Before Rick Neuheisel coached a game at UCLA, his likeness appeared in an ad in the Los Angeles Times beneath the all-caps statement, "The football monopoly in Los Angeles is officially over."
A four-win season and a 28-7 home loss to USC last season signaled Neuheisel probably was a little ahead of himself, though maybe the advertisement wasn't completely foolhardy. UCLA might be able to deliver on some of its bravado this week against reeling archrival USC.
The Bruins earned bowl eligibility with last week's 23-13 victory over Arizona State. UCLA basically can guarantee itself a bowl berth by defeating the Trojans, who are in the rare position of coming off a loss going into the UCLA game.
A Bruins win would give UCLA a 7-5 record and USC a 7-4 record going into its finale against Arizona.
Though Neuheisel has done his share of needling Pete Carroll and USC in his short tenure, Neuheisel wasn't doing any of that this week.
"We really have been just focused on us," Neuheisel told BruinBlitz.com. "There are certainly those in the UCLA world that do focus a lot on what our crosstown rivals are doing, but that can't be our job. We just have to take care of what we can take care of and see if we can't keep working to get better."
The USC game also is a chance for UCLA to reclaim some legitimacy. The Bruins have defeated only one bowl-eligible team all season (Tennessee), and the Bruins' three-game winning streak has come against the three worst teams in the Pac-10 (Washington, Washington State and Arizona State). The winning streak also came on the heels of a five-game losing streak.
"The schedule is what it is," Carroll said. "It's their turn to play those teams. They have been playing good football, though. They've taken the ball away. They've been secure with the ball on the offensive side. They've played good, solid ball. Their special teams are in order."
If USC is to beat its rival for the 10th time in 11 meetings, the Trojans likely will need freshman quarterback Matt Barkley to return to his early season form. In the past three games, Barkley is 49-of-91 (53.8 percent) for 495 yards, with four touchdowns and five interceptions. He will face a UCLA defense that leads the Pac-10 in interceptions (17); sophomore free safety Rahim Moore leads the nation with nine picks.
If Barkley can't recover and USC's defense is struggling so much it can't stop UCLA's 89th-ranked offense, the Bruins can claim at least a share of the football attention in Los Angeles.
"I don't believe that this game is the be-all, end-all to having that opportunity," Neuheisel said. "But this game would certainly signal that the thing is going faster than previously thought."
KEY MATCHUP: Arizona QB Nick Foles vs. Arizona State's secondary. In last week's 44-41 double-overtime loss to Oregon, Foles still passed for 314 yards and four touchdowns. Foles, who is from Austin, Texas, originally committed to Arizona State before signing with Michigan State ; he transferred to Arizona after the 2007 season. Arizona State leads the Pac-10 in total defense. Much of the game will be on Foles' shoulders with RB Nic Grigsby (shoulder) likely to miss the game. Backup RB Keola Antolin (shoulder) is questionable. How the Wildcats respond to the deflating loss against the Ducks will determine their bowl positioning.
PLAYERS ON THE SPOT: Washington's. The Huskies have made some progress this season, going from winless last season to three victories and being competitive in a few other losses. Losing at home to dismal Washington State for the third season in a row would erase much of those good feelings. The Cougars were awful last season, too, but they won 16-13 in overtime in Pullman.
NUMBERS GAME: Cal's seven-season streak of 1,000-yard rushers could end, though Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen are capable of the feat. Best has rushed for 867 yards in nine games, but injuries (concussion, back) mean he might not play against Washington or in a bowl. Vereen has rushed for 738 yards. He has averaged 176 yards in the past two games, and if he keeps that up, he will crack the 1,000-yard barrier.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING:
"We want to put up 50 points. Run the score up. Put on a show. We're just trying to make a statement that we are the real deal." - Washington TE Kavario Middleton, on facing Washington State
"The issue is they're spoiled. We've done a great job spoiling them. We've created these expectations ... and we let them down. When you do a lot of good things, you have a lot of people pulling for you. And when you don't do well, you have a lot of people jumping off that bandwagon, and that's good, that's healthy." - USC C Jeff Byers, on fan discontent
"This one was tough. We really wanted this one. We had big wins against USC and Oregon, but I feel like this would have meant more than those wins. Everybody wanted the Axe back. We wanted the Axe back. Not to get it hurts. It's disappointing, but we have to move on. We have a big game this week against Notre Dame on national television. We can remake a name for ourselves again after last week and move on." - Stanford RB Toby Gerhart, on last week's 34-28 loss to California
ETC.: USC WR Damian Williams (ankle) has been cleared to play against UCLA. ... Arizona State QB Samson Szakacsy is expected to make his second career start against Arizona. ... Stanford running backs coach Willie Taggart will coach for the Cardinal against Notre Dame before taking over at Western Kentucky. Taggart was hired as the Hilltoppers' coach Monday. ... USC has won nine of the past 10 against UCLA. ... UCLA K Kai Forbath is a finalist for the Lou Groza Award, given to the nation's top kicker. He has made 35 consecutive field goals of less than 50 yards. ... Stanford has lost seven in a row to Notre Dame, dating to 2002. ... Oregon and Oregon State are off this week before they play for the Pac-10 title and a Rose Bowl berth Dec. 3. ... Oregon State has the longest win streak in the conference at four games. ... Oregon RB LaMichael James has rushed for 100 yards in six consecutive games. ... Chris Polk could be the first Washington freshman to rush for 1,000 yards if he runs for 111 against Washington State. ... The Cougars expect to start senior Kevin Lopina at quarterback against Washington. Jeff Tuel sustained an injured knee cap Nov. 7. He and Marshall Lobbestael still could see time against the Huskies. ... Washington LB E.J. Savannah will miss his third consecutive game with a broken hand.
David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.