The Rick Neuheisel Era at UCLA -- after just three years -- is at a crossroads. No matter how bad the injuries were, a second 4-8 finish leading the Bruins has put Neuheisel squarely on the hot seat heading into season four. His new pistol offense sputtered much of the year. His defense was weak. Both coordinators -- yes, even Norm Chow -- might not be back next year.
The Bruins started terribly, then seemed to find their stride. Then, they lost starting quarterback Kevin Prince -- who was struggling mightily in the passing game -- to a knee injury, and things mostly stunk thereafter.
The start couldn't have been worse. The Bruins lost to a mediocre Kansas State team they had whipped the year before, and then Stanford humiliated them at home 35-0. But just when they were about to be written off, they beat Houston and Texas -- before either of those teams seasons went south. A win over Washington State put the Bruins at 3-2. Then they dropped three in a row and lost Prince. He was replaced by Richard Brehaut, who could look great one moment, horrible the next.
Still, a 17-14 win over Oregon State set up a simple task for the final three games: Win two out of three over Washington, Arizona State and USC, and UCLA would go bowling. The Bruins lost all three badly.
So, for the second time in three seasons under Neuheisel, the Bruins are staying home for the bowl season, which isn't going to charm many folks in Westwood.
Offensive MVP: Running back Johnathan Franklin rushed for 1,127 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. He seemed to respond well to the Bruins new pistol offense. On the downside, he continues to struggle with ball security issues.
Defensive MVP: Junior linebacker Akeem Ayers started brilliantly but fell off late. Still, he's one of the nation's most talented defenders and a likely early-round -- perhaps first round -- NFL draft pick if, as expected, he opts to bolt a year early. He had 10 tackles for a loss, four sacks, two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles.
Turning point: The Texas win was supposed to be the turning point -- in a good way. But the 35-7 loss at California on Oct. 9 was the first of six losses in seven games, so the prevailing turning point was a downturn. Prince had originally hurt his knee at Texas but had tried to play through the pain. The California game is where his season ended; he played poorly and it was revealed afterward he needed knee surgery.
What’s next: There is a lot on Neuheisel's plate. Is he going to bring Chow and defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough back? What about other coaching changes? Are the Bruins going to stick with the pistol offense? Who's the quarterback going forward -- and can Prince, who may not be ready for spring practices, stay healthy? Neuheisel has recruited well, but he will lose a number of key players -- juniors Ayers and safety Rahim Moore are expected to enter the draft -- so it's hard to say how things will go in 2011 in the new Pac-12 South.