When Arizona State looks across the football field tomorrow afternoon, their opponent will look a lot like Arizona State.
ASU and UCLA have identical records. Both are 4-6 overall and 2-5 in the Pac-10.
Each team is right where they were predicted to be when the season began. UCLA was picked in the pre-season poll to finish 8th in the conference. ASU was right behind with a 9th-place expectation. Going into this game, they are tied for 8th place.
Both teams need this win to have any hopes of being bowl-eligible.
Both head coaches returned to college ball from NFL coaching jobs and are struggling to bring a program back to prominence. ASU’s Dennis Erickson is in his fourth season; Rick Neuheisel is in Season 3 with the Bruins.
Both coaches have been very successful directing other college programs, but have struggled with their current challenges. In eight years as a college head coach, Neuheisel has been to seven bowl games, including a win in the 2001 Rose Bowl with Washington. Erickson led Miami to consecutive national championships.
Erickson just got a vote of confidence from ASU’s administration, which announced his return for the 2011 season, despite the possibility that this may be a third straight losing season. On the UCLA side, that school just approved a two-year contract extension for Neuheisel’s offensive coordinator, Norm Chow, who was a major part of Neuheisel’s reconstruction team when he arrived.
Both teams are coming off gut-wrenching losses. ASU took No. 6 Stanford deep into the fourth quarter before letting the Cardinal escape with a 17-13 win. The Bruins held one of the country’s top quarterbacks, Jake Locker, to just 77 yards but still fell to Washington, 24-7.
UCLA lost its starting quarterback in the third quarter of that game, when Richard Brehaut suffered a concussion and had to watch the remainder of the game from the sidelines. He has been cleared to play against ASU.
Steven Threet is scheduled to start again under center against the Bruins, but Brock Osweiler, the sophomore back-up QB from Montana, will be breathing a little heavier on Threet’s neck. He was given extra time with the first unit in practice this week and may see action against the Bruins should Threet falter.
This will be Senior Day for 13 players who will wrap up their college careers tomorrow. They include: Max Tabach (Safety), Brandon Smith (WR), Mike Callaghan (S), Trevor Hankins (punter), LeQuan Lewis (CB), Kerry Taylor (WR), Gerald Munns (LB), Thomas Weber (Kicker), Saia Falahola (DL), Ryan Skorupka (TE), Dean DeLeone (DL), Jamarr Robinson (DL), and Jon Hargis (OL).
Tabach and Falahola were the only seniors on the roster who started the last game against Stanford, an indication of the youth that Erickson will use to build on next year.
The Bruins hold a big edge in the series, having won 16 to ASU’s nine games, but the teams have split the last four meetings. UCLA used a 23-13 win last year in the Rose Bowl to become bowl eligible, but a 34-9 Sun Devil victory in 2008 in Tempe eliminated the Bruins from bowl consideration that year.
This year the game is back at Sun Devil Stadium, but that’s like coming home to Neuheisel. The Bruin’s head coach grew up in Tempe.