UCLA was bowl bound and gagged.
All the Bruins needed to do was win two of their last three games, and they held second-quarter leads against Washington and Arizona State. UCLA collapsed in both games and will be home for the holidays.
So the Bruins lurch into Saturday's game against USC working toward next season. What that will bring is unclear. When asked whether this season's relapse made a bowl game a must in 2011, Coach Rick Neuheisel tap-danced around the answer.
"We certainly want to be in the postseason," Neuheisel said after the 55-34 loss to Arizona State on Friday. Pressed on the matter, he said, "I understand you're trying to get me to say something so you can hold me to it."
At some point, others may be asking the same question — fans, big-check boosters, athletic department administrators. But on Friday it was only the media, of which Neuheisel said, pleasantly enough, "I know what your job is. My job is to do the best I can, with what we have, and continue to build what we have through recruiting."
But just what 2011 means to Bruins fans, who have not seen a Pacific 10 Conference championship and Rose Bowl since 1998, is hard for Neuheisel to define.
What he did go out on a limb on during a Sunday teleconference was that, "We're going to be a better football team. To have that actually come to fruition, we have to count on a reasonable amount of health…. We have to count on the fact that players will do a believable amount of hard work during the off-season."
And if all that happens, "I'd be crushed if we don't make the postseason next year," Neuheisel said.
The last time UCLA went back-to-back seasons without a bowl game was 1989-90. That followed seasons of tremendous success — the Bruins were 10-2 in 1987 and 1988.
Road to ruin
UCLA is the only Pac-10 team that will not win a conference road game this season. The Bruins have won only two in the last three seasons, against 1-11 Washington State in 2009 and winless Washington in 2008.
The worst conference road teams since 2008, with one weekend left in the 2010 season, have been UCLA, Washington and Washington State. All have 2-11 records away from home in conference play.
Washington beat USC on the road, and Washington State beat Oregon State away from home this season.
"We have to find a formula to play better on the road," Neuheisel said. "Our defense against Washington was good, at least most game. Our offense played pretty darn well against Arizona State."
Defensive tackle Cassius Marsh and cornerback Andrew Abbott suffered concussions during the game. Both are going through the required concussion protocol.