UCLA’s football season included twists, turns and turmoil. Promise in September became adversity in early November when few foresaw a red carpet and a bowl game.
But there they were Friday — stepping onto a red carpet — after the Bruins landed at the executive terminal at Sky Harbor International Airport.
The Bruins get a chance at a seventh victory when they face Kansas State in the Cactus Bowl at Chase Field, the home of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
It might have looked oh-so unlikely a couple of months ago. But on Friday the Bruins were exactly in a place that felt right to interim coach Jedd Fisch.
“I’m not surprised this team is in a bowl game,’’ said Fisch, whose club practiced Friday morning before boarding a charter for the short flight to Phoenix. “I thought we were good enough. There were a couple of games that could have gone either way and didn’t go the way we wanted them to. Then, there were a couple of games that went to the wire and we won.
“I think we’re at the right place at the right time right now.’’
The Bruins (6-6) needed a victory over California on Nov. 24 in their regular-season finale to become eligible for a bowl game. They delivered, winning 30-27 after losing star quarterback Josh Rosen because of a concussion. It was close. And it was emotional.
In a game in which UCLA said farewell to its seniors, the Bruins took the field without the coach, Jim Mora, who recruited them. Mora was fired after a 28-23 loss to USC the week before. Then, there was already speculation that the Bruins would hire Chip Kelly. They did, making it official on Nov. 25, the day after J.J. Molson’s late field goal against Cal helped get them to Phoenix and onto that red carpet.
“The circumstances were that coach Mora had been let go after the USC game and we had a short week to prepare and try to become bowl eligible,’’ Fisch said. “Our guys were super excited to have that opportunity — to, in our mind, get coach Mora’s team bowl eligible again.’’
Fisch said the Bruins have had a succession of good practices over the last week. They will continue to practice at a high school in Gilbert, a Phoenix suburb, until Tuesday’s game
“Preparations have been unique,’’ Fisch said. “We’ve had some challenges with the wildfires and campus being closed for a few days and then final exams and not being able to practice during that time. We’ll practice every day while we’re here. We practiced every day the last five days.’’
Fisch said Rosen’s availability for the Cactus Bowl remains uncertain. Physicians continue to evaluate his recovery from the concussion — his second this season — suffered against Cal.
“I’m still waiting on the doctors,’’ Fisch said Friday. “He’s still going through the protocol. He practiced this morning. He’s been practicing, but he’s non-contact. He’ll remain non-contact until the doctors clear him. We’ll take it all the way up to game time, unless they make a decision prior.’’