USC isn't only game in town

National notebook

Los Angeles' other team, resurgent UCLA, is also unbeaten and rapidly gaining respect

College Football

October 08, 2005|By DON MARKUS | DON MARKUS,SUN REPORTER

The gauge to measure the progress UCLA has made under Karl Dorrell is easy enough to find. All you have to do is look to the other side of town and see the steps Southern California took under Pete Carroll in becoming the best team in college football.

The Trojans went from 6-6 in Carroll's first year to 11-2 his second to 12-1 in 2003, losing only in triple overtime at California and earning a share of the national championship with LSU. This is Dorrell's third year, and after not much improvement the first two years, the evolution is now apparent.

Though still in the shadows of the defending two-time national champion, UCLA is starting to gain respect and recognition as a possible challenger to its crosstown rival. Not bad for a team that was expected by many to finish in the middle of the Pacific-10 this season.

While the matchup against the nation's top-ranked team won't be played until the last week of the regular season, today's game between No. 20 UCLA (4-0) and No. 10 Cal (5-0) in Pasadena could give the winner the inside track at making a run at the Trojans later in the year.

"It's by far, [the] biggest game of my career," said Bruins quarterback Drew Olson, who has played a large role in the team's fast start. "I think everyone is re-focused again, back to that mentality we had the first three games. It's a reality check, a little bit."

Olson was referring to last week's sloppy victory against Washington. Playing at the Rose Bowl, the Bruins were nearly brought back to their recent past before two late touchdown drives enabled them to beat the rebuilding Huskies, 21-17. The second touchdown came with 68 seconds left.

"That is something we haven't done in the past, and it is something that we are really going to build on," said Dorrell, who went 6-7 his first year and 6-6 last season.

There is something else UCLA hasn't done in a while - win as a ranked team. The last time that happened, the Bruins were No. 4 in the country and crushed Cal, 56-17, back in 2001. But that's before things started to unravel, with Bob Toledo getting the boot after the 2002 season.

The most impressive win this year came at the expense of struggling Oklahoma, and today's outcome could go a long way in setting up an unofficial Pac-10 title game Dec. 3 at the Coliseum against the Trojans. The Bears will get their chance at USC at home on Nov. 12.

"Cal is going to be a tremendous challenge for us," Dorrell said of the Bears, 5-0 for the first time in nine years. "They are a top 10 team, and they are playing like a top 10 team right now. There is a lot at stake for both programs going into our conference season."

Gordie's ghost

It's been 19 years since a little-known Holy Cross player named Gordie Lockbaum became a college football folk hero. Thanks to a publicity campaign launched by Sports Illustrated, the versatile Lockbaum finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1986 and third in 1987.

Though it's doubtful that Bucknell senior Dante Ross will even get a vote, what he did last week against Marist certainly demonstrated that he could be the most versatile player in the country. His performance earned him player of the week honors - for offense (Patriot League and Lewisburg Touchdown Club), defense and special teams (Bison Athlete of the Week).

In a 27-7 victory, Bucknell's first of the season, Ross set a league rushing record for quarterbacks with 268 yards. He ran for three touchdowns and passed for one. He made five tackles and had an interception at cornerback, his natural position. He also returned some kicks.

"Dante's just a good football player," said Bucknell coach Tim Landis. "It's hard to get him under center to run this offense with such short notice, so we put him back there in the shotgun. But I am concerned because we can't keep asking this much of him. We have got to have some guys step up offensively."

Ross, 5 feet 8 and 164 pounds, who was thrust into his new role because of injuries to the team's top two quarterbacks, even amazed himself.

"In high school I went both ways and on special teams," said Ross. "I was never really tired then. To do that at this level, I don't know how I can do it."

Upon further review

First-year Utah coach Kyle Whittingham won't be applying for any jobs in the Atlantic Coast Conference, or scheduling too many ACC opponents, in the near future.

In the aftermath of last week's loss at North Carolina, Whittingham said: "All I can say is I'm quite thankful we don't have to play a game with an ACC refereeing crew again this year. That was miserable, and I'll leave it at that."

The Utes were penalized 12 times for 101 yards and had an interception return for a touchdown that was called back on a roughing-the-passer call.

Whittingham was later reprimanded for his comments by Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson.

"My comment regarding ACC officials was unfortunate and poor judgment on my part. You can't beat a good team when you commit five turnovers," Whittingham said after the reprimand.

don.markus@baltsun.com

The Associated Press and other news organizations contributed to this article.

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