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Bruins Win, but Little Achieved

It’s almost as if the Bruins spent all week working on their lone flaw from their opening game -- the running attack -- at the exclusion of everything else.

While the Bruins racked up 277 rushing yards, the protection for Ben Olson wasn’t as good, the quarterback threw his first interception, special teams had a botched field-goal attempt and a muffed punt return, the defense gave up a 49-yard touchdown run and the Bruins had a sputtering 26-16 victory over a Rice team forced to give a redshirt freshman quarterback his first start.

“We weren’t at our best today,” UCLA Coach Karl Dorrell said.

About the only complaint Dorrell lodged after beating Utah a week earlier was that the running game needed improvement. The Bruins were outrushed by the Utes, 124 yards to 119. On Saturday, Chris Markey rushed for 208 yards and Kahlil Bell rushed for 102, so consider that progress -- although it’s hard to use that term for this game, not after UCLA beat Rice, 63-21, last year.

Last game, Ben Olson’s fumbles were like a smudge on the new car’s paint job. The Bruins recovered all three drops, the vehicle still drove smoothly. This time the fumbles were more like flat tires and transmission problems, seriously slowing the Bruins’ roll. Rice picked up both of them.

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Also, it took a game and a half, but we finally saw Ben Olson make a bad play.

Olson was looking for Brandon Breazell down the middle and didn’t see Rice cornerback Ja-Corey Shepherd. Olson threw the ball directly to Shepherd for the interception.

In something of a compliment, the Rice defense was geared toward confusing and attacking him -- that’s what allowed the Bruins to run so effectively.

For Olson, the good still outweighed the bad. He showed the perfect touch on his scoring passes to Junior Taylor and Breazell.

But really, the best thing you could say about this game is that the Bruins got through it.

Those who support the BCS try to sell us on the notion that every regular-season game matters. Not really. Not in September.

For every Ohio State-Texas showdown we get 10 games that don’t even warrant a two-paragraph roundup item. Was I supposed to be excited when I got an e-mail from DirecTV listing the games available this week on the college football GamePlan package: Central Michigan at Michigan, Duke at Wake Forest, Louisville at Temple, Auburn at Mississippi State, Washington at Oklahoma, Eastern Michigan at Michigan State, Vanderbilt at Alabama, Clemson at Boston College, Central Florida at Florida, Air Force at Tennessee and New Mexico at New Mexico State? I’m paying an installment of $54.50 for this privilege?

Big-conference schools try to pad their victory totals, small-conference schools try to balance their budgets -- they’ll gladly take a six-figure check in exchange for an “L.”

It’s even worse now that the NCAA allows Division I-A schools to count victories over Division I-AA schools toward their bowl eligibility total. That’s why I loved it last week when Colorado lost to Montana State and Duke lost to Richmond. Any time an attempt to duck stiff competition blows up in the home team’s face, I’m happy. I didn’t even mind seeing my alma mater, Northwestern, lose to Division I-AA New Hampshire on Saturday. Any sacrifice for the cause. The NCAA should make like the Italian soccer leagues and relegate teams to lower divisions if they can’t beat the lighter competition to discourage these games. Introduce a greater element of risk.

Instead, after years of telling us it didn’t want a playoff system because it didn’t want to overextend the players, the NCAA added a 12th game to the regular-season schedule, practically forcing some of these schools to call the little folks to fill out the schedule.

It doesn’t do anything for the sport. Tell me, exactly, what is the benefit to UCLA playing another early-September game before rows of empty benches in the Rose Bowl before the students are back in class? How crazy is it that, for the third year in a row, UCLA will have at least a Saturday off before playing USC in December?

Before last year the UCLA-USC game had been played in November every year since 1946. It’s not like tradition matters in college football or anything.

That opening weekend in December would be better utilized as the opening round of the playoffs (this applies to USC more than UCLA). If the sport needs to take a break for final exams after that, so be it. It wouldn’t be any more absurd than making USC and Texas wait more than a month last year to play in the Rose Bowl.

Extra Points

* It’s to the point where it feels like something’s missing if a weekend passes without Tiger Woods winning a golf tournament.

* What’s the bigger surprise: Andy Roddick making it to the U.S. Open final or a guy called A-Rod playing in New York without getting booed?

* R.I.P. Steve Irwin. And now that he’s gone there should be an international law prohibiting professional sports work stoppages. Watching “The Crocodile Hunter” was the only thing that got me through the NBA lockout in 1998.

J.A. Adande can be reached at j.a.adande@latimes.com. To read more by Adande go to latimes.com/adandeblog.


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