Dec. 31
3:30 p.m.
ESPN                                    UCLA vs Illinois

Scott Reid, of The Orange County Register, answered some questions for us about UCLA.


BS: The Bruins went to the PAC-12 championship, are in a bowl game, yet are 6-7 on the year. How would you rate this season overall and the Rick Neuheisel era overall?

Scott Reid: Both would have to be considered underachieving. The Bruins were up and down all season which kind of mirrors Rick's four seasons in Westwood. The program was just never able to sustain any consistency and this season was pretty much a reflection of that: getting embarrassed in Tucson then upsetting Arizona State. Neuheisel did have some bad luck, especially at quarterback. He had two starters get hurt in the same spring practice session his very first spring. Kevin Prince has missed 10 games because of injury and I really believe that last year would have been different had Prince been healthy.

BS: UCLA hired Jim Mora to become the next coach at UCLA. What are your thoughts on the hire

Scott Reid:  June Jones at SMU would have been a better hire but I think Mora will be successful. He brings an intensity and discipline to the program that has been missing maybe for decades. He's very organized and his energy is impressive. He's going to have to change the culture at UCLA, a transition that could have some ugly moments but he should be the kick in the rear this program needs. He'll also benefit from playing in a Pac-12 South division that other than USC is pretty weak.

BS :The offense has been able to run the ball, but not really pass. Who are the key players on this unit and who is expected to produce in this game?

Scott Reid: The receiving corps has been a major disappointment the past two years. Part of the problem has been pass protection and the Bruins will be without a starter for this game. Nelson Rosario has NFL talent but too often has been a non-factor. If the NCAA kept stats on dropped passes UCLA would be near the top of the list.

BS: The defense has given up over 32 points a game. What do they need to do to be successful in this game and who are the top players on this unit?

Scott Reid: They've had tackling issues in the front seven and coverage breakdowns in the secondary. Other than that they've played great, right?! Middle linebacker Patrick Larimore, the team's leading tackler, is probably going to miss the game after having thumb surgery earlier this month so that could be a big problem. His back-up Jordan Zumwalt, a sophomore, was kind of a late-season revelation in 2010 and they'll need a big game from him. I also would be surprised if Datone Jones up front also had a big game.

BS: If you could choose one player to have a breakout performance in the bowl game, who would it be?

Scott Reid: Honestly, I don't see anyone having such a game. There are major questions about UCLA's preparation and mindset for this game. There was a controversy in early December when someone in the football office decided to withhold per diem checks from players who missed conditioning work-outs during finals week. Players had five days to do three work-outs. About 45 players failed to make it to three work-outs. Players went on social media claiming they were starving without the checks. "Genocide in Westwood" one player tweeted. The coaches responded by holding a 55 minute practice the next day. Hey, it was raining. The staff also gave them a day off to play paintball. Team building. The players then skipped practice last Tuesday, continuing a UCLA tradition known as going over the wall where the players stretch on the practice field and then climb over a wall and out of the practice facility. Apparently most of the players met up at a local theater to watch Sherlock Holmes. Maybe more team building I guess. So this is what Mora will be dealing with.




Thanks a lot to Scott Reid. Check his work out at .







 Bob Asmussen, of The Champaign News-Gazette, answered some questions for us about Illinois.


BS: Ron Zook was fired after the season. How do you see this affecting the
 team on the field or do you think it won't have too much of an effect?
Bob Asmussen: If anything, I think the players will try hard to win the game for Ron
Zook and for themselves. He won't be at the game, but was at the team
banquet after he was fired. All of the players had nice things to say
about him as they won their awards. I think they really care about him as
a person. He was a players' coach, making sure to get to know the guys as
more than just football players. And he became part of their families,

 BS: The Illini started 6-0,were ranked in the Top 20, and ended 0-6. I'm
 sure there's a lot, but what changed over that time for Illinois?
Bob Asmussen: There were a couple of major reasons for the second streak. Start with the
opponents, who were better in the second half. Arizona State, Arkansas
State and Western Michigan were replaced by Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn
State and Ohio State. So, some of the 6-0 start had to do with scheduling,
five of the first six games were at home. The Illinois offense, especially
after the first loss against Ohio State, seemed to lose confidence. The
blocking wasn't as good, the runners didn't hit the hole as fast and
didn't secure the ball, receivers broke off routes, the quarterbacks
weren't nearly as accurate. Some of that, again, was the opponents. But
once it got going the wrong way, it seemed to snowball. And it didn't seem
like Illinois was willing to try new things on offense to break out of the
streak. The plays were a lot of the same stuff they had been doing the
previous year and a half. Bottom line, the players on offense didn't get
it done. Except for a few rough spots, the defense played well.

BS: The offense has struggled for most of the year. What does it need to
do to be successful and who are the key guys?
Bob Asmussen: Open up the playbook. Throw some reverses in there. Get A.J. Jenkins the
ball in a number of ways. Be less predictable. Based on watching bowl
practices, I think that will happen. The players and coaches have nothing
to lose, so I think they will be very relaxed. Nathan Scheelhaase is the
starting point, but it goes beyond the quarterback. I think you could see
a big game from tailbacks Jason Ford and Donovonn Young. Of course, if
Jeff Allen and the guys up front don't block, it won't matter. The line
should be better than it was in the second half of the season. Everybody
is healthy now and that wasn't the case at the end of the regular season.

BS: The defense has stayed strong most of the year, giving up only 20
points a game. Who and what make that unit successful?
Bob Asmussen:Start with defensive end Whitney Mercilus, who needs two sacks to break
Simeon Rice's single-season record of 16. He leads the nation in sacks and
forced fumbles and has been named to about every All-American team. But
he's got help. Akeem Spence is a big tackle who occupies people and
Michael Buchanan is at the other end. He's been good this season and will
have a chance to be the featured guy next season. Linebackers Jonathan
Brown and Ian Thomas seem to always be in the right place. And Tavon
Wilson is having a quietly effective season at cornerback. What Illinois
needs in the bowl is for one of the supporting players to have a big game.

BS: If you could choose one player to have a breakout performance in the
bowl game, who would it be?
Bob Asmussen: Receiver Darius Millines. He's been injured for a chunk of the season, but
is healthy now and looks good in practice. He'll be the go-to guy next
season after A.J. Jenkins leaves, so he can get 2012 off to a good start.

Thanks a lot to Bob Asmussen. Check his work out at and follow @BobAsmussen


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