UCLA running back Paul Perkins has a simple question.
“Why not now?” Perkins said.
After three weeks of practice, the season opens against Virginia on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at the Rose Bowl. It is safe to say the Bruins have plans.
“We have the talent,” Perkins said. “The sky is the limit for us.”
The Cavaliers appear to offer a boost up that ladder.
Virginia is coming off a 5-7 season but Perkins’ optimism isn’t based on the opponent. The Bruins, he said, are loaded.
UCLA goes into the season with freshman quarterback Josh Rosen waiting to take his first snap in a college game. But the Bruins have 18 starters back from a team that finished 10-3 last season and beat Kansas State in the Alamo Bowl.
“I feel like every year this coaching staff and the players they have recruited have been building,” Perkins said. “There is an anxiety, anticipation of what we can keep doing. Every year we have gotten better. Every year we have gone to a better bowl game. We need to go to the next level and be the team we know we can be. That means winning a [Pac-12 Conference] title and bigger bowl games.”
UCLA has not been to the Rose Bowl game since last winning the conference in 1998. The 16-season drought is the longest in school history since the conference began sending its champion to the game.
Of course, winning the Pac-12 could keep that streak alive. The conference champion will likely go to the national playoffs. The semifinals will be the Orange Bowl and Cotton Bowl.
Ka’imi Fairbairn has made 38 of 46 field-goal tries from under 40 yards during his three-year career. He is a so-so 10 of 19 from 40 yards or more.
Coach Jim Mora believes that will change.
“I think he’s better this training camp than he has ever been in terms of the consistency of his kicks,” Mora said. “Even ones he has missed, he gets organized and focused for the next one.”
Fairbairn has never dwelled on his misses. But he has worked during the off-season to keep the long-distance tries from being a drag.
“I try to treat every kick the same,” Fairbairn said. “Sometimes, when I practiced, I didn’t kick at uprights. I would just kick down a line and see where it landed. That kind of takes the distance out of it.”
Fairbairn made his last seven field-goal tries last season, two of which were beyond 40 yards.
Mora has helped by changing how UCLA uses Fairbairn in practice. In the past, Fairbairn would get a handful of kicks at the end of practice. This summer, he has been run onto the field for kicks during team drills.
“When is he ever going to kick six or eight in a row during a game?” Mora said.
Fairbairn said that allows him to “get the view from that run on to the field. I can hone in on the goal posts.”
The Bruins will have a new look at times this season, one with a traditional tight end.
UCLA used more tight end formations in 2012 with Joseph Fauria. The last two seasons, the Bruins have leaned more to pure spread.
“You get into situations where you can protect both edges,” offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said. “It gives us an opportunity to have a larger surface up front.”
The arrival of freshman Chris Clark, rated by recruiting analysts as the top high school in the nation last year, led to the philosophical shift. But the Bruins have other tight end candidates on the roster.
Thomas Duarte and Nate Iese can be used in the spot. Colby Cyburt has moved from tackle to tight end.
“It’s fantastic,” said Cyburt, who was a tight end early in his high school career. “It’s going back to my roots.”