December 29, 1998
By JOHN NADEL
AP Sports Writer
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) - Cade McNown is in no mood for reflection as he prepares for the final game of his brilliant career at UCLA. He just wants to leave on a winning note.
Considering what happened in UCLA's most recent game along with the strength of the Wisconsin defense, McNown realizes how difficult that task figures to be.
"This will be a new challenge - coming back after the first time we've lost in well over a year," McNown said of Friday's Rose Bowl. "The teams that have character are the teams that can bounce back from defeats like that, go out with a bang. That's how we're approaching it."
The sixth-ranked Bruins (10-1) had one major goal all season - to play for the national championship. A victory over Miami on Dec. 5 almost certainly would have made that a reality.
However, that goal was dashed when the Hurricanes rallied for a 49-45 victory despite the finest statistical game of McNown's career.
It was a day that rang hollow for McNown due to the outcome despite his personal brilliance, but he managed to begin focusing his attention on the Rose Bowl almost immediately.
"The season's not a disappointment, the loss is a disappointment," said McNown, third in the Heisman Trophy voting. "I think what happens in this Rose Bowl and how we respond to that is going to dictate what kind of season this is. We can win the Rose Bowl, finish in the top five in the country. To come from where we have and possibly accomplish that is quite an accomplishment."
McNown, 26-of-35 for a school-record 513 yards and five touchdowns against Miami, could have been talking about himself when he mentioned how far the Bruins have come.
A senior who will be making his 43rd straight start at quarterback against the ninth-ranked Badgers, McNown was typically in-and-out as a freshman and sophomore, when UCLA went 7-5 and 5-6, respectively.
It all came together for McNown and the Bruins in 1997. After a pair of close losses to start the season, UCLA won its final 10 games, and then won its first 10 games this season for a school-record 20-game winning streak.
The loss at Miami followed.
"The last game, even though we lost, was the pinnacle - the best game he ever played," UCLA offensive coordinator Al Borges said. "Cade his first year was not a phenom. Because we hung with him, it paid off in the long run."
Entering his final game, McNown has shattered just about every single-season and career passing record at UCLA, throwing for 10,368 yards and 66 touchdowns, including a school-record 3,130 yards and 23 TDs this year.
The Bruins averaged 40 1/2 points - fifth-most in the nation. And they did it against one of the country's toughest schedules.
In Wisconsin, UCLA will be facing a team that allowed an average of just 10.2 points - best in the country.
Borges believes there's a lot more to McNown than statistics.
"He's got the competitive juice, that's hard to account for," Borges said. "If you coach him, you really appreciate it."
And it you're a teammate, there is something else to appreciate.
"He's so tough," offensive guard Andy Meyers said. "It's been a privilege, it's been an honor, it's been a joy to play with Cade. I think no matter what he does, he's such a competitor, he's such a fighter, he's going to make it. The last laugh will be on the people who doubt him."