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UCLA should benefit from the easiest football schedule in decades

Have you heard about the UCLA non-conference football schedule?

After agreeing to play bowling green, alabama state other south alabama — All in the Rose Bowl — The Bruins are on the verge of an endorsement deal with Sprinkles Cupcakes. . . .

The Bruins became the first team in college football history to receive a bye to conference play. . . .

You know it’s an easy schedule when you can’t think of any of the team nicknames. . . .

Before UCLA becomes part of the Big Ten, it will make a stop at the Football Championship Subdivision. . . .

Having already covered the top of one end zone, UCLA may need to cover the rest of the Rose Bowl. . . .

Jokes aside, it’s hard not to laugh. Yes, this schedule is partly a function of Michigan pulling out of games against UCLA in 2022 and 2023 so the Wolverines can play Hawaii and East Carolina. It’s also unequivocally the Bruins’ most creampuff-filled schedule in at least three decades.

Arguably UCLA’s easiest program since taking on Manual Arts High, Occidental Frosh and USS Idaho in 1919. Blame Michigan?

“The game was dropped,” UCLA coach Chip Kelly said, referring to the Wolverines, when asked about a schedule filled with firsts and presumed wins. “It’s crazy how the world spins, huh?”

Crazy easy, you could say. As easy as 1, 2, 3 (and -0).

In a bind considering most non-conference games are scheduled a decade in advance, the Bruins went from Michigan to history. The Alabama State game on September 10 marks the first time in more than a century of UCLA football that the team will play an FCS opponent. In 2023, the Bruins will face another historically black college, which also operates at the FCS level, when North Carolina Central reaches the Rose Bowl.

“We were in a unique situation where we really needed to find two games and it’s not exactly easy to do at that late stage,” Josh Rebholz, UCLA’s senior associate athletic director who oversees team scheduling, said of Michigan going back in 2019.

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson looks to pass against USC in November.

(Mark J Terrill/Associated Press)

“That opened the door to the opportunity and then we had another conversation as a staff and with Coach Kelly and said, ‘Listen, there are only a few programs left that don’t play those colleges in that [FCS] Is it going to affect our ability to play in a Rose Bowl? Is it going to affect our ability to win the Pac-12? Is it going to affect our ability to recruit talented kids?’ Of course, none of those things are true, so we were able to say, ‘You know what, let’s do something different.’ ”

UCLA playing Alabama State will leave USC and Notre Dame as the only major college teams to have never faced an FCS opponent and the Trojans will be alone in that department after the Fighting Irish play Tennessee State in 2023. USC had agreed. briefly to play UC Davis in 2021 before changing course amid fan backlash.

“I don’t think you get a trophy for not playing at an FCS school,” Kelly said, “…so for us I think that’s what was available and I think Martin [Jarmond, UCLA’s athletic director] He wanted to see if he could partner with the HBCUs and I think we have two coming up so that’s a pretty good deal. So we’ll be excited when Alabama State comes here.”

It marks the first time UCLA will not play a Power Five or Notre Dame conference team in a non-conference game since 1992. That season, the Bruins swept Cal State Fullerton, Brigham Young and San Diego State before losing their next five games on the way to a 6-5 finish.

Thirty years later, UCLA appears to be scheduled for another 3-0 start, which would be its first since 2015. The media chose Bowling Green to finish fifth of six teams in the Mid-American Conference East. South Alabama was projected to finish second in the Sun Belt Conference Western Division, behind the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns.

State of Alabama? Let’s just say the halftime show with your band should be electric. FCS teams beat their FBS counterparts as often as cold rain soaks the Rose Bowl in September.

Considering that games against rebuilding Colorado and Washington are coming up next, the Bruins are expected to be 5-0 before facing defending Pac-12 champion Utah on Oct. 1. 8 at the Rose Bowl. UCLA will spend most of its season in Southern California, playing five of its first six games at home and a record eight Rose Bowl games.

Former UCLA defensive tackle Datone Jones posted a photo of the schedule on Twitter and added: “Yeah if I’m a player I’m locked out this is stealing. … We’ll take what they give us and show dominance.”

The number to track from the beginning will be attendance. Can UCLA top 100,000 in all three non-conference games combined? Considering the Bruins drew just 32,982 for their opener against Hawaii last season, he could be close.

Enter promotions galore. UCLA has dubbed the game against Alabama State a “Game of Black Excellence” in celebration of its debut against an HBCU, and the game against South Alabama a “Bruins Game” in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month. Ticket packages include exclusive t-shirts tailored to each promotion.

As the timeworn sports expression goes, there is no better promotion than winning. Given its schedule, UCLA thinks it will do a lot of that to start the season.

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