UCLA has high hopes, but no starting QB yet
Rick Neuheisel pushes UCLA through a 21/2-hour workout on an uncommonly hot Monday in Westwood, trying to prepare the Bruins for the blast-furnace temperatures that could await them in their season opener at Houston.
And that's nothing compared to the heat on the Bruins and their coach to produce a winner this fall.
UCLA hasn't made much measurable progress during Neuheisel's first three years in charge at his alma mater, with two 4-8 seasons bookending his only bowl bid.
After a tumultuous offseason featuring the departures of his top two assistants, the veteran coach believes he's finally got the players - including 16 returning starters and three solid recruiting classes - along with the momentum to change a program mired in mediocrity for the better part of 15 years.
"I think we're right where we need to be," Neuheisel said before cooling down with his quarterbacks around a portable water slide.
Yet Neuheisel still hasn't chosen a starting quarterback, instead letting Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut compete until midweek. Neuheisel expects to announce his choice by Wednesday, and both top contenders believe they've done enough to earn the job.
The competition's results could play a major role in Neuheisel's success this season, but his comfort with both quarterbacks seems to be a good indication of his increased confidence in the Bruins' often-problematic offense, which sputtered for long stretches last season.
UCLA's passing game sometimes disappeared completely last season, but the Bruins seem determined to get the ball back in the air.
"As far as the competition, I'm just as clueless as you guys are," said Prince, who has started 16 games over the past two seasons despite missing significant stretches with injuries. "I don't know this for a fact, but I think (competition) could be Coach Neuheisel's motive. Without having a starter, it pushes us both. ... I've been taking first-string reps, but I went into camp just trying to get better."
Brehaut started seven games for the Bruins last year, passing for 1,296 yards and six touchdowns. His seven interceptions and a tendency to make major mistakes prevented the UCLA baseball catcher from claiming the job outright, however.
"I think I've done enough to prove that I can be the starter for this team," Brehaut said. "I think I've done enough to prove to my coaches that I can go in there in Houston and do more than I ever did."
Brehaut also praises Neuheisel's slow decision-making process on his starting lineup, acknowledging he plays with even more focus when "every single rep is being judged. The competition that Kevin and I have had is going to help this team."
Neuheisel doesn't acknowledge making his quarterbacks insecure on purpose. He's still working with new offensive coordinator Mike Johnson to figure who will run the Bruins' hybrid offense featuring elements of several schemes from past UCLA seasons, including the pistol and the spread.
"I thought Kevin did great, and I thought Richard did great," said Neuheisel, who serves as his own quarterbacks coach. "I'm comfortable with both of those guys running our offense."
Neuheisel realizes he's off to the worst three-year start to a coaching career at UCLA in nearly 90 years, but the Bruins see encouraging signs before going for their second straight win over the Cougars.
Receiver Taylor Embree returned to practice Monday after missing time with a calf injury, while tailbacks Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman are expected to provide a potent punch behind an improved offensive line.
"We're feeling good about where we're at, better than ever before, probably," said Franklin, a 1,127-yard rusher last season. "But we've still got to get some wins together. This is the year we've got to do it, no more time to waste."