LOS ANGELES (AP) — For some reason, UCLA's third and final nonconference game has given coach Chip Kelly plenty of headaches over the years.
No matter the opponent, the Bruins have struggled in their final test before opening Pac-12 play, dropping four of five since Kelly took over in 2018.
That is not expected to be the case on Saturday when the 24th-ranked Bruins host North Carolina Central at the Rose Bowl. UCLA is such a prohibitive favorite that a point spread has not been issued for the game, according to FanDuel Sportsbooks.
That is sometimes the case when a Power Five conference program takes on a Football Championship Subdivision team.
Kelly, though, is maintaining the same attention to detail as he would with any opponent.
“They have our utmost respect. We prepare for all our opponents the same way,” Kelly said. “Their quarterback is an NFL prospect, they have a safety who is an NFL prospect, this is a good football team.”
The Bruins are looking to improve to 3-0 for the second straight season in less-dramatic fashion. Last year they needed Nicholas Barr-Mira’s 24-yard field goal on the final play of the game to pull out a 32-31 victory over South Alabama.
North Carolina Central is also 2-0 and ranked 17th in the FCS coaches poll. The Eagles defeated rival North Carolina A&T 30-16 last week as running back Latrell Collier and quarterback Davius Richard each ran for 95 yards and a pair of TDs.
“It is definitely going to be a challenge. We scheduled this game so our guys could have a chance to play against one of the top FBS programs out there,” North Carolina Central coach Trei Oliver said. “We have a bunch of scouts come out here weekly and they want to see our guys play against top talent.”
IS MOORE UCLA'S QUARTERBACK?
Dante Moore leads FBS true freshmen with five passing touchdowns, is second in passing yards (433) and third in completions (24). Kelly, though, is still trying to say he is on a three quarterback rotation, even though Moore started and played most of the snaps in last Saturday's 35-10 victory over San Diego State.
Moore threw for 290 yards in that game and had five completions of at least 20 yards.
“We don’t do anything rotation-wise or player-wise until the end of the week so that we know who’s available for the game,” Kelly said. “Again, it’s very presumptuous to say who it is and then he rolls his ankle in practice. So we’ve had a system in place for a long time.”
Ethan Garbers started the Sept. 2 opener against Coastal Carolina but did not play last week. Collin Schlee got in last week during the fourth quarter.
UCLA is allowing only 11.5 points per game in its first season with D'Anton Lynn as defensive coordinator. It also has 20 tackles for loss and five takeaways.
“Obviously, one of the strengths of our football team is our defensive front, so if we didn’t have that many tackles for loss or sacks in the last two games then I think we’d be disappointed,” Kelly said. “I think the depth has shown through. Any time you can be that high in tackles for loss and creating turnovers, it’s a credit to all those guys on the defensive side.”
Richard and defensive back Khalil Baker are considered NFL prospects.
Richard was the MEAC offensive player of the year last season and is off to a good start this season. The dual-threat quarterback is completing 66.7% of his passes and has accounted for six touchdowns (three passing, three rushing). He will face a Bruins' defense that has picked off five passes in the first two games.
Baker had five interceptions last season. He will go up against UCLA wide receiver J. Michael Sturdivant, who is averaging 22.7 yards per catch on seven receptions.
ABOUT THE GAME
North Carolina Central will receive $700,000 for the game, which is its first trip West since going Division I. UCLA is also paying for the NCCU Sound Machine marching band and cheerleaders to make the trip.
Bruins athletic director Martin Jarmond has ties to North Carolina Central — his late mother and grandmother attended the school.
UCLA has scheduled games against HBCU teams the past two years after Michigan backed out of a home-and-series. The Bruins are slated to travel to Michigan next season in their first season in the Big Ten, but that might change since the rotations were set before Oregon and Washington came over in the latest wave of conference realignment.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll