The off-campus apartment shared by UCLA receivers Brian
Poli-Dixon and Freddie Mitchell is decorated with macabre
mementos from that harrowing evening in Miami last December when
the Bruins' dream of a national championship evaporated with a
49-45 loss to the Hurricanes at the Orange Bowl. Taped to
Poli-Dixon's bedroom mirror is a photograph of himself amid a
sea of Hurricanes revelers, snapped moments after UCLA's 20-game
winning streak ended. Mitchell, meanwhile, has a different way
of remembering that defeat. In his closet he has several pairs
of Miami workout shorts brought back this spring from Florida,
where he met some Hurricanes players. "I asked for [the shorts]
because I wanted something to remind me how quickly success can
be taken away," he says.
Mitchell, a sophomore, knows about that. In his varsity debut
last year he had 250 all-purpose yards in a season-opening win
over Texas. The following week he fractured his right femur and
was sidelined for nearly four months before returning for spot
duty in the Rose Bowl. With a healthy Mitchell, emerging junior
Poli-Dixon (44 catches) and senior Danny Farmer (58 catches for
1,274 yards), UCLA is blessed with the nation's best receiving
corps. "We always talk about the things we can do," says
Poli-Dixon. "We just have to fill that one spot. Who is going to
throw us the rock?"
For the first time in four years the answer is not Cade McNown.
Junior Drew Bennett tops the depth chart, but don't count out
redshirt freshman Cory Paus. The running back situation is far
more stable. Coach Bob Toledo says he plans to continue last
year's running back by committee, but it shouldn't be long
before star sophomore DeShaun Foster wins the job.
The defense, however, is shaky. Last season the Bruins ranked
99th in the nation in total defense and allowed 87 points in
their final two games. They will switch to a 4-3 alignment under
new defensive coordinator Bob Field. The team has off-the-field
problems, too. Seven Bruins have been suspended for the first
two games after pleading no contest to submitting false
applications for handicapped-parking permits. Two other UCLA
players are scheduled to be arraigned on August 25.
With the Bruins most likely a year away from contending for a
national championship, talk is swirling around their white-hot
chances for next season. UCLA will lose only a handful of
starters after this year. Deciding on a quarterback will go a
long way toward determining the team's fate in 1999, and it may
be the most important call Toledo makes for 2000. "We need to
find out who that guy is going to be," Toledo says. "Whoever it
is will be around here for a while."
COLOR PHOTO: AUBREY WASHINGTON/ALLSPORT Good hands Farmer had 58 receptions for 1,274 yards last season.
1998 record: 10-2 (8-0, 1st in Pac-10)
Final ranking: No. 8 AP, No. 8 coaches' poll
1998 Averages Scoring Rushing Yards Passing Yards Total Yards
OFFENSE 40.5 188.1 294.5 482.6
DEFENSE 27.5 165.5 267.0 432.5
Schedule strength: 6th of 114
Sept. 11 at Ohio State
A win here would get the attention of pollsters because the
Buckeyes haven't lost a nonconference game in Columbus since 1990.
Oct. 30 vs. Arizona
The Wildcats have to visit the Rose Bowl to take the Pac-10
title from the Bruins.
The Bottom Line
This is a year for the Bruins' young talent to develop. UCLA
will put a scare in some good teams, but it won't be a serious
national championship contender until next year.