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UCLA football: With Carroll gone, can Neuheisel and Bruins seize the day?

January 11, 2010 |  7:34 pm
Rick Pete Carroll’s departure for the Seattle Seahawks leaves a lot of questions around USC. Across town there is only one:

What does this mean for UCLA, which has spent nearly a decade as the No. 2 college football team in a two-team city?

Carroll’s departure appears to leave UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel in the winner column, and a significant winner should NCAA sanctions land at Heritage Hall.

The Bruins took a small step forward by finishing off a 7-6 season with a victory over Temple in the EagleBank Bowl, an improvement on a 4-8 record in 2008. Still, UCLA finished eighth in Pacific 10 Conference play each of the last two seasons.

But the program-selling just got a lot easier.

Asked how the situation had changed, Neuheisel said, “It remains to be seen. I felt like the landscape was changing anyway, in the reception UCLA was getting in homes. There are those still entrenched with the Trojans and those entrenched with the Bruins and a whole bunch in between."

But Neuheisel conceded that in recruiting, “You have to do a good job of explaining what the future looks like. It’s a little more difficult to predict the future on the other side of town.”

Neuheisel said he already thought the Bruins had made some inroads in the fertile Los Angeles-area recruiting fields. A year ago, UCLA landed wide receiver Randall Carroll and tight end Morrell Presley, both of whom had previously committed to USC.

But the Bruins were already feeling better since the news that Carroll might leave broke late last week.

La Canada St. Francis High safety Dietrich Riley, who appeared to be leaning toward USC, popped in at UCLA over the weekend on an official visit. Xavier Grimble, a tight end from Las Vegas Bishop Gorman who has committed to USC, told the Las Vegas Sun he is now “listening” to other schools and has added the Bruins to his list. He is expected to take a recruiting visit to UCLA this weekend.

 “There is a lot of confusion out there,” Neuheisel said. “A lot of kids thought they had it all figured out and now the world changes. It will take a little while for it to settle down, but I don’t think it will be as drastic as everybody pretends it will be.” He added, “There will be a new coach there and he will say a very convincing tale.”

UCLA fans certainly will view Carroll’s departure as a watershed moment in the Bruins’ program. There have been significantly more postings on UCLA fan websites about Carroll and USC than there were two weeks ago about the Bruins’ first bowl victory since 2005.

Neuheisel, though, seems cautious about being perceived as proclaiming victory with Carroll gone. He would also prefer that any success the Bruins have in the future is not the result of a coaching change across town.

“This will remain very competitive,” he said.

Neuheisel has been in the situation USC now faces. He was hired at UCLA in January 2008 and had to quickly establish to recruits that they should stick with their commitments. That class stuck together, and many of those players were key contributors this past season.

It is the same drill the new coach at USC will face.

“It’s difficult from the standpoint that you can’t be in all the places you need to be in that period of time,” Neuheisel said. “You’re trying to get to every house and every audience of the people involved. That gets difficult to do with the constraints of dead period and the contrasts of travel. The most important thing is, don’t go so fast that you make mistakes.”

That, this time, is not his headache.

“There are three weeks left” before national signing day, Neuheisel said. “A lot can be done in that regard.”

-- Chris Foster

Photo: Rick Nueheisel celebrates UCLA's victory over Temple in the EagleBank Bowl on Dec. 29. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times