USC Coach Lane Kiffin managed to recruit a stronger class than UCLA Coach… (Kirby Lee / U.S. Presswire )
Anyone familiar with ESP and ESPN knows predictions are dicey. When wrong, the best recourse is to feign amnesia, change the subject or, like Mark May and the Mayans, keep prophesying like there's no 2012.
Or, as a last resort, come clean.
So here it comes: The promise of Pete Carroll versus Rick Neuheisel turning a long-running football series back into a rivalry turned out to be emptier than Les Miles' hat.
Pete versus Rick was a "rock" show, all right: igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic.
Two Signing Days ago, coming off his first 4-8 season with the Bruins, Neuheisel stood up at a USC-UCLA basketball game at Pauley Pavilion and created a stir.
"Today we signed an unbelievable class, a class you can be proud of," Neuheisel said.
UCLA and USC played basketball again on signing-day Wednesday, a few months after Neuheisel wrapped up his second 4-8 season.
Two years ago … was it all just buzz skill?
USC and UCLA combined for 12 victories last season — two fewer than Auburn. Neither team went to a bowl game.
Carroll skipped town right after he stopped recruiting offensive linemen and just before the NCAA handed down major sanctions.
USC football is on appeal (NCAA).
UCLA is also on a peel (banana).
It's incredible to think of the opportunity that UCLA (so far) has missed. With USC in trouble and winning in single digits, UCLA has failed to carpe diem.
But it's even worse than that.
Neuheisel, who received his law degree from USC and earned a reputation for playing chicken against every nook of the NCAA rule book, has been out loopholed by a coach who, while at Tennessee, appeared to have never read the book.
How else to explain the school — currently on major probation, banned two years from bowl games and docked 30 scholarships — carrying on Wednesday as if the NCAA issued a parking ticket?
Sanction-addled USC scored another top-five class nationally and maxed out near its 28-scholarship cap.
UCLA signed 16 guys.
"We feel this is a quality group of young men," Neuheisel announced.
That's a long way from "unbelievable."
Again, which school is on probation?
USC dictated its intent letter with brilliant manipulation of the company books.
Kiffin front-loaded by stocking up now and deferring the penalty. It's sort of like, in the housing market, getting a subprime loan knowing that someday there's going to be a balloon payment.
What does Kiffin care?
He has no future without the present, so he was smart not to look past the end of his next nose guard.
The Trojans, even on probation, landed a terrific class. They signed eight early-enrollment players who count against the 2010 class while the school, because it is appealing the severity of the NCAA sanctions, can defer the scholarship losses.
USC is asking that the number be reduced from 30 to 15. If, as expected, the NCAA rejects the appeal, the Trojans probably will lose 10 scholarships for three years starting in 2012.
For now, especially locally, USC appears superiorly positioned.
If only Kiffin had game-planned this well against Oregon State.
UCLA has hit boggy bottom. The Bruins' splashiest off-season move was the nudging out of Norm Chow, one of the best offensive coordinators in the history of college football.
Chow's fate was doomed when Neuheisel, panicked over his team's lack of rushing success, switched to Nevada's "pistol" offense.
The pistol worked great … for Nevada, which won a school record 13 games. The Wolf Pack benefited from having a coach, Chris Ault, who created the offense, and a 6-foot-6, dual-threat quarterback in Colin Kaepernick.
UCLA thinking it could change course so dramatically was like Schwinn thinking it could start making pick-up trucks.
No one knows for sure how this year's recruiting classes will turn out, yet it sure appears that USC got the way better of it.
The players USC landed Wednesday indicate minimal — or no — drop-off from the Trojans' glory years.
UCLA's list leans more toward "Who's that?"
The Bruins' class was salvaged, they hope, with the early signing of Arizona quarterback Brett Hundley — a big-time talent.
The problem for Neuheisel, entering Year Four of what should have been a three-year plan, is hanging on long enough for sanctions to take hold across town.
He needs to win next season for his long-term plans to even have a chance.
Dysfunction inside a program usually reflects in the win-loss record, and Neuheisel's three-year mark is 15-22.
Two Signing Days ago, UCLA was able to flip at least two USC commitments, Randall Carroll and Morrell Presley.
This year, UCLA's best USC "get" might be to eventually land former Trojans assistant coach Rocky Seto as defensive coordinator.
Neuheisel also scored a big "hold" when touted Lakewood lineman Torian White, who had committed to UCLA but then said he was going USC, stayed a Bruin.
Kevin McReynolds, the 28th-ranked defensive tackle according to Rivals.com, will be a nice addition. Will Oliver, an offensive line prospect, chose UCLA over Sacramento State.
USC, someday, is going to punitively pay for the sins of Reggie Bush.
Wednesday was not that day.
And UCLA, with one win in the series since 1998, someday will rise to challenge USC for city supremacy.
But Wednesday wasn't that day either.