December 01, 2011
UCLA players insist they're committed to an upset Friday night at Oregon, where the ballooning point spread has settled on the Bruins as 31½-point underdogs for the Pac-12 championship. Still, they're not leaving the celebration to chance in their head coach's last game. From the Orange County Register:
In his final practice at Spaulding Field, embattled UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel received a tribute from his players that he said was both unexpected and "tough to imagine" being any better.
After the Bruins concluded their near two-hour workout Wednesday in preparation for Friday's Pac-12 title game against Oregon, they gathered around Neuheisel. Quarterback Kevin Prince, safety Stan McKay and several other players then hoisted their coach onto their shoulder pads, walking off the field as a group. The team hummed the Bruins fight song, culminating with an emphatic, "U-C-L-A." […]
"It's meaningful when you work to create relationships and you want desperately for them (players) to achieve what they are capable of achieving," he said, pausing twice to compose himself as tears welled in his eyes. "And despite the fact that we didn't win enough games, I think they are achieving as people."
Aw. See coach? They really do care, after all.
There was another reason to celebrate: On Wednesday afternoon, the NCAA ruled that the Bruins are eligible for a bowl game even if they lose in Eugene, even though said loss would drop them below .500 for the season at 6-7. Assuming Stanford is heading for another at-large bid to a BCS game at 11-1, it also means that the Pac-12 will be able to fill at least six of its seven bowl tie-ins — the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl breathes a sigh of relief, and sidles up as UCLA's likely consolation prize — leaving only the New Mexico Bowl out in the cold. But I'm sure they'll manage somehow.