LOS ANGELES -- The Pac-12 Conference released its first-ever preseason poll Tuesday, with UCLA picked to finish fifth out of six teams in the south division. The meager expectations didn't appear to affect the presence at coach Rick Neuheisel's media day lunch table, as a hoard of reporters huddled around to hear what he had to say.
One out-of-town reporter, clearly baffled, looked at the large group and whispered to another: "All of this for a coach that went 4-and-8 last year?"
Some tidbits from the inaugural Pac-12 media day:
The ever-optimistic Neuheisel wasted no time in addressing his job status, beginning his opening statement by saying, "As a coach on the proverbial hot seat, I guess you're excited to be invited to any of these things. I am looking forward to the upcoming season. I know I say that every year, but never more so than this year."
Neuheisel dropped a bomb with news of freshman quarterback Brett Hundley's torn meniscus, which Hundley suffered in June while playing basketball back home in Arizona. Neuheisel expects Hundley to be out three to four weeks and miss the first half of fall camp, which UCLA opens on Aug. 8 at Spaulding Field. The injury was thought to be just a hyperextension of the right knee, Neuheisel said, but ice treatment didn't reduce the swelling. Hundley will undergo surgery Wednesday. When asked if he set any limitations on the non-football activities of his players, Neuheisel said: "You tell guys to be smart, but kids are going to be kids. ... Sometimes coaches are better off not knowing what they're getting into."
With Hundley out of the picture -- at least momentarily -- the quarterback battle between Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut figures to intensify tenfold. Neuheisel said he has been assured by various people that Prince is "100 percent healthy" and completely ready for the fall. And of Brehaut's dual-sport aspirations, Neuheisel said: "You have to do what your heart tells you to do. Richard, we're going to coach hard. I don't want to paint him as a bad guy because I love Brehaut, I love his family, but I know what the quarterback position demands." Brehaut, a catcher who joined the UCLA baseball team in the spring, has juggled football and baseball duties since spring, playing in the California Collegiate League as a member of the Academy Barons this summer.
The Bruins stumbled out of the gate last season, falling at Kansas State and losing to Stanford at the Rose Bowl. As a result, wins against then-ranked Houston and at Texas didn't correlate into large home crowds. Neuheisel stressed the importance of winning the first two games -- at Houston on Sept. 3 and against San Jose State on Sept. 10 -- if only to get fans excited. "If we can go on the road," Neuheisel said, "and beat Houston and do so in an impressive way, look like we're well-coached and a sound, fundamental football team, I think (fans will) come out the next week and be excited. If we can find a way to win that one, the next one's against Texas [at home Sept. 17]. It can happen that fast. It doesn't take long to win back your constituency. They just want to know there is reason for your optimism."
Also representing UCLA was junior tailback Johnathan Franklin, a Doak Walker Award and Maxwell Award preseason watch list member who rushed for 1,127 yards last year. He became the second straight Dorsey High alum to appear at media day for the Bruins, succeeding defensive back Rahim Moore, a second-round draft pick of the Denver Broncos in April. When asked if it would be difficult not to prematurely celebrate a touchdown against USC, Franklin said: "There's got to be discipline. I just want to celebrate with my team after I score that touchdown. If I do it, I'll just run over with my fellas and celebrate." Under new rules, a premature celebration -- say, if Franklin high-steps his way into the end zone -- will draw an "unsportsmanlike conduct" penalty and the ball will be placed at the spot of the foul.
Media members that cover Pac-12 newcomers Colorado and Utah had an interest in Neuheisel, for obvious reasons. Neuheisel coached at Colorado from 1995-98, winning 33 of 47 games there. Former UCLA offensive coordinator Norm Chow assumed the same position at Utah after his messy split with Neuheisel. "I enjoyed Norm," Neuheisel said. "He's a good guy and he's got great knowledge. There was never any personal issue between Norm Chow and Rick Neuheisel. But there were philosophical issues. Unfortunately it didn't work out."
Neuheisel said he has kept in touch with the father of offensive tackle Xavier Su'a-Filo, who left for a two-year Mormon mission after his freshman season at UCLA in 2009. Su'a-Filo, who started every game at left tackle, "can't wait to come back," Neuheisel said. There was some ambiguity surrounding Su'a-Filo's post-mission plans.
Neuheisel, along with fellow Pac-12 coaches, will embark on the second leg of a bicoastal media tour Wednesday. Neuheisel said he'd probably sit next to Colorado coach Jon Embree, father of UCLA receiver Taylor Embree, on the bus and plane trips. The real question, though, is whether Jon Embree will greet his son during a pregame ceremony at the Rose Bowl on Nov. 19, when UCLA hosts Colorado on senior day.