25 coaches' poll.

I wonder if Neuheisel voted for his own team.

"I think I did; I think I put us at 25," he says. "I'm like Steve Spurrier. . . " and I'll pause here for a moment to allow the uproarious laughter to subside.

". . . I always vote for the school that I went to -- to get us in the top 25," Neuheisel says. "[Spurrier] gives Duke always a nod, a vote."

Nice story, but you can never believe anything the guy has to say, Duke not getting a single vote in this year's coaches' poll, further homework revealing Spurrier's alma mater is Florida.

"He meant to say Spurrier always gives a vote to the first place where he was head coach, which was Duke," says Marc Dellins, UCLA's sports information director.

If he wants to be like Spurrier, then how come he didn't give a vote to Colorado? Or, did he?

Colorado earned two votes and the Bruins received 14 to place No. 38 overall, someone else besides Neuheisel obviously voting for UCLA. Spurrier, no doubt.

"I hope we'll be much higher than 38 at the end of the season," Neuheisel says. "Having taken a lap through the conference, I'd be greatly disappointed if we don't play in the postseason."

More malarkey?

"You can add the Neuheisel factor," he says with a laugh, when I suggest anything he says has to be measured against his boundless optimism, which sometimes is also baseless.

If the Bruins are in the process of improving under Neuheisel, they go 3-0 to open the season, beating San Diego State, Tennessee and Kansas State. San Diego State and Tennessee are rebuilding under new coaches and Kansas State brought a coach out of retirement.

"To start, you've got to go 1-0," Neuheisel says, when not believable, just plain boring.

The Bruins will start redshirt freshman Kevin Prince at quarterback primarily because he's not Kevin Craft, who consistently upset Bruins fans and Neuheisel as well last season.

"You always have to temper your enthusiasm," says Neuheisel, while admitting he's not very good at doing so.

"I'm calming myself as I speak. . . . I'm going to have to take a big bottle of patience before I take the field."

Nice to know he has something in common with Bruins fans, who had to swallow hard last season after the big buildup that came with Neuheisel's return to the school.

The Bruins finished 4-8, and begin this year as the Pacific 10 Conference media's choice to finish seventh, but then ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit picks UCLA to be the sleeper in the Pac-10, which could very well mean he just doesn't expect them to wake up.

We'll begin to learn who has it right Saturday, when the Bruins take on the coaching challenge of getting their team to take San Diego State seriously.

BEFORE MONDAY night's Dodgers game, Manny Ramirez said, "You missed my home run in Cincinnati."

"You told me you were going to hit one in Colorado," I said.

"My money is deferred," he joked, "and so are my home runs."

LET'S SEE, the fourth game of the World Series, Scott Kazmir on the mound for the Angels, Jon Garland throwing for the Dodgers, and while maybe a stretch at this point, both local teams certainly appear serious in going for it.

The Dodgers also added punch to their bench, Jim Thome a teammate with Ramirez in Cleveland and the two combining to hit 1,106 home runs.

Thome has averaged one game a season for the last four years playing first base, so he's no threat to James Loney, but he adds power, something that isn't always there for the Dodgers.

As for Garland, the Angels elected not to use him during the postseason last year while going on to lose three of four to the Red Sox.

Do you think he'd like the chance to take on Kazmir?

The Giants, by the way, countered by signing Brad Penny. Don't make me laugh.

--

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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