Dorrell, UCLA Facing an Important Moment

If UCLA wants to rejoin USC in the big-time college football business, this might be a good week to start, with viable-yet-vulnerable Oklahoma coming to town and UCLA having, arguably, the better team.

If Bruin Coach Karl Dorrell wants to say he has turned the corner on his West Coast program makeover, this is the time to prove it.

It’s not a “must” win for UCLA. Getting New Orleans back on its feet is a must win.


This is, however, a “must compete” situation for the Bruins. Oklahoma has played in three bowl championship series national-title games since 2000 but, at 1-1, is not even the Sooner team that was routed by USC in last year’s Orange Bowl.

Even those who lobbied hard for Dorrell’s hiring, such as former UCLA quarterback Tom Ramsey, are watching with keen interest.

Two years ago, in the third game of Dorrell’s first season, UCLA went to Norman and got rotisserie-roasted by No. 1 Oklahoma. The score was 59-24, but it was worse than that. UCLA was a carnival act that day, watching Antonio Perkins return three punts for touchdowns.

Ramsey is ready to make this prediction about Saturday: “It’ll be closer than the Bruins were to Perkins two years ago, because they weren’t even close,” he said.

The battened-down Bruin Nation has pointed to this game, set out checkered tablecloths for it, kept the pinot noir at below room temperature for it.

“This is a key game -- it’s a key game,” Ramsey said. “The alumni group I’m attached with earmarked this game months ago.”

In the life of the modern-day, highly compensated coach, three years is the season where accounts become payable.

It used to be schools gave you five years, but even Notre Dame abandoned that principle last season to usher out Tyrone Willingham and usher in Charlie Weis. See, and it worked!

So where is Dorrell entering Game 3 of Year 3?

It looks promising, actually, what with the embarrassment of last year’s Las Vegas Bowl defeat to Wyoming tempered by rollover victories against San Diego State and Rice.

Two years ago, as a warmup to Oklahoma, UCLA won its home opener against Illinois, 6-3, a game so chillingly boring the game tape was stored in a meat locker.

Dorrell’s problem, and it’s definitely a tough nut, is that he tinkers only miles down the road from USC Coach Pete Carroll, who won the Orange Bowl in his second season and a national title in his third.

You talk about messing up the progress paradigm.

No one at UCLA honestly expects Dorrell to match Carroll in enthusiasm or recruiting, or to take the program he inherited and make it the benchmark.

Wait a minute -- yes, they do!

It just may not be realistic.

As it relates to Oklahoma, why shouldn’t/couldn’t UCLA win this game?

Oklahoma is without Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jason White for the first time in what seems like 10 years.

Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops this week summed up his team’s play at the position as “Oh, pretty average.”

The Bruins have so many quarterbacks they could do a lend-lease with the Sooners.

Oklahoma still has tailback Adrian Peterson, but UCLA still has Maurice Drew.

A victory against Oklahoma puts UCLA back in the top 25, back on the BCS electoral map, back in business.

“If you beat Oklahoma, now you’re a legit 3-0,” Ramsey said. “If you lose, you’re a pretty average 2-1 team.... It’s not do-or-die for Karl, but a game like the Oklahoma game can give the team significant momentum.”

Consider how fast things have changed.

Six games into the 2001 season, UCLA was ranked No. 4 after beating Cal. USC lost to Notre Dame on the same weekend and fell to 2-5 under Carroll, then a first-year coach.

“Go back and look at Pete Carroll’s first 10 games,” Ramsey said. “People were calling for his head.”

Carroll worked his way nicely out of that jam.

With Oklahoma headed west, Dorrell’s direction may also soon be determined.


Harris Hiccup

Brentson Buckner of the Carolina Panthers is the only active NFL player voting in the new Harris poll, which has replaced the Associated Press poll in this year’s BCS formula.

The first Harris findings won’t be revealed until Sept. 25, but Buckner is already releasing his weekly ballot on his website.

Uh-oh alert: Buckner had Oregon State at No. 12 in his first poll, then dropped the Beavers out of his top 25 after they beat Boise State.

Buckner also lists Iowa at No. 21 and does not rank Iowa State, which beat Iowa last week, 23-3.

He ranks Clemson, his alma mater, at No. 18.

If you have a problem with any of this, remember, Buckner is an “active” NFL player and listed at 6 feet 2 and 310 pounds.


Court Order

Is there a chance that No. 2 Texas, fresh off its impressive win at Ohio State, could be denied a trip to this year’s national title-game because of pending legislation in the Texas statehouse?

Last March, in what can be described only as an anti-BCS crusade, Sen. Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio) filed Senate Bill 1790, which would have prohibited Texas schools from participating in postseason games unless college football instituted a playoff.

But wait a minute, this news flash just in ...

Reached by phone this week, a spokesman for Wentworth said of the bill, “I believe that died in committee.”


Hurry-Up Offense

Enjoy it while it lasts department: Illinois, Baylor, Kansas, Indiana and Vanderbilt, which combined to finish 15-40 last year, are all 2-0. The most impressive perennial doormat of this group is Vanderbilt, which has a star quarterback in Jay Cutler and a decent shot of making its first bowl game since 1982....

If you want to beat the Texas Longhorns, you have to beat them on the ground. Under Coach Mack Brown, Texas is 61-0 when it has out-rushed its opponent....

Memo to the Ohio State Buckeyes: One tough loss to Texas does not knock you out of the national-title race. Five one-loss teams in the last seven years have qualified for the BCS title game: Florida State (1998 and 2000), Nebraska (2001), Oklahoma (2003) and Louisiana State (2003). Also, pre-BCS, Florida lost to Florida State late in November 1996 and rebounded to win the national title in a rematch against the Seminoles in the Sugar Bowl....

Forget Elvis. Quirky first-year Hawaii defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville needs to start leaving game tickets for Buddy Ryan. It’s been a rough two games for Glanville, a former NFL head coach, whose defense ranks No. 110 out of 119 Division I-A schools this week. Hawaii has given up 105 points and 1,017 yards in defeats by USC and Michigan State....

Bandwagon busters: Michigan State, which plays at Notre Dame on Saturday, has won five games in a row at South Bend and has defeated the Irish six times since 1995. The only other team with as many wins over Notre Dame in that span is USC....

Don’t believe the hype: The Big Ten is 17-3 in nonconference play, but consider the losses -- Iowa, Ohio State and Michigan last Saturday became the first three top-10 teams from the same conference to lose on the same day since the AP poll began in 1936. The Pac-10 boasts a 13-3 record in nonconference games, but the league has played only one game against a BCS school, Arizona State vs. Louisiana State.

The real test comes this week, when Pac-10 teams face six BCS-conference schools, and Oregon plays No. 23 Fresno State.

“Certainly this week I think we’ll know more about the Pac-10 and the way we’re shaking out this year,” Oregon Coach Mike Bellotti said....

Think there might be any outrage in Lincoln this week if Nebraska loses at home to Pittsburgh, which last week lost to Ohio, coached by former Nebraska coach Frank Solich? ...

One of the benefits of Atlantic Coast Conference expansion is getting Florida State at Boston College this Saturday, Bobby Bowden’s first appearance in Beantown since he took his first Seminole team there in 1976. Boston College has long had a place in Bowden’s heart, given that the Eagles’ upset win over Notre Dame in 1993 allowed Bowden to claim his first national title. “We’ll always appreciate Boston College,” the coach said this week. Notre Dame, which beat Florida State that year in a classic showdown in South Bend, has considerably less affection for BC....

One reason Urban Meyer left Utah for Florida was to play in games such as Saturday’s Southeastern Conference opener against Tennessee in Gainesville. “For a long time I have admired the SEC,” Meyer said, “and now I will get to experience it.”