That's right folks, today is finally the day: our Bruins return to the football field as college football finally returns. While the Old Ball Coach and his Gamecocks are slated to get the first action in, starting at 4 p.m. PST on ESPN, our Bruins will follow right after, with kick-off against Rice set for 4:30 p.m. PST on the CBS Sports Network. You can feel the excitement for the return of college football, as well as the hopeful excitement surrounding Jim Mora and this program. But before we get too carried away, remember that Rick Neuheisel started his tenure with an upset victory over #18-ranked Tennessee in his first game at the helm in Westwood. So, while a win will get everyone fired up tonight, remember to keep it in perspective: it's one win. And it'd be a win over a hapless Rice program.
That said, it's safe to say we're all stoked for the return of college football, so let's turn to the various bits and pieces of news from around the UCLA-iverse to kick-off our college football season:
- As the Orange County Register notes, tonight's season opener on national television is UCLA's chance to showcase a program set-up for change. As Mora and various players (Datone Jones, Jordan Zumwalt, and Joe Fauria) note, this year the Bruins are out to show the rest of the college football world that they are a meaner, tougher, more accountable squad. Also interesting is that it appears the MSM is finally catching on to Chianti Dan's complete and total incompetence, with the article taking note of Guerrero's pathetic football record (65-64) since being hired in 2002, and blasting the lame soft-pedal Bruin fans who have hid behind academic excuses, taking note of Stanford's resurgence, despite them being, well, Stanford.
- Our new favorite UCLA beat writer, Miguel Melendez, had some interesting notes in his round-up last night, taking note that freshman WR Javon Williams is unlikely to make the trip to Houston since he has yet to be cleared by the NCAA, while freshman TE Ian Taubler will remain in Westwood due to a lingering ankle injury. Additionally, Mora confirmed that Kevin McReynolds will be switching numbers (from #77 to #50) and moving to the offensive side of the ball, as an offensive guard; he also confirmed that Eli Ankou has been called to join the team, foregoing his greyshirt season.
- Moving on to the game itself, you'll notice some minor changes to the kick-off game, as the NCAA will be implementing some new rules geared toward reducing the number of kicks that are actually returned (and in theory, the number of collisions and injuries caused as a result). Kick-offs will now move from the 30-yard line to the 35-yard line, and touchbacks will start on the 25-yard line instead of the traditional 20-yard line. While Mora doesn't expect it to make much of a difference, the net result should be UCLA putting every kick-off deep into the opposing end zone to keep guys like Oregon's DeAnthony Thomas from even thinking of making a return attempt.
- In case you missted it, our fellow SBN blogger Avinash Kunnath took note of UCLA releasing the tentative depth chart for tonight's game against Rice. No big surprises in the release, but some questions along the offensive line, with senior Brett Downey listed as the starting right tackle, with Torian White being slotted in as the back-up LT to XSF. The full media release for the Rice game is available here.
- As we get ready for tonight's kick-off, the Bruins will obviously feature a new kicker, with Kai Forbath long-since gone and the Kip Smith experiment since coming to an end, true freshman Ka'imi Fairbairn will handle field goal duties (with punter Jeff Locke still handling kick-offs). ESPN's Peter Yoon ran a profile of the young Hawaiian who will try to fill the very big shoes of past UCLA kickers (John Lee, Chris Sailer, and Kai). Of note, Yoon has a few quotes from Mora who has full confidence in the freshman from Punahou. Let's hope this is the start of a very consistent four years for our kicking game.
Alright folks, those are your Bruin Bites to get this Thursday college football kick-off day started. We are now just nine-and-a-half hours away from the return of UCLA football. Get fired up and fire away with your thoughts, comments, etc. in the open thread below.