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Originally published Tuesday, October 20, 2009 at 6:02 PM

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Bud Withers

It's tough to turn Pac-10 football programs around overnight

Oregon's Chip Kelly, Washington's Steve Sarkisian try to go against a trend that Rick Neuheisel (UCLA), Dennis Erickson (Arizona State) and Jim Harbaugh (Stanford) have encountered.

Seattle Times colleges reporter

Saturday in the tunnel at Husky Stadium, Oregon and Washington get to exchange pleasantries. It will go something like: "Good day, chap. Our first-year coach is better than your first-year coach!"

Oregon's Chip Kelly has done a remarkable job redirecting the Ducks after their lost night in Boise on Sept. 3. The Huskies' Steve Sarkisian has done a commendable job urging the UW back to respectability.

What they're doing is giving patience a bad name.

Elsewhere in the Pac-10, a theme being played out is: It takes time. That's not a sizzling trailer to advertise the league, just an accurate one.

Look at UCLA. Two years ago, the Bruins hired Rick Neuheisel to enliven a program that had become a test pattern under Karl Dorrell.

But Dorrell supporters and Neuheisel naysayers might tell you this: Dorrell's teams went to five straight bowl games, and Neuheisel's Bruins, at 3-3, are probably even money to miss the postseason for a second straight year.

Here's a different way of saying it: In his first two college-coaching tours, at Colorado and Washington, Neuheisel's composite record over his first two years was a stunning 38-10. His two-year resume at UCLA is 7-11. The offensively deficient Bruins have a three-game losing streak, and with consecutive trips to Arizona and Oregon State, it could get longer.

Neuheisel hasn't had consecutive losing seasons as a college coach. But then, Arizona State's Dennis Erickson hasn't either, and even at 4-2, he's not out of the woods. The Sun Devils face a backloaded second half, playing five teams with winning records, plus UCLA.

It has to gall Erickson that his stock-in-trade, which is offense, has been so ordinary. In four games against BCS-conference teams, the Sun Devils average 21 points. They've had persistent problems with the offensive line in his three-year tenure at ASU, the kind of issue that doesn't go away quickly.

Finally, Stanford. It's the Pac-10 program with the longest bowl drought (2001). In three seasons, Jim Harbaugh has made huge strides with the program's foundation.

Yet the Cardinal has had two straight road losses, the latest a 43-38 gut-spiller at Arizona that "you're going to feel sick about," Harbaugh said Tuesday. "All of our guys did."

It leaves Stanford at 4-3. Even if it takes out frustration on ASU Saturday, this is what faces Harbaugh's team in November: Oregon, USC, California and Notre Dame. That bowl game could have to wait.

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In a hurry-up society, it's not a word fans of rebuilding programs appreciate. Yet it applies: Chill.

Bus boys

Much was made of Cal taking a bus to Los Angeles last week for the UCLA game, saving a reported $100,000 for the Bears and making a cost-cutting statement for a state budget system in crisis.

Of course, once you get there, you have to get back. And the Bears took the path of least resistance, flying home following an afternoon game.

Cal coach Jeff Tedford explained Tuesday that with game times in flux for television only a couple of weeks out, the school felt it needed to book a plane.

"If it was an evening game, we weren't going to bus home," Tedford said.

Why not? Tedford has said that with airport check-in issues and ground travel, it would be about an hour longer to bus. Wouldn't the message of cost-cutting have been more effective if the Bears had committed to it both ways?

And what's more ...

• Oregon State has beaten USC twice in three years, but elsewhere, precedent sides with the Trojans. OSU hasn't prevailed at the L.A. Coliseum since 1960. USC has won 46 of its past 47 at home.

• More Troy: Dating to mid-2007, nobody has scored more than 10 points on USC in the Coliseum. In that span of 10 games, the Trojans have surrendered a grand total of 38 points.

• UCLA's Kai Forbath is on a course that tracks recent Groza Award winners Alexis Serna (2005) of Oregon State and Thomas Weber (2007) of Arizona State. Forbath is 30 of his past 31 on field goals in two seasons, including 27 straight from inside 50. "He's terrific," says Neuheisel. "Wish I didn't have to use him so much."

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

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About Bud Withers

Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-10.
bwithers@seattletimes.com | 206-464-8281

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