Head Coach: Jim Mora, Jr.
2012 Record: 9-5 overall, 6-3 Pac 12 South
2012 Bowl Result: Lost to Baylor 49-26 in the Holiday Bowl
2013 Returning Starters: 7 offense, 5 defense
Odds to Win 2014 BCS Championship Game: 80/1
Odds to win 2013 Pac 12 Championship Game: 7/1
Odds to win 2013 Pac 12 South Division: +255
Regular Season Wins: under 7 -140 / over 7 +110
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Last year, UCLA had a good season under first year coach Jim Mora, Jr. The Bruins started off the season 9-2 with the only losses coming at home to a good Oregon St team 27-20 and inexplicably the Bruins were blown out at Cal 43-17. The Bruins beat bowl teams Nebraska, Arizona, Arizona St, and rival USC in that stretch. The season ended with back to back losses to Stanford, first in the Rose Bowl 35-17 in the regular season finale. The Bruins made their second straight appearance in the Pac 12 Championship game and lost at Stanford 27-24. UCLA was then crushed by Baylor 49-26 in the Holiday Bowl.
The three game losing streak to end the season wasn’t good, but the Bruins still showed a lot of positives and looks to build on that for 2013. Seven starters return on offense and 5 players come back on defense.
Last season, under coordinator Noel Mazzone the UCLA offense improved from 88th nationally in scoring to 31st at 34.4 points per game.
Sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley had a fantastic freshman year and has the potential to be a high NFL draft pick in the future. Hundley completed 66.6% of his passes for 3,745 yards with 29 touchdowns and 11 picks. Hundley was also the team’s second leading rusher with 160 carries for 355 yards and 9 touchdowns. Redshirt freshmen Jerry Neuheisel (son of former Bruins’ coach Rick) and Jerry Millweard are in the mix for the back-up job as is senior Brendan Cross who transferred from Wake Forest and is the son of UCLA and San Francisco 49ers legend Randy.
Hundley will have to do even more as running back Johnathan Franklin is now with the Green Bay Packers. Franklin rushed for 1,734 yards and 13 touchdowns, and also caught 33 passes for 323 yards and 2 touchdowns. It will be a committee of running backs who has the unenviable task of replacing Franklin’s production. Junior Jordon James had 61 carries, 215 yards and 2 touchdowns, and also caught 28 passes for 204 yards and a touchdown. Senior Damian Thigpen had 50 carries, 262 yards and 2 touchdowns, along with 18 catches, 211 yards and 2 touchdowns. Senior Malcolm Jones left the team last year but returns and could get some carries. Sophomore Steven Manfro missed spring practice as he recovered from shoulder surgery. Last season, he had 28 catches, 287 yards, and a touchdown, and also had 2 rushing touchdowns. Four star recruit Craig Lee will get some carries after working hard to get academically eligible.
The Bruins must also replace star tight end Joseph Fauria who is now with the Detroit Lions. Fauria had 46 catches, 637 yards and 12 touchdowns. Hundley will lean more on senior ‘Z’ receiver Shaquelle Evans who had 60 catches, 877 yards and 3 touchdowns. Sophomore Jordan Payton will start at the ‘X’ receiver after making 18 catches, 202 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore Devin Lucien played in only 7 games last season before breaking his collarbone. He made 10 catches for 188 yards, and will get more targets now that he is healthy again. Sophomore Devin Fuller (nephew of comedian/actor Sinbad) will start at the ‘F’ receiver after making 21 catches, 150 yards and 2 scores. Four star freshman Thomas Duarte will also get some targets. Senior Darius Bell will try to replace Fauria at tight end. He made 7 catches, including a touchdown catch last year. Sophomore Ian Taubler will also see time at tight end.
The Bruins were young on the offensive line last year, and they struggled to protect Hundley at times. Now 4 of 5 starters return, and the line looks to improve. Junior left guard Xavier Su’a-Filo was first team All-Pac 12 last year despite missing two years for his LDS mission. Sophomore Jake Brendel started all 14 games at center last year and was honorable mention All-Pac 12. Sophomore Ben Wysocki and Junior Kody Innes will rotate at right guard. Sophomore Simon Goines moves from right tackle to left to protect Hundley’s blind side. Sophomore Torian Gaines wills tart at right tackle. Freshmen tackle Poasi Moala, guard Caleb Benenoch, and center Scott Quessenberry were all ranted in the top 12 nationally at their positions coming out of high school.
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Bruins’ defensive coordinator Lou Spanos improved the defense significantly from 2011 with his 3-4 system. Still they were 58th nationally in scoring defense allowing 27.6 points a game. UCLA was in the top ten nationally in sacks and takeaways though. With only 5 starters returning, work remains to be done.
UCLA must replace star defensive end Datone Jones who is also with the Packers now like Franklin. Senior Cassius Marsh returns at the other end after making 50 tackles, 10.5 for loss, 8 sacks, 3 fumble recoveries and 2 forced fumbles. Senior Owamagbe Odighizuwa will take over for Jones at end, after making 44 tackles, 6 for loss, and 3 sacks off the bench last year. Odighizuwa battled hip problems this spring and it is hoped he remains healthy this season. Senior Keenan Graham and junior Brandon Willis could see time at end if Odighizuwa isn’t healthy. Senior nose tackle Seali’i Epenesa atarted 10 games alst season, but wasn’t in shape in the spring and could lose his job. Sophomore Brandon Tuliapupu is coming off an ACL tear but could challenge Epenesa as could sophomore Ellis McCarthy.
Senior outside linebacker Anthony Barrow, a converted running back had a monster season last year with 83 tackles, 21.5 for loss, 13.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and 5 pass break-ups. He was first team All-Pac 12 and second team All-American. Junior inside linebacker Eric Kendricks led the Pac 12 in tackles at 150. Sophomores Aaron Wallace and Kenny Orjioke will rotate at the other outside position. Senior Jordan Zumwalt made 71 tackles last year and returns to his spot at the other inside linebacker. Ryan Hofmeister, and freshmen Deon Hollins and Myles jack will also see time in the rotation at linebacker.
Safety Tevin McDonald was dismissed from the team, and he was really the only returning starter. The secondary will be a major question mark with so many new pieces. Junior cornerback Anthony Jefferson has been limited to 11 games in 3 seasons. If he can stay healthy, he could be the top cover corner for the Bruins. Redshirt freshman Ishmael Adams will start at the other corner spot. Sophomore Fabian Moreau will also be in the cornerback rotation. Sophomore Randal Goforth and senior Stan McKay will rotate at strong safety. Senior Brandon Sermons and junior Dietrich Riley will rotate at free safety. The Bruins signed 5 defensive backs from the class of 2013, headlined by cornerback Priest Willis who was recruited by most of the elite schools in the country.
Sophomore kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn made 56 of 59 extra points, and 16 of 22 field goals. He was perfect from 35 yards in but needs to improve his accuracy from beyond that distance as he was only 2 for 7.
True freshman punter Sean Covington replaces star punter Jeff Locke who is now with the Minnesota Vikings. Covington was a high school All-American so he should do fine.
Some combination of Evans, Thigpen, Fuller and Manfro will return kicks and punts, and maybe all four could get some returns. None of them were spectacular last year.
UCLA hosts a potentially dangerous Nevada team to open the season, before traveling to Lincoln to face Nebraska. The Bruins host New Mexico St to wrap up the non-conference schedule. UCLA travels to Utah and hosts California to open conference play. Then comes a brutal two game road trip at Stanford and Oregon. The Bruins host Colorado and travel to Arizona. Next comes home games against Washington and Arizona St. The Bruins travel to crosstown rival USC to close out the season.
If the Bruins can survive the first half of the season that includes very difficult road games against Nebraska, Stanford and Oregon, the second half lightens up considerably. Trips to Arizona and USC are no picnics but still UCLA should win at least 8 games. The Pac 12 South is wide open and the Southern California and Arizona members of the conference all have a shot. UCLA’s biggest question mark is in the secondary, but the pass rush should again be among the best in the nation.
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