Wonky schedule won't deter UCLA from relishing season opener

Ben Bolch
·3 min read
UCLA wide receiver Ethan Fernea, right, catches a pass for a touchdown past Colorado cornerback Delrick Abrams Jr. during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Los Angeles, Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
UCLA wide receiver Ethan Fernea catches a pass for a touchdown in front of Colorado cornerback Delrick Abrams Jr. on Nov. 2, 2019, at the Rose Bowl. (Kelvin Kuo / Associated Press)

Everything seems a little off when it comes to UCLA’s early season schedule.

Sunday was the equivalent of Monday and Monday was Tuesday as part of an opening week in which the team started practice a day earlier than normal because it had to take off election day under new NCAA rules.

Things will only gets stranger starting this weekend. After playing Colorado on Saturday afternoon in Boulder, the Bruins will fly home to prepare for a home opener the next Friday against Utah, followed by another Friday game on the road at Oregon.

There’s also the matter of where the Bruins are aligned in their schedule versus peers in other conferences.

“It’s Week 10 in college football and we’re playing our opener,” UCLA coach Chip Kelly said Wednesday during a conference call with reporters.

Still, none of the scheduling quirks can lessen Kelly’s enthusiasm given his team is on the verge of finally playing football after having its season delayed twice amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If you’re not excited about it, I don’t think you have a heartbeat,” Kelly said. “You’ve got to be excited about going out there and playing against another opponent and then seeing if all your hard work in what has been a really, really long offseason and a very different offseason pays off.”

In a nod to a virus that has caused the cancellation or suspension of games in college and the NFL, Kelly acknowledged that his team needed to get through testing protocols for the rest of the week to make it to kickoff.

“We’ve got our fingers crossed and we’re doing all that we can do,” Kelly said, “which is social distance, wash our hands, wear our masks everywhere we go so that we can ensure that we’re doing everything we can so that we can play a game.”

The Bruins have not had a player test positive for the virus since late September, excluding one result that later was shown to be a false positive. Their diligence in warding off the disease has put them on the verge of ending the longest offseason in school history.

“We’re just grateful, especially with everything that’s gone on in 2020, that we have an opportunity to play football,” Kelly said. “These kids deserve it, they’ve worked extremely hard at it and wherever you tell us to go and whenever you tell us to play, whether it be a Friday or a Saturday, we’ll be there.”

Friendly rivalry

Beating Colorado could have special significance for UCLA wide receiver Ethan Fernea. It could shut up one of his best friends.

“We both really want to win that game,” Fernea said of himself and Buffaloes tight end Matt Lynch, “so we don’t have to hear from the other one.”

Lynch spent his first four college seasons with the Bruins before departing for Colorado as a graduate transfer. He’ll get to play Saturday, unlike Fernea, who must sit out the opener as part of the NCAA’s having granted him a fifth year of eligibility because he briefly appeared in one game as a freshman.

Colorado’s roster also includes sophomore offensive lineman Kanan Ray, who signed with UCLA out of Chatsworth High but never enrolled at the school.

Etc.

Carl Jones wasn’t listed on the two-deep roster that UCLA released earlier this week, but Kelly said that was mostly a function of his shifting between nickelback and linebacker. “Carl will play a ton on Saturday,” Kelly said. … Kelly said defensive lineman Martin Andrus Jr. and linebacker Sitiveni Kaufusi would miss the Colorado game because of injuries.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.