College Football Preview 2014-2015: 8. UCLA Bruins
Coach: Jim Mora (3rd year)
2013-2014 Record: 10-3 (6-3 Pac-12)
August 30th @ Virginia
September 6th vs. Memphis
September 13th vs. Texas (in Arlington)
September 25th @ Arizona State
October 4th vs. Utah
October 11th vs. Oregon
October 18th @ California
October 25th @ Colorado
November 1st vs. Arizona
November 8th @ Washington
November 22nd vs. USC
November 28th vs. Stanford
Since arriving in Los Angeles a couple years ago, Jim Mora has done an incredible job with the Bruins. He joined a program that had been treading water for years and has quickly turned them into a real threat inside the Pac-12, going 19-8 including a 10-3 mark last season. With the return of junior quarterback Brett Hundley, who said no to the NFL despite first round grades and a defense that should be very much improved, many people believe the Bruins can take the next step and become a national title threat.
Backfield: Mora got an early Christmas present when Hundley announced he would return for his junior season (he was a redshirt sophomore, three years removed from high school, therefore making him eligible to enter the NFL Draft). Hundley, who has been a young QB his first two years with the Bruins, has struggled with mistakes and hasn't played well in big games. In 2013, Hundley threw for 3,071 and 24 touchdowns. He is an excellent runner as well and will keep defenses honest. He needs to continue to improve with his deep accuracy, he hasn't been able to consistently find that home run passing ability and to cut down on his turnovers. Freshman Myles Jack bailed out the UCLA offense last year, playing both ways and becoming a very reliable runner. He shouldn't get as many carries offensively this season, as a healthy Jordon James could have a big year. Joining James will also be Paul Perkins, meaning the Bruins will return their top three rushers from 2013 (Hundley, Perkins and James in that order). James, a speedy senior, is elusive and is always able to change games with the blink of an eye while Perkins is a versatile junior who had six touchdowns a year ago. Along with newcomer Nathan Starks, a prospect from Colorado the Bruins' rushing attack could be absolutely lethal. Hundley is a great read-option quarterback and other than Stanford, no Pac-12 team has proven they have solved how to stop that phenomenon.
Receiver: The loss of the Bruins' leading receiver, Shaq Evans, who recorded 709 yards last season definitely hurts. That means junior Devin Fuller, who was pretty productive a year ago, will have to step up a major way. Fuller had 43 receptions and 471 yards in 2013 and has all the tools to really become a breakout player. He is a tremendous athlete with great hands who can make even the most difficult catches. Also back is another Devin, Devin Lucien, a productive junior who should also be expected to step up. Lucien is a deep threat who averaged 17.8 yards per catch last season but will need to become a better route runner to improve as a receiver. Along with the return of junior Jordan Payton and sophomore Thomas Duarte, UCLA is gifted with a number of experienced and talented weapons. Also joining the receiving corps is four-star receiver Austin Roberts, was an absolute steal from Big Ten country, a talent from Indiana. Eldridge Massington, who received a redshirt after being a great pickup in the 2013 recruiting class, provides depth but could also get some opportunities with the departure of Evans. Massington, who was another national pickup (Mora went into Texas and landed him) has exceptional speed and explosiveness. Although still very raw he is oozing with potential. UCLA will run a four-wide offense with Hundley likely operating out of the gun or pistol, giving them plenty of opportunities to burn defenses deep.
Offensive Line: It isn't usually often that the loss of a guard is so important to a team, but the loss of Xavier Su'a-Filo might have the largest impact on UCLA. He was an extremely smart veteran who was the undisputed leader of this unit. The good news is four starters remain with significant experience and they add a high-profile transfer. That transfer is Malcolm Bunche, who is moving from Miami to the West Coast. The senior will be immediately eligible and should have the chance to start right away at left guard, which was left vacant when Su'a-Filo graduated. Joining Bunche on the left side of the offensive line will be junior Simon Goines, a big, powerful tackle who really improved as the 2013 campaign moved along. The right side of this line is also very strong as Alex Redmond and Caleb Benenoch return. Both were young and struggled at times last year but they showed improvement near the end of last season. Redmond is a superb pass blocker who needs to become more athletic and mobile, he gets beat by quicker pass rushers. The interior of this line is manned by junior Jake Brendel, an experienced center. Brendel has a very high motor and is extremely strong, he should be a force in the heart of this unit. Offensive tackle Kolton Miller was a three-star find but is 6'8" and has the tools to be a very good tackle with UCLA while guard NaJee Toran adds important depth.
Defensive Line: UCLA's defense will look very interesting in 2014, switching between a 3-4 and 4-2-5 look which will confuse offenses and give them a number of different defensive plays. The line has some talent, including sophomore Eddie Vanderdoes. Vanderdoes was a big commitment for Mora and the Bruins a couple of years ago and has all the talent to be a very dangerous pass rusher. Vanderdoes is a versatile linemen who can move along it and play a number of spots effectively. He should start at one of the defensive end slots and has the strength and athleticism to have a very strong sophomore season. On the other side, Owamagbe Odighizuwa will not only give commentators in awfully tough job pronouncing his name, he will opposing offenses troubles trying to stop him. Odighizuwa has the strength to really put up some big numbers in his senior year. He received a medical redshirt last year after missing the whole season with an injury. Up the middle, expect sophomore Kenny Clark to become a factor after he had 29 tackles and four tackles for loss last year. He is a hard-working player who is effective in run defense but could even grow as a better pass rusher. Junior Ellis McCarthy joined the Bruins a couple years ago and has not lived up to his hype just yet in LA. He has been a pretty effective pass rusher but he likely won't start this year. He will find a way to make an impact after 28 tackles and two sacks a year ago. The depth in this unit is impressive as well as the Bruins landed two helpful defensive tackles in Ainuu Taua and Matt Dickerson, who are both nice pickups from inside California.
Linebackers: Give defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich, the linebackers coach the last couple years, a ton of credit. He has developed the Bruins' linebacker corps into one of the nation's best linebacker units, even with the loss of first-round pick Anthony Barr, a sack machine who had 10 sacks last year and was always in the backfield. Back is middle linebacker Erik Kendricks, who returns for his senior season. Kendricks is an absolute machine, he had 105 tackles, two sacks and added another interception on top of it. Kendricks has incredible instincts and is a real help in run help and he is a fantastic tackler. The loss of hard-hitting Jordan Zumwalt hurts as his 91 tackles will definitely be missed. The good news is that All-Pac-12 sophomore Myles Jack returns. Few true freshman meant more to their team than Jack, who did it all for the Bruins. Jack also is a pretty hard hitter who should be a real help in coverage. He isn't a great pass rusher right now but he could definitely grow into one. They would really love if he did grow into a formidable pass rusher as he could make up for the loss of Barr. Amazingly, Jack who played both ways, won both Pac-12 Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year. Junior Kenny Orijoke is likely to take over at the outside linebacker spot that Barr left vacant. Orijoke didn't get much opportunities last year but was very effective when he did get snaps. He had two sacks and should prove to be a force off the edge for UCLA. Losing Zumwalt and Barr hurts but Mora did a great job landing a number of talented recruits at linebacker. Zach Whitley was a fantastic find from Houston who is a four-star prospect. He is rated as high as the No. 6 inside linebacker in the nation and could find starting snaps this season. Another four-star find was outside linebacker Dwight Williams, the No. 11 outside linebacker in this year's recruiting class.
Secondary: There is loads of talent in this secondary and it should be a strength after it allowed 217.6 yards per game in 2013, 40th in the nation. This is an extremely young unit but there is loads of talent and the defensive backfield has had a ton of star power in the past for UCLA. Junior Ishmael Adams returns at one of the cornerback slots after recording 61 tackles and four interceptions a season ago. Adams is a great athlete who has hands like a receiver and could really grow into a real shutdown corner this year. On the other side, junior Fabian Moreau returns to give the Bruins plenty of experience and playmaking ability. Moreau is bigger than Adams and stronger meaning he will match up against the opponent's bigger receivers. Also joining this unit is senior safety Anthony Jefferson, a very productive defensive back. Jefferson notched 89 tackles, two interceptions along with five pass deflections and he should continue to improve. He is a fantastic coverage safety and he can jump routes and make important plays. Junior Randall Goforth will compete for a starting role after playing a ton of downs in 2013 while depth is no issue here as well. Adarius Pickett joins the secondary as a four-star cornerback.
Special Teams: Punter Sean Covington returns for a sophomore season in Los Angeles after a terrific job as a freshman last year. Kicker has had some problems as Ka'imi Fairbalm had some significant struggles throughout 2013. He has struggled with consistency but he has some moments with the Bruins.
If UCLA is going to win a national title under Mora anytime soon this has to be the season. Hundley is a legitimate Heisman candidate and the defense is filled with defensive playmakers. Plus, the Bruins get all the powers of the Pac-12 (USC, Stanford and Oregon) at home and the non-conference schedule is not very difficult. This Bruins team is dangerous and they have a real chance to win the Pac-12 and have a shot at the College Football Playoff.