It's only the first game of the season Saturday at Kansas State, so it's not exactly a make-or-break game for UCLA...is it?
Well, when you consider what is to follow--a solid Stanford squad, a scoreboard-lighting Houston and a trip to No. 6 Texas--let’s just say a Bruins victory against the Wildcats would go a long way for a young, inexperienced team running an offense with new wrinkles.
A victory at Kansas State could give the team confidence and belief in what they are doing. Win it and Stanford becomes a little less intimidating and a 2-2 becomes reasonable, a 3-1 start becomes hopeful and a 4-0 start enters the mind.
But a loss could hamper morale and it isn’t too far of a reach to imagine UCLA at 0-4 going into October if they leave Manhattan, Kansas empty handed.
“I think it’s key for us to start the season right,” quarterback Kevin Prince said. “It will give us some momentum heading into a big stretch early in our season.”
The matchup against Kansas State is a difficult one to predict. UCLA strengths such as defensive backfield and wide receivers will go head to head with Kansas State weak spots at quarterback, wide receiver and defensive back.
In contrast, Kansas State is strong on the offensive line and at running back, while UCLA has an untested front seven.
“Kind of an interesting matchup,” defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough said. “Where they are experienced, we are inexperienced. We have all our skill guys back, but they don’t. I’m not sure how you predict how that will play out.”
Hopefully for the Bruins, it plays out with a victory.
“Obviously if you win your first game, you feel better than you do if you don’t,” Coach Rick Neuheisel said. “But regardless of that, we’re going to play our second game.”
Last year, a season-opening victory against San Diego State propelled the Bruins to a victory the following week at Tennessee and an eventual 3-0 start. This game is even bigger than the San Diego State game, momentum-wise, Prince said.
“I think this is a more significant game because it’s on the road and it’s against a Big 12 opponent,” he said. “I think that’s a bigger stage. Obviously it would be huge for us in our confidence.”
But, Neuheisel said, if things don’t go the Bruins way, they will have to find a way to rebound.
“We’re going to go in there and do everything we can to get one more point than they have,” he said. “But we can’t let it be a towel throw-in if it doesn’t turn out that way.”
Added Prince: “Obviously you don’t want to start 0-1. That’s not to say that a loss would completely kill us, but obviously we want to get off to a good start with the games we have coming up.”