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COLLEGE FOOTBALL / CHRIS DUFRESNE : He’s a Success Story, Not a Successor

Since time and tide wait for no man--or coach--it isn’t too soon to at least contemplate UCLA football without Terry Donahue, should he exchange his headset for a CBS telestrator.

Donahue’s departure would be UCLA’s loss, obviously, but Bruin faithful are hereby advised that if Donahue does call it quits after 20 seasons, to forget one name when considering a possible successor:

Rick Neuheisel.

Dream about it for a second, then get on with your life.

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There was a time that Neuheisel was the linear choice, an in-house man cut from the same gutty-little-Bruin cloth Donahue tailored into his rise from player to assistant to head coach at 31.

Neuheisel seemed to be on a similar track. A former UCLA walk-on quarterback and Rose Bowl MVP, he showed coaching proclivities at a tender age while a Bruin assistant.

Donahue-to-Neuheisel had the symmetry of a Dodger managerial transition.

But that was before 1994, before Neuheisel was passed over as UCLA’s offensive coordinator in favor of Bob Toledo, before Neuheisel moved on to a home where the Buffaloes roam.

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Unlike UCLA, Colorado took a flyer on the 33-year-old Neuheisel and named him to succeed Bill McCartney.

Wrapping up his first season, Neuheisel has guided Colorado to an 9-2 record, a No. 8 ranking and a trip to the Cotton Bowl.

He is all the rave in the Rockies.

So, let’s assume Donahue does retire, this year or next, or the year after, and the Bruins want to make a run at Neuheisel.

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“You can’t have him,” Colorado Athletic Director Bill Marolt said this week. “If you guys had him and let him go, shame on you.”

Marolt signed Neuheisel to a tidy--and airtight--five-year contract. The deal does not include a loophole that would allow Neuheisel to consider UCLA.

More than that, Marolt says he has developed an environment that will keep Neuheisel successful and happy for years.

“I really believe that people in Colorado have really attached themselves to the program, and that we would do what’s necessary to keep him,” Marolt said.

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Neuheisel was out of town on a recruiting trip and could not be reached for comment, but let’s just assume he’s giddy about the way things played out.

Neuheisel has already notched a defining moment, last Saturday’s upset of No. 10 Kansas State on the road.

After Kansas State scored a touchdown to go ahead, 17-13, with 2:24 left, Neuheisel’s Colorado offense raced 80 yards downfield with scary ease against the nation’s top-ranked defense, scoring on a 20-yard pass with 1:04 left en route to a 27-17 victory.

Not that Marolt was surprised.

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“We didn’t hire him and hope he would do a good job,” he said of Neuheisel. “He was here for a year. I had a chance to get to know him, watch him work with kids on the team, see him interact with the staff, the public, and I just liked everything that I saw.”

UCLA can defend its decision to go outside and hire Toledo as a replacement for Homer Smith.

Toledo had 26 years experience as a coordinator, Neuheisel none.

In fact, at the time Neuheisel’s Buffaloes were upsetting Kansas State, Toledo was executing the game plan of his life in the Bruins’ victory over USC.

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Toledo did what good coordinators to do in underdog situations, pull out all the stops. And his “Holy Toledo” call to run Cade McNown on that quarterback draw that killed the clock on the Trojans was an all-timer.

Yet, if the Bruins are looking for a long-term heir to Donahue, they appear to have missed their chance with Neuheisel.

Of course, you never say never.

“The bottom line is, contracts are contracts,” Marolt said. “If someone really wanted to move on, and isn’t happy, people are going to find out ways to move on, to be frank and candid.”

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Marolt doesn’t see that happening.

“We stepped up and hired him, and we’ll continue to work with him and work very hard to keep him,” he said.

AND THEN THERE WAS ONE

When they turn out the lights on the Southwest Conference on Dec. 2, one school can walk away with a clear conscience.

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Rice.

The Owls don’t leave behind many fond football memories, but they should be remembered for departing as the only SWC school never to have been sanctioned by the NCAA.

“There was never a question whether we would walk away clean,” Bill Cousins, the assistant athletic director, said. “That wasn’t going to happen.”

Maybe it’s fitting that Rice should take the last snap for the 82-year-old league when the Owls play Houston in the late game on Dec. 2.

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Rice, after all, played in the first SWC game, against Baylor in 1915.

The Southwest is breaking up, its members scattering to the Western Athletic and the expanded Big 12 conferences.

Scandal in the 1980s destroyed the once-proud Southwest. Players took money and cars from oilmen. Test scores were fixed. Southern Methodist tried to “buy” a national title with seed money and became the first school to draw the NCAA’s “death penalty,” a two-year closure of the program beginning in 1987.

Through it all, Rice stood tall.

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A prestigious private college of 2,600 students in Houston, Rice has not won an SWC title since 1957 and went from 1963 to 1992 without recording a winning season.

The Owls--2-7-1 this season--produced their share of pros. Quarterbacks Tobin Rote and Tommy Kramer and center Courtney Hall come to mind.

But Rice played by a different set of rules.

“We ended up recruiting a lot of different people than they were recruiting,” Cousins said of other SWC teams. “We recruited people that we thought would benefit from a Rice education, not Saturday afternoon mercenaries.”

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MORE RICE

Although a Rice football highlight film wouldn’t get you through a bag of popcorn, the school was involved in one of the most famous plays in college football history. In the 1954 Cotton Bowl, Alabama’s Tommy Lewis left the bench and tackled Rice’s Dickie Moegle as he was racing down the sideline for an apparent touchdown.

Moegle, who later changed the spelling of his name to Maegle (don’t ask), was awarded a 95-yard touchdown run.

Last Saturday, perhaps in tribute to Lewis, Virginia trainer Joe Gieck extended his leg across the sideline in an attempt to distract a Virginia Tech player who had intercepted a pass and was streaking down the Virginia sideline on the game’s final play.

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The Tech player scored, but Gieck’s little Claudette Colbert leg-flash did not go unpunished. The Virginia athletic department announced that he will not be allowed on the sideline for the Cavaliers’ bowl game.

REMEDIAL BOWL TALK

How things are shaping up:

Fiesta--No. 1 Nebraska vs. Saturday’s Florida-Florida State winner--provided the Gators, if victorious, defeat Arkansas in the SEC title game on Dec. 2.

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Orange--With No. 7 Notre Dame now guaranteed a spot in the six-team alliance, the Orange Bowl could take the Irish with the third pick and Miami with the fifth--provided the Hurricanes defeat Syracuse this weekend and are spared NCAA bowl sanctions.

Sugar--With the fourth and sixth picks, the Sugar Bowl must wait for the Fiesta and Orange scenarios to shake out. If No. 6 Florida State falls to No. 3 Florida, the Seminoles could land here. Remember the SWC champion, Texas or Texas A&M;, gets one of the top six slots.

Rose--No. 17 USC vs. either No. 2 Ohio State or No. 4 Northwestern.

Cotton--No. 12 Oregon vs. No. 8 Colorado.

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Citrus--Shaping up as Northwestern and No. 5 Tennessee in a matchup beyond the Citrus’ wildest dreams.

Holiday--No. 10 Kansas State vs. the eventual WAC champion. Five WAC teams have two losses.

Gator--No. 24 Clemson is in, perhaps against No. 13 Virginia Tech.

Peach--No. 19 Virginia drops here, perhaps against Alabama, Auburn or Arkansas.

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Sun--No. 20 Washington vs. the Big Ten’s fifth-place team.

Aloha--UCLA vs. the Big Eight’s fifth or sixth.

Las Vegas--Nevada vs. Toledo.

Liberty--East Carolina is in.

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Outback--Probably the winner of Penn State-Michigan State vs. the SEC third.

Too soon to call: Alamo, Copper, Independence, Carquest.

THIS AND THAT

Mr. Honesty Award: Clay Shiver, Florida State senior center, on preparing for Saturday’s showdown against Florida: “Honestly, school kind of takes a back seat during weeks like this.”

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Who is Alex Van Dyke and how did he end up at the University of Nevada with the NCAA single-season record for yards receiving? Van Dyke’s 314 yards against San Jose State last weekend gave him 1,854 for the season, which broke Tulsa’s Howard Twilley’s mark of 1,779. It’s easy to be suspicious of big numbers, but Van Dyke is a legitimate NFL prospect. A 6-foot-2, 200-pound senior, he is a junior college transfer from Sacramento City College. When his coach there, Jeff Tisdel, joined the Nevada staff, Van Dyke followed.

Friday’s game will be the last meeting of Nebraska and Oklahoma as members of the Big Eight. Next season, the league expands by four to become the Big 12. Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne says the rivalry, won’t be the same: “I think the unique thing about it is that it’s determined the Big Eight champion so many times. So I guess that’s what made it special. It’s sad to see this part of the rivalry come to an end with the new schedule. It’s sad to see the Big Eight come to an end.”

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Times’ Top 10

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*--*

No. Team Record 1. Nebraska 10-0 2. Florida 10-0 3. Ohio State 11-0 4. Florida State 9-1 5. Northwestern 10-1 6. Tennessee 9-1 7. Colorado 9-2 8. Texas 8-1-1 9. Notre Dame 9-2 10. Oregon 9-2

*--*

Waiting list: 11. Virginia Tech (9-2); 12. Kansas State (9-2); 13. Kansas (9-2); 14. Penn State (7-3); 15. Texas A&M; (7-2); 16. Auburn (8-3); 17. Michigan (8-3); 18. Virginia (8-4); 19. USC (8-2-1); 20. Washington (7-3-1); 21. Syracuse (8-2); 22. Alabama (8-3); 23. Miami (7-3); 24. Clemson (8-3); 25. Arkansas (8-3).

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