EL PASO — UCLA's offensive line began the season as a team strength and the Bruins expected big things from a talented and deep group.
Injuries changed that. Guard Chris Joseph (knee) went down first, followed by fellow sophomore Brian Abraham (ankle).
Next to go was veteran center Mike McCloskey (shoulder) and now his backup, Robert Chai, appears doubtful for Friday's Sun Bowl because of a knee injury.
"Chai has been downgraded because he wasn't able to do anything today," Coach Karl Dorrell said Tuesday after Chai had ridden a stationary bike and done some rehabilitation work. "He will probably try and do more things [today] but I would say that it's unlikely that he'll be able to play."
Dorrell, however, did not seem too worried.
"We've had guys go down and we've been able to find pieces to put in there," he said. "We've had guys make plays and step up and do the job all year."
If Chai is unable to play against Northwestern on Friday, UCLA -- which has produced 34 touchdown drives of 64 yards or longer -- probably will start redshirt freshman Nathaniel Skaggs.
Skaggs, who started the season opener at defensive tackle, began his UCLA career as an offensive lineman before moving to defense in fall camp last year. But after Chai was injured earlier this month, Skaggs moved back to offense and in practice has worked ahead of redshirt freshman Aaron Meyer.
Dorrell said he expected both Skaggs and Meyer to play against the Wildcats.
"We have to go play a football game," he said. "We can't wave a flag to Northwestern and say that we can't play without our starting center.... We feel good about them and expect them to do a great job for us."
UCLA may have lost its last two bowl games, but Northwestern hasn't won a postseason game since 1949, when the Wildcats defeated California in the Rose Bowl.
"It's not lost on us that we haven't won a bowl game in 56 years," Wildcat Coach Randy Walker said. "We've been better over the last decade in getting to bowls and being more competitive in the Big Ten, but we need to win a bowl game.
"It's a real challenge for us. We look at this as a big game against a great opponent with great reputation and tradition."
According to Sun Bowl officials, 42,500 tickets have been sold for the game. That's ahead of sales at this point for last year's game -- the first sellout -- in which Arizona State defeated Purdue, 27-23. Over the last six years, the Sun Bowl has not had a crowd smaller than 47,000.