SQ College Football Top-25 Preview: #23 UCLA
As the college football season draws nearer, the college football staff at SQ has put together a ranking of the top-25 teams heading into 2015. To get our readers prepared for the upcoming season, the staff has created a preview for each one of these teams. Today’s focus is on #23 UCLA.
SQ Ranking: 23
2014 Record: 10-3
Finish in AP Poll: 10th
Head Coach: Jim Mora (4th year)
Previewing the UCLA Offense: Brett Hundley's time under center for UCLA has ended as he was taken in the fifth round of this year's NFL Draft. After having the position filled for the past three seasons, it now sits vacant, waiting for the chosen heir. But the question is, who will be UCLA's starting QB come game one?
The answer could lie in true freshman Josh Rosen who was the No. 1 ranked pro-style QB according to 247Sports. Rosen ran a similar style of offense in high school, but will have to pick up the Bruins' system to coach Jim Mora's liking. But no matter if Rosen wins the job or if the coaching staff feels backup Jerry Neuheisel is more suited to take the first snap of the season, there will be an excellent supporting cast behind the chosen signal caller.
Whoever the new signal caller ends up being, he will have the benefit of a veteran offensive line--all five starting offensive linemen return for the Bruins. Of course, having the PAC-12's leading rusher, Paul Perkins, in the backfield helps too. Perkins returns after not only leading the conference in rushing yards, but also in yards per attempt (6.27) and yards per game (121.15). If Rosen is the man chosen to go under center, he will certainly be helped by all the weapons he has at his disposal.
Previewing the UCLA Defense: Gone is the leadership that made the 2014 UCLA defense one of the better units in the conference as LB Eric Kendricks, DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa and CB Anthony Jefferson are all getting ready to play on Sundays. However, don't worry; there remains plenty of talent left on this Bruins roster for the defense to remain solid.
Linebacker Myles Jack returns for what could be his final season, but will shift to the inside. Next to him will be OLB Deon Hollins, who is a breakout candidate after finishing the season with six sacks in UCLA's last four games, giving him nine on the year. Replacing Odighizuwa at defensive end will be interesting as there are a couple options new defensive coordinator Tom Bradley could slide into that spot. One of those is Takkarist McKinley, who has the second most sacks (2.5) among returning players.
If the Bruins' pass rush can get off to a good start and find a way to stay in the face of opposing QB's, this defense has a chance to be one of the better units in the PAC-12. The only real question mark that lingers for the UCLA defense is the secondary, and whether the team can develop a true shutdown corner.
Three Key Games:
1. UCLA at Arizona, September 26th - This game has early division implications as Arizona won the PAC-12 South last year and is hungry to repeat in 2015. However, UCLA had perhaps its best defensive showing against the Wildcats last season. After giving up an early score, the UCLA defense shut out the Arizona offense the remaining 57-and-a-half minutes.
2. UCLA at Stanford, October 15th - UCLA has this game circled on the calendar as one it wants for revenge. Stanford ruined the Bruins' shot at clinching the PAC-12 South, while managing to crush their dreams at a chance to play in the inaugural College Football Playoff last season. This game will no doubt be something special to watch.
3. UCLA at USC, November 28th - This could be a huge year for this rivalry. Not only could this game determine who represents the South division in the PAC-12 title game, but it could have College Football Playoff implications if both of these teams are playing as well as they are predicted to this season. UCLA looks to make it four straight against their rival in this year's contest.
Final Analysis: This UCLA team has one big advantage over most of the competition that it's going to face this fall, and that's experience. Not many teams can say that they're returning 17 of 22 starters, and the few that can weren't nearly as good as the Bruins. There may be a few big pieces missing from last season, but thanks to the excellent job of recruiting done by Jim Mora in his time as the head coach, there's a stockpile of talent to fill the gaps.
On defense, UCLA will be solid, and could wind up as one of the better units in the PAC-12. And while the offense will adjust to having a new QB, having Perkins in the backfield and five returning offensive linemen will help ease the burden.
UCLA should be back in 10-win territory and could possibly play for the PAC-12 title if it can take care of business early on. Winning the PAC-12 title is not out of the question for this squad, and if it can manage to do that, there's a chance it'll be playing in the coveted College Football Playoff.