Week 1 - Nevada at UCLA

Posted Aug 26, 2013

Week 1 CFN Fearless Prediction - Nevada Wolf Pack at UCLA Bruins

Week 1
- Northwestern at California
- Boise State at Washington
- Nevada at UCLA
- Rest of the Pac-12, Part 1
- Rest of the Pac-12, Part 2

Nevada (0-0) at UCLA (0-0) Aug. 31, 10:00, Pac-12 Network

Why You Should Give A Hoot: In an opening weekend filled with interesting Mountain West-Pac-12 matchups, this could wind up being the most entertaining one.

UCLA begins its second year under Jim Mora, determined to build on last season's nine-win campaign. The Bruins are the perceived favorite to win a third Pac-12 South title in a row, but concerns on both sides of the ball must still be addressed. Who replaces RB Johnathan Franklin? Can the line pass protect better? How long before the rebuilt secondary finds its footing? The optimism in Westwood is tempered only by the reality that UCLA is still a long way from its first league championship since 1998.

Nevada is dangerous, because, well, Nevada always seems to be dangerous. The Wolf Pack, which has appeared in eight straight bowls, will be led for the first time by Brian Polian, the successor to hall of fame head coach Chris Ault. Polian doesn't figure to make too many changes on offense since QB Cody Fajardo is back and coordinator Nick Rolovich was retained.

Why Nevada Might Win: Ault is gone, but he left behind the Pistol offense. Fajardo is the kind of shifty playmaker behind center who'll keep defenses guessing. He threw 20 touchdown passes a year ago, while running for more than 1,000 yards. When Fajardo isn't breaking containment, he'll be looking for WR Brandon Wimberly, whose sixth year of eligibility was a blessing for the Pack. Pass defense is an area where UCLA is expected to struggle again this season.
Why UCLA Might Win: The offseason did not provide enough time for Polian & Co. to fix what's ailing the defense, a group that couldn't stop anyone in 2012. The Bruins no longer have Franklin, but QB Brett Hundley is back for his sophomore, poised to take on a bigger role as the cover boy of the offense. Hundley is an even better multi-dimensional threat than Fajardo, and he's got his own version of Wimberly in WR Shaq Evans. Nevada's three new O-line starters will get a crash course in speed rushers as they attempt to slow down Bruins' guided missile Anthony Barr coming hard off the edge.
Who To Watch Out For: Barr won't be stopped Saturday night. Neither might Nevada ends Brock Hekking and Lenny Jones, who'll cause fits for a young and inconsistent UCLA front wall.

- So, who does carry the load for the Bruins' ground game? Jordon James gets first dibs, but Mora will give the ball to whoever gets hot.

- The Pack is set up front on defense, but the back seven is going to be painfully green. Hundley ought to get a lot of clean looks at his tight ends at the Rose Bowl.

- Nevada RB Don Johnson has enormous shoes to fill, those of 1,800-yard rusher Stefphon Jefferson. Johnson originally signed with Washington State before spending last year at Iowa Western Community College.

- With a ground-based attack in town, pencil UCLA LB Eric Kendricks in for at least 15 stops.

- Will there be an Eddie Vanderdoes citing this weekend? The five-star defensive end, who originally signed with Notre Dame in February, is eligible and eager, but has been bothered by a bad back.

What Will Happen: You never know. But Nevada has too many issues, especially on defense, to deliver a huge upset on the road. While UCLA is an unfinished product, Hundley is ready to carry his teammates if need be. And with Barr attacking the pocket and Kendricks sealing running lanes, the Pack will punt a few more times than it's accustomed. The Bruins will survive the upset bid, snapping last year's season-ending three-game losing streak.
Prediction: UCLA 37 … Nevada 24
Line: UCLA -20
Must See Rating: (5 Hard Knocks – 1 ‘N Sync at VMAs) … 3