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FOOTBALL FEVER; BRUINS' 20-GAME WINNING STREAK HAS FANS THINKING NATIONAL TITLE.

Byline: John Nadel Associated Press

No disrespect to coach Steve Lavin and the UCLA basketball program, but football's the thing in Westwood these days.

And Bob Toledo thinks it's going to be that way for a while.

``You look at our football team, I don't think anybody envisioned what was going to happen this year,'' Toledo said of his unbeaten Bruins, who are two wins from a possible national championship.

``We've got two seniors starting on defense, we've got four seniors starting on offense,'' he said. ``The foundation has been set for a long time.''

It was just last year - Toledo's second as UCLA's coach - that announcer Bob Trumpy offhandedly referred to USC as the football school in Los Angeles and UCLA as the basketball school during an NFL telecast.

The reaction was predictable - one of anger and annoyance - especially considering the Bruins had beaten the Trojans six consecutive times.

The streak has since grown by two - the most recent a 34-17 UCLA victory last Saturday.

``To win eight consecutive games against your cross-town rival is really a feat,'' Toledo said.

So is No. 3 UCLA's school-record 20-game winning streak - the final 10 games last season and the first 10 this year. The previous record was 10 in 1946, when the Bruins started the season with 10 wins before losing to Illinois 45-14 in the Rose Bowl.

The 1954 Bruins had the only perfect record in school history, going 9-0 and being honored as United Press International's national champion. Ineligible for the Rose Bowl that year because of the no-repeat rule in effect at that time, UCLA was ranked second in the final Associated Press poll - its highest finish ever.

The Bruins had 20 excellent years under Terry Donahue, from 1976-95, going 151-74-8 and winning eight bowl games. But their highest finish in the final rankings was fifth.

They were never in contention for the national championship late in a season. But they sure are now, reaching a goal of Toledo's faster than even he imagined when he succeeded Donahue.

First, UCLA (10-0, 8-0 Pac-10) has to win at No. 19 Miami on Dec. 5 in a game originally scheduled Sept. 26 but was postponed because of the threat of Hurricane Georges.

That would be win No. 11 this year - a first in school history - and would probably clinch a date for the Bruins in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 4 for the national championship.

The Bruins are second in the most recent Bowl Championship Series standings - .69 behind No. 1 Tennessee and 1.24 ahead of No. 3 Kansas State. The top two teams in the BCS rankings to be released Dec. 6 will play in the Fiesta Bowl.

``If all three of us are undefeated, two of us are going to be happy and one's going to be very disappointed,'' Toledo said. ``I don't know how to solve that problem. All I know is somebody's not going to be very happy.

``I have no control over it, so I can't worry about it. All I can try to do is win football games.''

Toledo and the Bruins have done that since losing to Washington State 37-34 and Tennessee 30-24 to start the 1997 season.

Twenty games, 20 wins.

Toledo knows it can't last forever.

``We're going to lose, I just hope it's not this year,'' he said.

Toledo said he believes this year's senior class will go down as one of the great senior classes in UCLA football history.

The leader is quarterback Cade McNown, who has made 41 straight starts and accounted for 10,415 yards in total offense during his career - most in Pac-10 history.

The Bruins have had several close calls this year - mainly because of a defense that's allowed 406.8 yards and 25.3 points a game - certainly not your normal national championship numbers.

But the McNown-led offense has averaged 463.9 yards and 40.0 points.

``When a big play needs to be made, Cade McNown makes it,'' Toledo said. ``We've won 20 straight games and he's a big reason for that success.''

SOMETHING'S BRUIN

11 a.m., Dec. 5th

Saturday ESPN

UCLA takes a 20-game winning streak into Saturday's regular-season finale against Miami.

CAPTION(S):

2 Photos

PHOTO (1) The UCLA Bruins football team has had plenty to cheer about in 1998, namely a 20-game winning streak and a shot at a national championship.

(2) UCLA quarterback Cade McNown has been a staple for the Bruins, making 41 consecutive starts and accounting for 10,415 yards of offense in his four seasons. He is a big reason the team is undefeated.

David Crane/Daily News
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 29, 1998
Words:774
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