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Whatever Happened to Great Expectations?

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One of the really entertaining things about UCLA partisans Bruins Nation is how staunchly on-message it is at all times. It’s apparent some of its founders have political backgrounds. When the message was "Fire Karl Dorrell," no opportunity was missed, no sentence was written that might weaken the campaign. Not even after a 26-point win. Not even if it was November and L.A. could still potentially make the Rose Bowl. Nothing could stand in BN’s path.

Now that the message is "Head Coach Richard Neuheisel Is the Best CEO in America," the tone of the rhetoric has changed completely –– it’s all positive, all the time –– but the commitment to the message is as staunch as ever. Take the site’s official expectations for Neuheisel’s first season, for example.

BN always held Dorrell to a high standard. It was clear about this in 2006, when ringleader Nestor laid out the expectations for that season: No Room for Regression in 2006: 9 Wins & MUST BEAT SC. The loss of Ben Drew Olson, Maurice Drew and four of the five leading receivers would not be counted as an excuse for a backward step after scraping through a string of last-second wins en route to a 9-2 regular season in 2005:

...anyone who has been closely following this program knew that we would have to have to deal with the loss of our top seven or eight players. You didn't need to be a D-A [sic] head coach to see that coming. ... to make the excuse of losing top players for a bad record next season is just ridiculous.

The Bruins upset SC, but clearly did regress overall, to 7-6 and a meh 5-4 in the conference. Off that disappointment, Nestor was equally clear about the expectations of a more veteran team in 2007: win 11 games, beat Southern Cal, and win the Pac-10. His standards came from the mouth of AD Dan Guerrero himself:

After four years Dorrell still hasn't been able to put together that season in which UCLA wins the Pac-10 and beats Southern Cal. However, I do believe he is boxed into such a corner at this point that this season decidedly will emerge as the "show me" season for Karl Dorrell, that will decide his ultimate fate in Westwood.

Morgan Center has already sent out clear cut signals laying down the expectations that they are expecting a football season in which UCLA will win the Pac-10 and beat Southern Cal (by 20 points) in that last game of the season. And this comment from DG (after winning [the school’s 100th all-time NCAA championship]) is consistent with that signal sent out earlier this spring:

Guerrero says when one of his coaches wins a title, it motivates the others. "There's always a buzz in this department," he says. "And the expectations here are very, very high. We expect to win national championships."

Obviously we expect DG to hold KD to same standards he holds our other magnificent athletic programs.

Obviously. And obviously, now that UCLA has a real Head Coach rather than an unqualified Doofus, for which BN lobbied so tirelessly, the excuses employed by the Dorrell apologists for the team’s mediocrity over the last five years will not do. Not with a team that returns its leading passer, leading rusher and five of its seven leading receivers –– to make the excuse of losing players for a bad record is just ridiculous, and the Bruins aren’t losing many. No, Head Football Coach/Amateur Guitarist/Innocent of All Charges Richard Neuheisel is the Head Football Coach who will finally push the Bruins over the top and fulfill Nestor’s high expectations in '08:

So, to sum it up right now at this snap shot of time, I expect UCLA to lose against Tennessee, BYU, Oregon, California, Washington and Arizona State. 

I see three toss up games against Arizona, Fresno State, Oregon State and three wins against Stanford, Washington State, and Southern Cal. 

So depending on how the toss up games go, the Bruins could finish either 6-6 or 3-9/4-8 (depending on which "conservative" projection we take as we go through the list above).

In other words, I will be ecstatic if somehow, despite all the questions surrounding this team, the program manages to finish with 6 wins and a victory over Southern Cal.
- - -
[Emphasis mine]

O rly? That’s, uh, quite a change of opinion of the Bruins’ potential in a single year, with a much better situation on the sideline: 6-6 at best?

Look closely at the expected losses and toss-ups. In the former category is BYU. Before the 2006 opener against Utah, Nestor was clear about his expectations of the result against a team from the Mountain West:

*09/02 Utah (w) - there is no excuse for not being able to get a win against some MWC team at the Rose Bowl. I will count this as a must win game for KD
- - -
[Emphasis mine]

About the Cougars, specifically, he was every bit as confident before last season:

BYU (w): BYU has a nice football program. But it has no business winning against UCLA at the Rose Bowl. Considering UCLA footballs teams tossed around BYU football teams even during their halcyon days with Ty Detmer, this game should serve as nice little season opener for Karl Dorrell’s football program ... they should face a huge uphill battle at the Rose Bowl as they will be working with a brand new QB (Max Hall, a transfer from ASU) to replace John Beck. Again this shouldn’t be a much of a game.
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[Emphasis mine]

That confidence was warranted. Healthy, the Bruins beat the eventual MWC champion, as expected, 27-17. In December, extremely banged up, under an interim coach, they outgained the Cougars in the Las Vegas Bowl rematch and only lost on a blocked field goal on the last play. Clearly, a healthy team early in the season under a more competent coach should expect to beat a team that had no business competing with the Bruins under the old, lame duck regime that outperformed the Mormons, anyway:

@ BYU (L): ... BYU will be coming in this game fired up with returning stars such as Max Hall (3,848 yards passing) and Harvey Unaga [sic] (1,227 yards).  This will be another close game. However, I think the Cougars will pull this one out based on their home field advantage. I expect the Bruins to fall to 0-2...
- - -

Er. Well, okay, BYU is getting some nice preseason love, and the game is in the hostile confines of, uh, Provo. But Arizona offers an obvious win, right, since Zona is eight games behind UCLA in conference games in Mike Stoops’ tenure, and since Nestor wrote convincingly (and correctly) prior to 2006:

10/07 Arizona (w) - we need to get this win getting revenge for the embarrassment of last season. Not only was there no excuse for the embarrassment in Tucson last season, there simply was no excuse for losing to the Mildcats.
- - -
[Emphasis mine]

...and in 2007:

at Arizona (w): As the Bruins stumbled into Tucson everyone is going to be talking about what happened last time Dorrell’s team marched in with a gaudy record. If Dorrell has truly learned from his previous stumbles as a head coach, we expect him to have his team mentally ready and pull out a tough win. ... If he is truly worth the money (almost a million bucks a year) UCLA is spending on him, Bruins will bounce back...

Obviously, if HFCAGIOACRN is expected to earn his salary –– which with perks is triple what Dorrell earned –– he’s expected to trounce the still-struggling Mildcats and their injury-prone, pocket-bound quarterback in ‘08:

Arizona (T): ...Arizona beat up on the Bruins last year in Tucson by beating up on a hobbled Pat Cowan and running rough shot [sic] over DeWayne Walker’s offense [sic].  It will be interesting to see how the Bruin D with its young cubs matchup against the 'Zona offense and whether Walker has an answer for an athletic, multi dimensional QB like Tuitama. The optimistic part of me thinks that the Bruin D will rise to the occasion and the offense will click a little in its third game under Chow.  But, still, this is a toss up game in my book.
- - -
[Emphasis mine]

Well, UCLA has lost to Arizona twice in three years, albeit both times on the road, but okay. What about last year’s tenth-place finisher, Washington, which has barely a third of UCLA’s conference wins since Ty Willingham took over in 2005, and about which Nestor wrote in 2006:

09/23 @Washington (w) - there was no excuse for the pathetic performance against Washington at home last season when we eeked out a win. ...their lines are still a joke. This is a game the Bruins should be able to win on the road against one of the lower tier teams in the Pac-10.
- - -
[Emphasis mine]

.. and in 2007:

Washington (w): ...this time if Bruins find a way to choke like they did in Seattle, DeWayne Walker and his colleagues in the coaching staff will not be able to get away by playing a pathetic blame game. We will expect another Bruin win...

The Bruins did win, convincingly, scoring 34 points in the second half. Without question, a team with a real Head Football Coach for a change will be expected to have his team prepared to sustain that success against the worst team in the conference:

@ Washington (L):  The Bruins head up to Seattle where the entire Husky nation will be out for CRN’s blood. Willingham may be fighting for his coaching life and the Huskies will be anxious to feel better about Barbara Hedges’ follies by exacting "revenge" (in their minds) against Neuheisel. They will get their wish.
- - -

There’s Oregon State, then, about which we know from 2006:

*11/11 Oregon St (w) - ...a well-coached UCLA football team should never lose to Beavers at home.

Accordingly, Dorrell’s team beat the Beavers by 18 points that year, then demolished OSU by 26 last year in Corvallis. Dorrell easily out-recruited Mike Riley every single season according to Rivals. Almost every magazine picks UCLA to finish ahead of the Beavers. Obviously, an easy, easy win in the Rose Bowl...

Oregon St (T):  ...If the Beavers live up to their pre-season hype, they should be the favorite to win this game. But the Bruins have had their number in recent years.  Again, this is a toss up game and right now I am not sure what to expect.
- - -

So, uh, California, which lost six of its last seven conference games, including a nine-point loss to Dorrell’s incredibly mismanaged Bruins?

@ California (L): ...By this game, I would assume Jeff Tedford’s QB situation will become clear, in which (IMHO) Kevin Riley should emerge as the unquestioned number 1 QB in Strawberry Canyon. I think Cal is positioned to have a decent season next year, but in this game IMHO they will be the favorites at home. The Bruins fall...
- - -

And so on. Nestor’s own tally says it all: whether UCLA wins three or six games, it would only match Dorrell’s worst season at best. Whether it wins three or five Pac Ten games, it would only match Dorrell’s worst season at best.

My first thought when Neuheisel was hired was, "How long will it take for Bruins Nation to turn on him?" Obviously, with an all-out investment in coach-worship of this order, it’s going to be a long, long time. Most fans have high hopes for immediate improvement under a new coach, but they don’t understand how to protect that investment. Nestor does. People don’t give a motorcycle gang of angry sumo wrestlers this wide a berth.

Specifically: A loss to Washington must be a regression. After all, there is no excuse for losing to one of the lower-tier teams in the Pac Ten (the lowest tier, actually). A loss to BYU would be directly in line with the underachieving mediocrity that generated so much vitriol through the last four seasons. So would a third loss to Arizona in four years. After all, there is no excuse for not being able to get a win against a Mountain West team, and no excuse for losing to the perpetually lame Mildcats (again). A 6-6 regular season would be another sideways step in the unacceptable status quo. After all, obviously Bruin fans expect Dan Guerrero to hold CRN to the same standards to which he holds UCLA’s other magnificent athletic programs.

No, my child, we don’t expect any better. Great question, though.
- - -

It’s not that these projections are destined to be wrong –– without going into the returning roster in extreme detail, I happen to think, as BN has always maintained, that L.A. should always expect a winning season, including this season –– but in context, they are staggeringly hypocritical. Karl Dorrell never had a regular season worse than 6-6. He never had a losing record in Pac Ten play. Inheriting a team that finished 4-7, 6-5, 7-4 and 7-5 from 1999-2002, he was not given a mulligan for a 6-6 debut –– his record was 10-10 when the current clan at BN first took the drumbeat virtual at Fire Karl Dorrell midway through the 2004 season. The subhead of that blog, summarizing the worst losses of the early KD era, was, "12-13. FRESNO STATE. WYOMING. UCLA DESERVES BETTER." Three years later, the same folks appear very willing to accept losses to the high end of the Mountain West and to Pac Ten bottom-dwellers –– teams Dorrell’s last team defeated, as expected –– as a natural step in the rebuilding process. Six-win seasons were completely unacceptable for Dorrell, but HFCAGIOFACCRN can take all the time he needs.

What this is, really, is an admission that the "expectations" for Dorrell were ridiculous –– intentionally constructed to be beyond not only any independent projections but beyond the realistic grasp of anyone in his position. They were entertainingly obsessed with the subject, often mean about it, but I never disagreed with Bruins Nation that Dorrell should probably be canned. I still don’t. The hyperbole wasn’t necessary to reach that conclusion. But where did I get the idea they expected progress as a result?