History says the latter challenge could be just as unnerving as the former.
In the last 50 years, the Bruins have played nine regular-season games after what typically has been a finale against the Trojans. They have gone 2-7. UCLA also played in the Pac-12 Conference championship game shortly after facing USC in 2011 and 2012, losing both times.
The emotional hurdle of playing another game so quickly after facing their archrival has been difficult to clear for the Bruins.
“I don’t know why a UCLA athletic director ever schedules a game after a USC game,” former UCLA quarterback Gary Beban, the school’s only Heisman Trophy winner, recently told The Times. “I’m not sure we ever won.”
The Bruins did prevail in 1980, eight days after beating USC, but it might have felt like they had to journey to the ends of the Earth to do so. UCLA defeated Oregon State, 34-3, in Tokyo, during something called the Mirage Bowl that wasn’t a postseason bowl at all.
UCLA also defeated Arizona State, 52-42, to end the 2001 season after the teams’ originally scheduled game had been postponed in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.
Every other post-USC regular-season game has ended in a bad Trojans hangover for the Bruins.
The most dramatic defeat came in 1998, the so-called Hurricane Bowl against Miami. The game had been scheduled for September before being postponed because Hurricane Georges was approaching Miami. A victory in the makeup game would have thrust the Bruins into the first Bowl Championship Series title game in the Fiesta Bowl.
But UCLA lost, 49-45, after Miami tailback Edgerrin James completed his 299-yard rushing performance with a one-yard touchdown run with 50 seconds left. The Bruins ended up in the Rose Bowl and lost that game too.
In recent years, UCLA playing a regular-season game after facing USC has been less about scheduling quirks and more about television revenue. The Bruins ended the regular season with losses to Stanford in 2012 and 2014 and with a setback against California in 2016.
UCLA, 5-6 overall and 3-5 in the Pac-12, will face the Golden Bears again Friday night at the Rose Bowl, six days after a 28-23 loss to USC. A victory over Cal would give the Bruins the sixth victory they need to become eligible for a bowl; the same goes for the Bears (5-6, 2-6).
Bruins fans can also get a closeup view of Cal defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro, a former colleague of Chip Kelly who could follow the heavily pursued coach to his next destination. Kelly met with a contingent of UCLA athletics officials about the Bruins’ coaching vacancy Tuesday and is also reportedly considering Florida’s opening.
UCLA’s holiday weekend to-do list includes closing in on a home-run coaching hire and closing out decades of futility in regular-season finales that don’t involve USC. Beban’s Bruins lost to Syracuse, 32-14, in 1967 amid the emotional fallout of a 21-20 defeat against the Trojans that cost UCLA a chance at the national championship.
“I appreciate all the talent that plays at UCLA and all the talent that I played with,” Beban said, “but you use up a lot of energy and mental psychology [against USC] and it’s hard to come back the next week.”
UCLA interim coach Jedd Fisch said he expected Bolu Olorunfunmi to play against Cal after the tailback suffered what appeared to be a leg injury against USC.
Less certain was the status of tight end Austin Roberts and linebacker Krys Barnes, who suffered undisclosed injuries against the Trojans, and linebacker Lokeni Toailoa, who watched the USC game from the sideline with his arm in a sling.
Jim Mora said, “I don’t think any of them look good” when asked about Roberts and Barnes’ injuries after the USC game, only hours before Mora was fired as coach. Mora said Toailoa had suffered a severely bruised rib that caused such intense pain he was unable to raise his arm or take deep breaths.
Moving on up
Fisch promoted offensive analyst Adam Weber to interim quarterbacks coach. Weber was a graduate assistant for two seasons at Minnesota, where he starred at quarterback while becoming the school’s all-time leader in passing yards (10,917) and touchdown passes (72).
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch