Chris Dufresne's preseason top 25

The Times' Chris Dufresne unveils his preseason

college football top 25, one day (and team) at a time:


No. 25 UCLA

Don't go into shock, Westwood, and knock a double espresso into your laptop -- this is actually next year's No. 25 pick.

It's delivered one August early, with a sprinkle of cinnamon, to assure Rankman gets credit for announcing the revival that is coming to UCLA football.

Can you almost feel it?

Positive omen: Bruins Coach Rick Neuheisel took an off-season coaches' trip to visit troops in the Middle East and spent one night bunking with coaches Mack Brown (Texas) and Jim Tressel (Ohio State), two former BCS champions with teams ranked very high in this year's top 25.

Some of that fairy dust was bound to rub off.

UCLA finished 4-8 in Neuheisel's first season and you could have saved yourself mounds of program-in-transition heartache by reading your local fish wrap the morning of the Labor Day season opener against Tennessee when Rankman predicted UCLA would go . . . 4-8.

Of course, when the Bruins shocked the Volunteers on national television and then had a week off, Rankman's inbox nearly exploded with told-you-so torments supplied by UCLA fans who mistook that miracle as an indication instead of an aberration.

The final score of the game after Tennessee was Brigham Young 59, UCLA 0.

The Bruins' offense, crippled from the word "go-hut" by career-ending injuries in spring practice to their top two quarterbacks, and an undersized and inexperienced offensive line, had little chance of moving the chains.

The fact junior college transfer Kevin Craft was forced into action when he wasn't ready only contributed to the anemic output. Craft ended up with 20 interceptions and only seven touchdowns while 12 Bruins rushers combined to fall seven yards short of 1,000.

No defense in America was ready for so many three-and-outs.

The UCLA water boy for defense was on high alert all season.

Drop your bottles, boys, the offense is third and 23 again!

But, in the late summer after the spring in which UCLA had no NFL players drafted, momentum may be shifting. The Bruins procured a solid recruiting class, pilfering a few prospects from the crosstown bullies, and no team with Norm Chow as offensive coordinator is going struggle forever.

This is the incremental improvement stage of Bruins football, where the offense looks to average 3.5 yards a play while trying to minimize mistakes at quarterback, starting on first down with Kevin Prince.

"We're going to be able to run the ball, or die trying," Neuheisel says.

The defense may not be as championship-caliber good as linebacker Reggie Carter thinks it will be, but it's going to be good. And if UCLA can emerge 2-1 after its first three games -- San Diego State, at Tennessee, Kansas State -- this year has the look of 6-6 or even 7-5. And then next year, in terms of UCLA and the Pac-10 championship race is concerned, it could get interesting.


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