The original cast of “Saturday Night Live” may have had the best repertory company name in the history of history: The Not Ready For Primetime Players.
Then, it was 1975 and Dan Akroyd, John Belushi and their ragtag band of comedic misfits were hell-bent on changing the genre’s status quo.
So, too, the UCLA football team.
They head to Eugene, Ore., this week as a blankie-clutching group of pups, the Baby Bruins, starting seven freshmen.
Truly, not ready for primetime players.
They’d be wide-eyed enough heading into Autzen Stadium to face the head-spinning Oregon Ducks if they weren’t just opening theirs for the first time.
Now ESPN’s “College GameDay” has decided to head all the way west, and a nation will be focused on Jim Mora’s group and Lee Corso’s choice of headgear.
Are they ready? Mora thinks so.
“What you see is these kids come into the college game a little bit more physically prepared than they were in the past, more personal trainers, doing more in the summer months,” he said. “They’re maturing.”
But all it took was a loss to Stanford last Saturday to reveal that the Bruins are still raw. but that they are brimming with talent.
UCLA crawled off the Stanford field, already down starters and losing more, having scored just twice in a 24-10 loss.
Running back Jordon James and left tackle Torian White, already gone. Tackles Simon Goines and Connor McDermott, downed on Saturday. It’s enough to send a coach under a table, refusing to watch game film.
Not Mora, though, who’s watched his team rebound from adversity even during his short tenure.
“They impressed me immediately last year with their ability to refocus,” Mora said. “If you want to be a good football team, there has to be a good consistency. … We’re trying to develop a standard here. Our guys have really embraced it. It’s just about developing a consistency regardless of situation.”
In other words, Oregon.
At this point, the Ducks are the Vikings of the Pac-12. Not the Minnesota Vikings — actual Vikings. They plunder and they pillage and they leave opposing stadiums scorching and Autzen Stadium glowing.
They do it almost every week with ruthlessness and abandonment, and they are scary.
“In every phase, we can get better, starting with me,” Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich said. “We’re always getting better, always going to try to be more efficient in something we’re doing well or change what we’re not doing well.”
Added Mora: “It’s certainly a challenge. They’re very efficient in the way they play the game. They’ve got a lot of skill. You’ve got to be on point every single play or they’re going to make you pay for it.”
That’s the next fig leaf – or maybe final fig leaf – for the Bruins.
Play-in and play-out, precision play.
This is not to say that UCLA is missing veteran talent or leadership.
They have long-in-the-tooth standouts on offense — redshirt sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley, redshirt junior offensive lineman Xavier S’ua-Filo, senior wide receiver Shaquelle Evans — and defense, with superstar senior linebacker Anthony Barr, senior defensive end Cassius Marsh and senior linebackers Eric Kendricks and Jordan Zumwalt.
But they’ll only go as far as their young guys will take them, particularly up front, where the Bruins are especially battered.
“They’ll do a good job of mixing and matching that,” Helfrich said. “Coach (Noel) Mazzone and coach Mora have had this happen I’m sure in the past. Things occur like that and you just have to adjust on the fly. Hundley is the kind of guy who can work with that.”
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota can do a thing or two as well.
UCLA got to avoid learning the hard way last year, but now he’s keeping Mora up at night.
“Wow, this kid is something else, man,” Mora said. “He’s a great player. Marcus is a special one. He’s really fun to watch, really difficult to prepare for.”
You could say the same thing about “Saturday Night Live” in 1975. Things worked out pretty well.