For having absolutely nothing — and I mean nothing — in terms of offensive talent available on the field, UCLA looked ready to pull out a squeaker at the last minute, and then the FG offensive line committed the cardinal sin of forgetting to block, hanging its reliable scoring option, kicker Kai Forbath, out to dry with no time left on the clock. McLeod Bethel-Thompson (I call him the Highlander, but a more amusing nickname is “The Law Firm”) replaced starter Osaar Rashaan at QB early, and actually played somewhat respectably as the game wore on — the fault probably lies more with offensive coordinator Jay Norvell, who never should have been offered a job to come from Nebraska to begin with. Bronco Mendenhall is a good coach — you can’t win like he does with kids going on missions for two years without being good, but he let UCLA back in with that fumble near the end of the first half. Take a knee, folks, take a knee. That said — Mendenhall’s goal of positioning next year’s squad for a chance at being the latest Boise State or Hawai’i was accomplished, although probably not in the fashion he’d like.
As for UCLA’s coaching search: I suspect it will be stuck with DeWayne Walker due to its own inaction (eventually Rick Neuheisel will tire of jockeying and begging), and while he is a good, not great, DC, he’s not ready to be a head coach for a BCS conference school yet — it’ll be nice to run him over in the last game of every season.
Cincy’s Brian Kelly won’t get poached by a bigger conference team looking for a coach next season, but let’s just say that he’ll be fielding inquiries after 2008 if he keeps building up. Earning the Bearcats a bowl victory in the Papajohns.com Bowl — it hurts just to type that because it looks so awkward — against a Southern Miss team that has axed coach Jeff Bower for what appears to be no good reason is another stepping stone, and puts that Cats back in the Top 25. If the NCAA smiles upon Ben Mauk and gives him another year of eligibility, a Big East title is not out of Kelly’s reach, particularly with Rich Rodriguez having left the conference, West Virginia won’t automatically be the conference favorite any longer. So, this minor bowl win is just as important to Kelly for next season as it was to finish off this one. Mauk hopes that his 334-yard, four TD performance won’t be his last in a Bearcats uniform.
Nevada’s Chris Ault runs a variation of the shotgun spread he calls “The Pistol.” Well, his team got pistol whipped by New Mexico, in what was essentially a home game for the Lobos at the New Mexico Bowl. Nevada couldn’t even sell a quarter of the tickets accounted for its fan base; none of them would have cared to see the Wolf Pack take its first shutout since 1980, snapping a 329-game streak that covered two divisions. New Mexico won its first bowl game in more than 40 years behind Donovan Porterie’s 354 yards passing and 2 TDs, along with Paul Baker’s 160+ on the ground.
Photo: AP/Sam Morris