On the surface, there was that one-game-at-a-time stance by UCLA football players. But there was also the awareness of what the Bruins need to do to get bowl eligible.
"Winning two of the last three is always in the back of our minds," quarterback Richard Brehaut said.
The Bruins have only one team left on their schedule that has a winning record, USC. They play Washington on Thursday and Arizona State on Nov. 26. The post-practice chit-chat made it clear that the Huskies were the immediate focus, but the thoughts of a bowl game are never far from the conversation.
"If we didn't make a bowl game, I would probably cry the whole off-season," free safety Rahim Moore said. "Freshman year, I watched every bowl game and it was the worst feeling ever. For us not to finish strong and get to a bowl game, I would probably quit football. That's how bad it would feel."
The Bruins are 4-5 overall and 2-4 in Pacific 10 Conference play, but have yet to beat a team that currently has a winning record. A victory over Washington (3-6, 2-4) eliminates the Huskies from bowl contention. Arizona State has already been eliminated.
Talking about getting to a bowl game can get Coach Rick Neuheisel waxing poetic.
"It gives you more practice time and gives you a way to celebrate the season," Neuheisel said. "It's an accomplishment. It's out there and it's out there for a number of teams in our conference that are all going to fight for the same thing."
Of course, talking about not getting to a bowl game can send Neuheisel back to the safety of coach-speak.
"We don't want to talk that way, we want to talk about Washington," Neuheisel said. "If we do what we need to do preparation-wise, we'll give ourselves our best chance."
Linebacker Steve Sloan, out the last two weeks with a hamstring injury, returned to practice Sunday, though he was limited in what he could do.
"I told him to take it easy today," defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough said. "We don't want him to pull it again all of a sudden."
Sloan had replaced injured starter Patrick Larimore at middle linebacker. Freshman Jordan Zumwalt started against Oregon State after Sloan was injured.
Larimore, meanwhile, was still mulling over his options after getting a second opinion on his injured left shoulder. His labrum has several small tears and surgery is a strong possibility, though Neuheisel said, "he is hopeful that he can hang around and still make something of this season."
Washington quarterback Jake Locker, who missed the Oregon game with a broken rib, practiced Saturday, but has not been cleared to play against UCLA.
Tight end Cory Harkey, who missed two days with food poisoning, and guard Eddie Williams, who missed two days with a foot injury, both returned to practice. … Stephan Nembot, an offensive lineman from Van Buys Montclair Prep, and tackle Fou Fonoti from Cerritos College, attended UCLA's practice Sunday.