Finally. It’s game day.
We have been counting down to this day since the very moment our Ben Ball season ended in San Antonio. I am sure many of you are already busy getting your tail-gaiting gear all packed up. We will have our BN game thread up about an hour before kickoff (5 pm PST) and a pre-game party/open thread up around 9 am PST. Before we get to that let’s set the stage with a quick trip through the Southland MSM.
We will start with Kevin Pearson from the Press Enterprise, who IMHO has the best writeup for this game day. Kevin sets the stage for our big Monday night:
In facing the traditional Southeastern Conference power, UCLA will take the field with its projected third-string quarterback getting the start and an offensive line that is as inexperienced as they come. The defense is as strong as ever, but question marks hover over this program as its new era officially begins. […]
Despite the problems facing UCLA this season, this Tennessee team is beatable and has issues of its own, including suspect special teams and a new quarterback and offensive system.
Those factors may play into the hands of UCLA and allow the Bruins to earn some much-needed respect.
UCLA is viewed as a program in a state of flux and has won more than seven games just twice in the past decade. Pundits across the nation have written the Bruins off as also-rans, saying they are incapable of beating any of their non-conference opponents (No. 16 BYU and Fresno State are the others), thanks to a schedule that is among the nation's toughest. […]
Although a victory would be ideal, a close loss in a hard-fought game could help clarify where this program is and where it is trying to go under Neuheisel's leadership.
That sounds about right. As for starting the season on such a big stage, it’s a risk. As Brian Dohn notes though Neuheisel did a cost-benefit analysis and considers the debut on the national stage a win-win situation for UCLA:
Opening the showroom doors to the nation was a calculated gamble by Neuheisel, who - unlike his predecessor Karl Dorrell - continues to demonstrate his willingness to embrace flamboyancy, even if the payback isn't simple to gauge.
The Bruins were scheduled to open the season two days ago against Fresno State, but Neuheisel agreed to move the game so his debut as UCLA's coach could be broadcast against a marquee Tennessee program across the country.
"To have that kind of exposure, people talking about UCLA football in anticipation of this game, is terrific," Neuheisel said. "Getting our program where we want it, it's important to play on these kinds of stages. -
"To go and lay an egg would have an initial negative repercussion. But you can always point to the fact that, 'Hey, look, they wanted to see UCLA. We're not going to lay an egg the next time.' I don't like to talk in those terms, because I prefer to look at things will always going well, but I don't think you can pass up this kind of exposure, especially when building a program."
Well, can’t tell you how many times I heard references to Neuheisel and UCLA, all weekend while watching games on ABC and WWL. I heard more references to our program during this past weekend than last five years under Karl Dorrell. Even if the outcome doesn’t come out in our favor tonight, recruits around Southern California and the country are getting a clear cut message that Bruin football is going to be a national factor from here on out. It’s just a matter of time we get things in order.
Dohn’s report referred to low expectations for this season. Chris Dufresne from the LA Times has a piece up on expectations for UCLA this season. He pretty much echoes the main points we have discussed here this off season (just click on the “dose of reality” tag below this post) laying out the expectations for our team to go from somewhere between 4-8 and 6-6. Not only that while discussing the lowered expectations for this season, Chris also spelled out why it was completely legit to have the high expectations everyone had set for Dorrell’s 5th season at UCLA. Anyway, we have discussed this topic enough. But had to point out how Chris has become yet another reporter from the traditional media validating the way we have calibrated our expectations last few seasons.
Speaking of expectations, coaches are high on Rahim Moore and he is embracing all of it:
While a handful of true freshmen from UCLA's heralded recruiting class will play in today's season opener against No. 18 Tennessee at the Rose Bowl, Moore is the only one who will start.
"I've got high expectations for Rahim," UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said. "I don't think you put a freshman into the fray unless you have high expectations for him. I don't think that's fair. But for Rahim Moore, part of it is because of absolute need. We needed him to rise up, and I think he's answered the call."
Moore will start at one of the safety positions, filling in for senior Bret Lockett, who is suspended because of a violation of the program's academic policies.
While the 6-foot-2, 185-pound Moore, who prepped at Dorsey High, is one of the most gifted athletes on the team, he believes there are other reasons he is starting.
"It's not really about all the talent and stuff," Moore said. "Coach Walker wants to see how mature you are, and not only does he watch you on the field, he watches you off the field.
"I've seen sometimes where he was watching me out of the corner of his eye, and I know he saw how focused I was coming in, and how I had good grades in summer school, and good reports. That showed him a little sign of maturity."
For more on the game here is another overview from the LA Times.
As mentioned above, we will have a pre-game/party thread up around 9 am PST and then the game thread will go up around 4 pm PST. They will give you an opportunity to fill up your passion buckets (if it’s not overflowing already) before Neuheisel and our Bruins storm out of the gates tonight. Let’s Go.