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College football is better late than ever

Games are ending so late these days that public address announcers have taken on additional duties of mopping up, calling for taxis and issuing last beverage calls.

Here’s what you may have missed Saturday night.

UCLA 31, Houston 13.

The game ended at 10:42 p.m., two hours past traditional bedtime in Pasadena, and more than an hour past this newspaper’s deadline. Also ended was speculation about whether UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel can respond to a crisis.

It may have been the most important win of his increasingly desperate tenure, with the Bruins playing with a passion and purpose that had been AWOL (absent without linemen) in opening defeats to Kansas State and Stanford.

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It was ridiculous, though, for chat-roomers and sideline speculators to suggest Neuheisel’s job would have been in danger had UCLA fallen to 0-3, or maybe you don’t know how these things work. Bruins Athletic Director Dan Guerrero put his reputation on the line when he fired Karl Dorrell and hired Neuheisel.

Athletic directors tend to have limited tolerance for coaches they didn’t hire — tuck that in your pocket with regard to USC AD Pat Haden and Lane Kiffin — but the patience of Job if they handpicked the head coach.

No way in Westwood was Guerrero going to pull the (pistol) trigger on Rick and his new UCLA offense three games into this third season — but that doesn’t mean the win wasn’t huge, with a capital “H,” as in Houston.

It helped that Houston quarterback Case Keenum got knocked out of the game early, but that didn’t detract from UCLA’s playing with the physical and talent advantage that is supposed to mark the difference between schools from the Pacific 10 and Conference USA.

“It was exciting stuff and is hopefully a precursor of what’s to come,” Neuheisel said in his post-Houston news conference.

UCLA, at 0-2, was in a hole.

“The only way to get out is for everybody to get a shovel and start digging,” Neuhesiel said.

UCLA fans, can you dig it?

The win, actually, didn’t change the fundamentals of the season. It can still tip either way.

If you figure UCLA is going to lose next week at Texas, and win the following week against Washington State, that would put the Bruins at 2-3 headed into a ghastly Pac-10 stretch: at California and Oregon, home against Arizona and Oregon State. A split of those four puts UCLA at 4-5 with remaining games at Washington, Arizona State and home against USC.

The heat will really be on Neuheisel next year, but, barring any NCAA violations, expect him to get his full five years.

Can patience pay off?

Arizona Coach Mike Stoops went 3-8, 3-8, 6-6 and 5-7 in his first four years. People in Tucson screamed for his firing. The AD who hired him, though, didn’t budge. Stoops responded with consecutive 8-5 seasons and this most recent late-night bulletin from Tucson:

— Arizona 34, Iowa 27

Game ended: 11:15 p.m.

Last year’s win over USC was big, but this was bigger. Arizona beat a team that was ranked No. 9 and, many thought, could have challenged for this year’s national title. The Wildcats blew a 20-point lead in the second half, allowed Iowa to tie it at 27-all, but then responded with a game-winning touchdown drive and four straight sacks of Iowa’s Ricky Stanzi to clinch victory.

“Our program is changing,” Stoops said after the game. “And I don’t know if people realize how good a team Iowa really is. We knew.”

— Michigan State 34, Notre Dame 31 (OT).

Game ended: 11:49 p.m. (local time)

One word for this finish in East Lansing: amazing. Down by three, Michigan State faked a field-goal attempt and won it on Aaron Bates’ 29-yard scoring pass to tight end Charlie Gantt.

The Spartans practiced the play, “Little Giants,” all week — except the pass was supposed to go to Le’Veon Bell.

“All through the week of practice, I never got the ball once,” Gantt said afterward.

With Bell covered, though, Bates found Gantt, who worked his way free in the secondary after two Irish defenders fell down.

As Gantt saw the ball floating toward him, he thought: “Just catch it. Do not drop the ball.”

Adding to the drama was Michigan State Coach Mark Dantonio, who seemed so calm in his postgame interview, suffering a heart attack after the game. He underwent stent-implant surgery and is expected to make a full recovery.

The prognosis for 1-2 Notre Dame is still week-to-week as the Irish prepare for …

— Stanford 68, Wake Forest 24.

Game ended: 11:37 p.m.

The 8:25 kickoff in Palo Alto was the latest in school history, with one of the subplots being: Jim “What’s your deal” Harbaugh did it again. Holding an insurmountable late lead in Palo Alto, Harbaugh used his challenge to contest a call on what he believed to be a Wake Forest fumble.

The play was upheld, but you couldn’t blame Wake Forest coaches and fans for being incredulous.

If you haven’t noticed, that’s Harbaugh. Although he substituted liberally, he coached hard through the postgame shower.

Stanford, now 3-0, looks scary good heading to South Bend. The Cardinal scored touchdowns on its first eight possessions against Wake Forest.

With 155 points through three games, the Cardinal reached 100 points faster than any Stanford team since 1923. That year the Indians tallied 164 against Mare Island (82-0), Nevada (27-0) and Santa Clara (55-6). The 68 points were the most Stanford has scored since 1968. Andrew Luck has clearly supplanted Jake Locker as the Pac-10’s top quarterback. Thirteen Cardinal players have scored touchdowns this season.

How good are Harbaugh’s late-night hecklers?

We’ll know more about what their deal is in three weeks after the Cardinal plays at Notre Dame and at Oregon before returning home for USC.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

twitter.com/dufresnelatimes


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