2014 CFN Preview - UCLA Bruins
UCLA LB Eric Kendricks
CollegeFootballNews.com Preview 2014 - With Brett Hundley back, UCLA should be shooting for it all. (Getty Images)
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With Brett Hundley back for another season, the Bruins are eyeing a Pac-12 title … at a minimum.
Head coach: Jim Mora
3rd year: 19-8
Off. 27, Def. 23, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 23
1. QB Brett Hundley, Jr.
2. LB Myles Jack, Soph.
3. LB Eric Kendricks, Sr.
4. C Jake Brendel, Jr.
5. CB Fabian Moreau, Jr.
6. WR Devin Fuller, Jr.
7. DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa, Sr.
8. CB Ishmael Adams, Jr.
9. DE Eddie Vanderdoes, Soph.
10. S Randall Goforth, Jr.
2014 Schedule |
Aug. 30 at Virginia
Sep. 6 Memphis
Sep. 13 Texas (in Arl)
Sep. 20 OPEN DATE
Sep. 25 at Arizona State
Oct. 4 Utah
Oct. 11 Oregon
Oct. 18 at California
Oct. 25 at Colorado
Nov. 1 Arizona
Nov. 8 at Washington
Nov. 15 OPEN DATE
Nov. 22 USC
Nov. 29 Stanford
The quarterback and his coach, Jim Mora, are back for a third season together, which has the program believing it might be ready to take the next major step in its evolution. Mora has recruited extremely well since coming over from the NFL ranks, erasing whatever edge crosstown rival USC had when Pete Carroll and Lane Kiffin were in charge. UCLA has the wind at its back after winning 10 games for the first time in eight years, capped by season-ending blowouts of the Trojans and Virginia Tech in the Sun Bowl. It's going to be very interesting to see where those gusts carry the Bruins in 2014.
Mora has been an unmitigated godsend for UCLA. Under his meticulous guidance, the Bruins have been a vastly different team than the ones that were shepherded to mediocrity by the inept trio of Rick Neuheisel, Karl Dorrell and Bob Toledo. Everything that UCLA does in preparation for Saturdays is tighter and smarter. And it's showing up in the results.
Hundley's decision to hold off on the NFL for another year was a game-changer in Westwood. He's one of the top young quarterbacks in America. The Bruins are thrilled to have him around as the offensive ringleader, especially since the surrounding talent is longer on potential than production. UCLA doesn't technically harbor a No. 1 at running back or wide receiver, and the youthful O-line is being asked to grow up after allowing the second-most sacks in the Pac-12 in 2013.
The defense is on an upswing, even after losing OLB Anthony Barr and a chunk of the D-line to graduation. The recruiting of Mora and his staff has positioned the program to move forward without skipping a beat. There are budding stars everywhere, such as linemen Eddie Vanderdoes and Ellis McCarthy and linebackers Myles Jack and Kenny Orjioke. And the secondary, which was a question mark a year ago, is poised to rank among the best in the Pac-12. The safeties are rock-solid, and corners Fabian Moreau and Ishmael Adams won't be unheralded for much longer.
Mora and his staff have a very good thing going at UCLA, and they caught a huge break when Hundley decided to return for his junior season. Provided the Bruins can handle the increased hype and expectations, this could be the shoot-for-the-stars kind of year they've have been seeking for more than a decade.
What to watch for on offense: The maturation of the O-line. This is where it all begins for the Bruins, who'll either flourish or flounder versus top competition based on the play of the blockers. There are so many questions surrounding this unit. Will RT Simon Goines be healthy enough to play this season? What can be expected of Miami transfer Malcolm Bunche, whose toughness was questioned in the past? And are last year's rookies, LT Caleb Benenoch and RG Alex Redmond, ready to take their game to the next level? Brett Hundley didn't return to school to be treated like a piñata, and it's up to the line to protect the franchise accordingly.
What to watch for on defense: Who'll get after the quarterback? The Bruins had 32 sacks last season, but 22 of them came from seniors. New coordinator Jeff Ulbrich is on the prowl for successors. Fingers are crossed that veteran DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa can remain healthy, while building on a breakout spring. Anthony Barr's old outside linebacker spot is likely to go to junior Kenny Orjioke, an explosive edge rusher who opened a lot of eyes in April. It'll be all hands on deck for UCLA, right down to the walk-ons, like DE Zach Vinci, who matched Odighizuwa's two sacks in the spring game.
The team will be far better if… the O-line takes the next step. Sure, the Bruins are brimming with as much front wall potential as they've had in years. But it's time for this group to put it all together, from emerging OT Caleb Benenoch to OG Alex Redmond. It's incumbent upon the blockers to not only protect the franchise, QB Brett Hundley, but to also create more opportunities for a set of backs and receivers that can use the boost. If UCLA is going to be more explosive in 2014, it'll have to attack the situation from the inside out.
The Schedule: If the Bruins are really that good, they'll have their chances to prove it with a road game at a motivated Virginia to kick things off, and then after a layup against Memphis it's off to Arlington to deal with a Texas team that really, really needs a win over a team like UCLA. The Pac-12 opener against Arizona State makes it three games away from Pasadena in the first four, and then comes October. The Bruins have to go back on the road after dealing with Utah and the possible Pac-12 title game preview against Oregon, but it's not that bad going to Cal and Colorado as part of yet another run of three away games in four. The payoff is November with three of the final four games at home including showdowns against USC and Stanford to finish things up.
Best offensive player: Junior QB Brett Hundley. On Jan. 5, Hundley announced that he'd be remaining in Westwood for his junior season. The Bruins' 2014 forecast has been through the roof ever since. UCLA was going to be good no matter who took snaps this fall, but with No. 17 back for at least another year, the program is a bona fide playoff contender. Hundley is a physically imposing dual-threat in the mold of a young Donovan McNabb … and he isn't even close to peaking in his evolution. If he puts it all together as a junior, the Bruins are liable to compete for their first national championship since 1954.
Best defensive player: Sophomore LB Myles Jack. Dual-threats don't typically play linebacker, but Jack was not the garden variety rookie a season ago. In 2013, he was the embodiment of what's currently taking place at UCLA under Jim Mora, starring on defense and at running back when the position was thinned by injuries. Jack is a rare all-around athlete, with the humility and the dedication to get exponentially better in his sophomore season. The table is set for No. 30 to be one of college football's signature players of 2014.
Key player to a successful season: Senior Owamagbe Odighizuwa. UCLA is pining for a disruptive presence up front on defense, which Odighizuwa is planning to address. The senior has elite potential when healthy, which has not been the case in recent years. The Bruins need him to be the player he was in April, dominating the offensive linemen to create havoc in the backfield. Someone on this team has to pick up the slack left by Cassius Marsh, Keenan Graham and Anthony Barr.
The season will be a success if ... UCLA wins the Pac-12. The Bruins have been building toward this moment, right? It's Mora's third season, and it's Hundley's third season as well. The blue-chip talent that the staff has been able to attract is no longer unfamiliar with the system or the expectations, so miscommunications ought to be relegated to the rookies. Yeah, the schedule is predictably brutal, but getting Oregon, USC and Stanford in Pasadena will make navigating that slate a bit more realistic.
Key game: Oct. 11 vs. Oregon. Are you really ready to climb higher in the pecking order, UCLA? Then go prove it against the better teams in the Pac-12, beginning with this high-profile visit from the Ducks. Oregon has won five straight meetings, pulling away last year in Eugene, 42-14. If the Bruins and Hundley can outscore the Ducks and Marcus Mariota, the host could end the weekend as more than the South Division favorites. It'll validate its status as a playoff contender.
2013 Fun Stats:
- Yards per pass: UCLA 8.3 – Opponents 6.5
- Touchdowns scored: UCLA 63 – Opponents 37
- Third-down%: UCLA 49% - Opponents 35%
- 2014 UCLA Preview -
What You Need To Know & Top Players