Oct. 6, 2000
LOS ANGELES - The UCLA Bruins were a national power from 1997 to 1998, winning a school-record 20 straight games.
Then came last year's 4-7 disaster.
Now, just as suddenly, UCLA looks like it's back.
"If anybody would have thought a few months ago that we'd be 4-1 after playing five bowl teams in September - I think everybody would have taken that one," coach Bob Toledo said. "I think a lot of people believe that we've turned the corner, that we have an opportunity to be like we were.
"I think it's having an effect on recruiting, we've already had several oral commitments. This is the same group that went 4-7, it's just gotten a little more experienced. The key is to have quality depth."
Toledo succeeded Terry Donahue, who retired following the 1995 season after 20 years on the job. Toledo was hired after Rick Neuheisel and Gary Barnett pulled themselves out of the running.
"He was never the last resort," UCLA athletic director Peter Dalis said of Toledo.
"He was the primary internal candidate. He's a delight to work with. Whatever he says, he does. He's frank and honest, he sets the right values for the program. I give him an 'A."'
Because of a scandal over handicapped parking permits and numerous injuries last season, the Bruins had 45 different players start at least one game - the most by far in Toledo's coaching career.
And the team was young and inexperienced to begin with.
Heading into this season, Toledo was convinced the 2000 Bruins would be much better, but admitted it might not show in the record since Alabama and Michigan - ranked third and sixth, respectively, before the season - were two of the first three opponents.
Despite losing Paus during the first series of the opener with a separated throwing shoulder, the Bruins beat the Crimson Tide and Wolverines to go from unranked to No. 6.
Then came a 29-10 loss at Oregon, where the No. 9 Ducks have now won 18 straight games, and a come-from-behind 38-31 victory over Arizona State engineered by Paus in his first game back, leaving the Bruins ranked 16th.
"I think we had an off-year last year, that's what happened," Paus said. "We want to come together this year, we're 4-1, we're a couple bad plays from being 5-0.
"Next year should be a great year, we'll have 17, 18 starters back. But right now, we're all thinking about this year."
The Bruins committed four turnovers and failed on a fake punt while falling behind ASU. In addition, Foster broke his right hand, an injury that will sideline him 2-6 weeks.
Paus passed for 267 yards - the most for a UCLA quarterback since he threw for 332 early last season - and Jermaine Lewis and Akil Harris gained over 100 yards rushing apiece as the Bruins put together second-biggest comeback victory in school history.
"It just shows we have developed some quality depth," Toledo said. "The recruiting thing is really starting to show."
Harris, a 6-foot, 200-pound redshirt freshman, gained 100 yards on 13 carries and scored two touchdowns. Previously, he had just one carry for UCLA.
"Actually I did surprise myself," Harris said with a broad grin. "I knew I was going to be a great asset to the team. I had to hone my talents, work hard. I was ready to take that step forward.
"I feel like in the years to come, I'll be the man in this offense. I'll strive to be the man, help this team get to where it needs to be - the Pac-10 championship and then the national championship. The future's bright, everyone's coming back."
The Bruins had one of the country's most porous defenses last year, allowing 444.6 yards per game. It's much better now, yielding nearly 100 yards fewer.
"I definitely think we're going up after a season like last year, there was no other way to go," said cornerback Ricky Manning Jr., who won a starting job as a freshman last year. "We came back with a whole different attitude. The atmosphere around here has been just great. We took a hit last year. Now look at us."
By JOHN NADEL
AP Sports Writer