Sept. 9, 1999
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Not long ago, UCLA's visit to Ohio State on Saturday night figured to be one of the season's best matchups.
Now both teams are just trying to save face and escape with a win.
No. 14 UCLA hopes to distance itself from the fact that 16 current and former players were accused of illegally obtaining and displaying handicapped-parking permits. Seven starters and four backups were suspended for the Bruins' first two games.
Coach Bob Toledo said his patchwork team isn't in nothing-to-lose mode because of all the subs on the field.
"We're UCLA. We're going there to play our hearts out and to win," he said. "I want our players to feel good about themselves and I want them to play hard."
Meanwhile, 13th-ranked Ohio State is still smarting from a lethargic 23-12 loss to Miami in the Kickoff Classic. The Buckeyes played "like they didn't want to be there," according to coach John Cooper.
The Buckeyes recognize what's at stake.
"No way we can start 0-2," quarterback Austin Moherman said. "So it's definitely a must-win situation."
Ohio State hasn't lost its first two games since 1986 and hasn't dropped a home opener in 21 years.
"They've got a streak going," Toledo said. "Ohio State didn't want to lose to Miami and they don't want to lose to us, so you'll have two teams out there fighting pretty hard."
Without their four top linebackers and with 16 first-time starters, the Bruins nonetheless routed Boise State 38-7 last Saturday night.
"In spite of the fact they've got some players suspended, they've still got a good team," Cooper said.
Asked if UCLA was better than Miami, Cooper hedged.
"I wouldn't comment on that because I really don't know," he said. "I hope not. Then again, we might have made Miami look better than they were."
Both teams have a quarterback controversy. Steve Bellisari comes on in relief of Moherman for Ohio State, with Drew Bennett splitting time with redshirt freshman Cory Paus for UCLA.
Moherman and Bennett will start, but don't be surprised if either gets a quick hook.
"If I go and stink it up, I'll be out of there faster than usual," said Moherman, a California native.
UCLA could still be without receiver Danny Farmer, who caught 58 passes for 1,274 yards and nine TDs a year ago from Cade McNown. Farmer is recovering from an ankle injury.
Ohio State spent the last two weeks of practice correcting mistakes from the Miami game. There were a lot of them. The Buckeyes had four turnovers, and just 220 yards of offense, and the defense surrendered five plays of 23 yards or longer.
"I'm not over it by far," center Kurt Murphy said. "We played the worst since I've been here.
"I don't know what was missing. It kind of seemed like it wasn't us. We didn't seem like three-year starters. Our veterans didn't play well. I had been looking forward to that game and it ended up just like a nightmare."
The game will be only the fourth night game in Ohio Stadium's 77 years. The Buckeyes' 3-0 mark after dark includes a 21-12 victory over Washington six years ago.
"The place should be rocking," Cooper said. "It ought to be dynamic and loud. We ought to have a homefield advantage. That's what I remember about the Washington game - the crowd was a factor."
Toledo knows what UCLA will be up against.
"A lot of guys out west, when they've gone that way, they haven't performed well," he said of the trip to the heartland. "We'll see if we can't do something about that."
By RUSTY MILLER
AP Sports Writer