UCLA football has one question. Will the Bruins like the answer?

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If the Bruins’ quarterback can at least play steady, reliable ball, their top-10 projections could come to fruition.

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. Depth vs. star power

When this year’s Football Outsiders Almanac comes out, you’ll find a predictable set of teams atop the F/+ projections. Defending national champion Ohio State will start out at No. 1, Alabama No. 2 and Oregon No. 3. You might be thrown to find Auburn (No. 11) or TCU (No. 15) lower than expected, but you might be most surprised by the team sitting at No. 5 in the projections: Jim Mora’s UCLA Bruins.

TL;DR

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Projected S&P+ ranking: 7

5-year recruiting ranking: 16

Biggest strength: Paul Perkins leads a skill position corps overflowing with both potential and proven production.

Biggest question mark: Can a new quarterback — either career reserve Jerry Neuheisel or blue-chip freshman Josh Rosen — navigate the Bruins through one hell of a road slate?

Biggest 2015 game: Take your pick. The Pac-12 schedule starts with a trip to defending South champion Arizona (Sept. 26) and finishes with a crosstown visit to USC (Nov. 28) that might decide the division.

In one sentence: UCLA is loaded with experience and just brought in a new, proven defensive coordinator; if the Bruins’ quarterback can at least play steady, reliable ball, their top-10 projections could come to fruition.

Analysts haven’t been able to get a handle on UCLA in the preseason rankings. Sports Illustrated had the Bruins eighth back in May, while Athlon had them down at 23rd. Preseason rankings tend to congeal as the offseason unfolds and conventional wisdom takes hold, but UCLA is a mystery.

It’s not hard to figure out why. When we’re ranking teams in our heads, we’re primarily looking at two things: Are the team’s stars back? And how many starters are returning? And while UCLA returns almost everybody from last season’s 10-win campaign, the Bruins must replace the names you knew the most: quarterback Brett Hundley and linebacker Eric Kendricks, to name two. But running back Paul Perkins is back, as are five of last year’s top six receivers and all but one member of last year’s offensive line two-deep.

Defensively, the Bruins bring back two-thirds of their defensive line, virtually every linebacker not named Kendricks and five of the top six in the secondary. Mora has also been recruiting like gangbusters; UCLA’s two-year recruiting ranking is fourth in the country, ahead of blue bloods like Auburn (fifth), LSU (seventh), and Ohio State (ninth).

In three years, Mora has upgrade the Bruins’ prospects considerably. He inherited a team that had gone just 75th in F/+ and 6-8 overall in 2011, and in three year’s he’s brought them to 31st and 9-5, then 13th and 10-3, then 12th and 10-3. Three consecutive years of improvement is hard to pull off, and Mora perhaps hasn’t gotten enough attention for the job he’s done.

Minnesota’s Jerry Kill has worked similar magic, but three years of improvement have only taken the Gophers from 96th to 37th in F/+. Mora’s got more of a recruiting base, but so did previous UCLA coaches. None managed consecutive top-20 poll finishes in almost 20 years. Mora is putting together a program with massive potential, and it’s already met a good portion of that potential.

Despite the highest ranking in the Pac-12 South, the Bruins still managed to falter and hand the division title to Arizona last year due to home upset losses to Utah and Stanford.

If you’re looking for a cautionary tale when it comes to a team that returns tons of experience but fewer stars, all you have to do is look toward Columbia, S.C. Steve Spurrier’s 2014 South Carolina squad returned quite a bit of its 2013 two-deep and secured a healthy No. 5 projection because of it. And I bought into what the numbers were telling me. But replacing stars like end Jadeveon Clowney, tackle Kelcy Quarles, and two active cornerbacks proved far more difficult than numbers on a spreadsheet suggested. To say the least, the 7-6 Gamecocks didn’t meet a top-five standard.

UCLA is a safer bet than that South Carolina team was; the Bruins return more of their two-deep, for starters. Mora has recruited far better than Spurrier, and while Hundley and Kendricks were good, they weren’t Clowney-level good.

The numbers could be a little aggressive here. If UCLA gets steady quarterback play, the Bruins should absolutely be a top-10 team. But losing a longtime starting QB is always a pretty scary proposition, and at the moment it appears the Bruins will be deciding between a low-upside upperclassman and a high-upside freshman.

(Plus, while summer oddities aren’t always a fall distraction, it’s been an odd summer for the Bruins.)

This UCLA team might be more loaded with athleticism and depth than any Bruins team in recent (or distant) memory. But there are quite obviously questions to answer.

2014 Schedule & Results

Record: 10-3 | Adj. Record: 12-1 | Final F/+ Rk: 12
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
30-Aug at Virginia 39 28-20 W 53% 1.8 17%
6-Sep Memphis 41 42-35 W 90% 29.9 69%
13-Sep vs. Texas 53 20-17 W 67% 10.5 41%
25-Sep at Arizona State 27 62-27 W 99% 51.9 100%
4-Oct Utah 29 28-30 L 81% 20.1 64%
11-Oct Oregon 3 30-42 L 57% 3.9 2%
18-Oct at California 65 36-34 W 71% 13.1 60%
25-Oct at Colorado 83 40-37 W 70% 12.5 73%
1-Nov Arizona 28 17-7 W 97% 43.8 100%
8-Nov at Washington 58 44-30 W 97% 45.3 100%
22-Nov USC 16 38-20 W 98% 48.4 99%
28-Nov Stanford 18 10-31 L 42% -4.5 1%
2-Jan vs. Kansas State 26 40-35 W 97% 45.1 98%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 41.0 8 22.0 25
Points Per Game 33.5 35 28.1 77

2. What home field advantage?

The Pac-12 South title was decided not by overall upside, but by timely duds. From an F/+ perspective, Arizona was the fourth-best team in the South, but the Wildcats timed their worst performance for a game they were probably going to lose anyway (at UCLA) and played their three best games in must-wins: at Oregon, at Utah, Arizona State.

Nobody else could say the same. ASU was awful against UCLA and, most damningly, Oregon State in an upset loss. Utah was great against Stanford but awful against Washington State and Arizona. USC was strong overall but collapsed late at home against ASU and gave away the division with a last-second loss to Utah.

UCLA almost had it right. The Bruins played one of the season’s best games when they obliterated Arizona State in Tempe, and they were at the 97th percentile or higher for three straight games in November. Despite an unlikely slip-up to Utah and a no-shame-in-it loss to Oregon, all they had to do was beat Stanford to secure the South. Instead, they got blown out in their worst performance of the year.

It may have been pure happenstance, but it’s hard not to notice that three of UCLA’s four worst performances all came at home.

  • Average Percentile Performance (at home): 78% (~top 30 | record: 3-3 | avg. score: UCLA 28, Opp 28)
  • Average Percentile Performance (at home): 79% (~top 30 | record: 7-0 | avg. score: UCLA 39, Opp 29)

You can look at home-road splits like this in two different ways: either a team had no home-field advantage, or it was simply really good on the road. Regardless, great road performances put UCLA in position to reach the Pac-12 title game, and a couple of home duds put those hopes to rest.

It might be more difficult to perform well on the road with a new quarterback, so this would be a good year for deploying some Rose Bowl magic.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS — OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.82 84 IsoPPP+ 125.7 22
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 46.3% 27 Succ. Rt. + 123.0 10
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 28.1 31 Def. FP+ 108.2 3
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 5.1 6 Redzone S&P+ 123.8 11
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 20.3 ACTUAL 16 -4.3
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 23 16 15 22
RUSHING 34 8 5 12
PASSING 43 24 29 25
Standard Downs 14 9 20
Passing Downs 29 39 32
Q1 Rk 15 1st Down Rk 15
Q2 Rk 18 2nd Down Rk 8
Q3 Rk 16 3rd Down Rk 51
Q4 Rk 55

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Brett Hundley 271 392 3155 22 5 69.1% 37 8.6% 6.9
Jerry Neuheisel 6’1, 200 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8207 26 39 194 2 1 66.7% 3 7.1% 4.3
Mike Fafaul 6’2, 205 Jr. NR NR
Josh Rosen 6’4, 205 Fr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9924

3. Got a QB?

Noel Mazzone might be one of the nation’s most underrated offensive coordinators. He is an experienced hand who got his first coordinator job 20 years ago, and he has succeeded with talent of all shapes, sizes and styles. He coaxed a 65 percent completion rate out of Ole Miss’ Stewart Patridge in 1997, rode Rudi Johnson for 1,500 yards at Auburn in 2000 and rode Steven Jackson for nearly 1,700 at Oregon State in 2002. He was pulling the strings for Philip Rivers’ immaculate final season at N.C. State (4,491 passing yards, 34 touchdowns, 170.5 passer rating).

Bruins fan central

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His career briefly went off-track in the mid-aughts: he was sucked into Ed Orgeron’s undertow at Ole Miss in 2005, coached wide receivers for three years for Eric Mangini’s New York Jets, and spent a year as a high school offensive coordinator before reuniting with Dennis Erickson at Arizona State in 2010. His second ASU offense, led by Brock Osweiler, ranked 23rd in Off. S&P+, and his three UCLA offenses have ranked 26th, 18th and eighth, respectively.

If you’ve got talent on hand, Mazzone will figure out how to use it. And lord knows UCLA’s got some talent in the backfield. Paul Perkins exploded for nearly 1,600 yards last season, mixing deceptive efficiency with high-end explosiveness.

When Perkins needs a breather, Mazzone will get to choose between four-star sophomores Nate Starks and Craig Lee and five-star freshman Soso Jamabo. And whoever’s running the ball will have the guidance of one of the nation’s most experienced offensive lines.

But who’s throwing the ball? Jerry Neuheisel led UCLA to a win over Texas when Hundley was hurt last year* and maintained a grip on the No. 1 spot this spring. But even if he’s the starter in the season opener, he’ll never be able to stop looking over his shoulder.

It’s only a matter of time until Josh Rosen gets his shot. Rosen is the bluest of blue-chippers, a 6’4 prototype who threw for nearly 8,500 yards and 90 touchdowns at Bellflower St. John Bosco. Rosen was in for spring and fared well. If he doesn’t win the starting job from Day 1, we’ll all be assuming he’s the starter by the end of the season.

* Neuheisel wasn’t asked to do very much. He averaged just 7.7 yards per completion while Perkins and Jordan James carried 32 times for 195 yards. Still, while he didn’t win the game, he also didn’t lose it.

The question, though, is obvious: even if Rosen is worth the hype, how quickly can he find fourth or fifth gear? And how many times might UCLA slip up before he gets there?

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Paul Perkins RB 5’11, 198 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8522 251 1575 9 6.3 6.2 43.4% 4 2
Brett Hundley QB 122 854 10 7.0 4.5 61.5% 11 7
Jordon James RB 57 239 1 4.2 3.1 38.6% 1 1
Nate Starks RB 5’11, 205 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9210 31 141 2 4.5 3.5 38.7% 0 0
Myles Jack LB 6’1, 232 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9140 28 113 3 4.0 5.1 28.6% 0 0
Eddie Vanderdoes DE 6’3, 305 Jr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9958 4 5 1 1.3 N/A 0.0% 0 0
Steven Manfro RB 5’9, 190 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8094
Ryan Davis RB 5’8, 195 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) NR
Craig Lee RB 5’11, 185 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8959
Sotonye Jamabo RB 6’3, 190 Fr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9854

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Jordan Payton WR-X 6’1, 213 Sr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9397 99 67 954 67.7% 23.6% 71.7% 9.6 152 9.6 132.8
Devin Fuller SLOT 6’0, 195 Sr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9805 82 59 447 72.0% 19.6% 65.9% 5.5 -252 5.6 62.2
Eldridge Massington WR-Z 6’3, 210 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9193 40 25 367 62.5% 9.5% 50.0% 9.2 63 9.3 51.1
Devin Lucien WR 38 29 225 76.3% 9.1% 57.9% 5.9 -115 5.9 31.3
Thomas Duarte WR-Y 6’3, 223 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8939 37 28 540 75.7% 8.8% 75.7% 14.6 211 14.0 75.1
Paul Perkins RB 5’11, 198 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8522 35 26 201 74.3% 8.4% 62.9% 5.7 -105 6.0 28.0
Mossi Johnson SLOT 6’0, 185 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8666 29 23 232 79.3% 6.9% 62.1% 8.0 -36 8.1 32.3
Nate Iese FB 6’3, 250 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8494 18 12 70 66.7% 4.3% 88.9% 3.9 -74 2.5 9.7
Jordon James RB 11 10 86 90.9% 2.6% 63.6% 7.8 -28 7.6 12.0
Nate Starks RB 5’11, 205 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9210 7 7 53 100.0% 1.7% 42.9% 7.6 -26 9.7 7.4
Kenneth Walker III WR 5’10, 180 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8584 5 3 127 60.0% 1.2% 40.0% 25.4 90 35.4 17.7
Tyler Scott WR 6’3, 217 Sr. NR NR 5 2 18 40.0% 1.2% 60.0% 3.6 -9 3.6 2.5
Alex Van Dyke WR-Z 6’3, 212 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9010
Darren Andrews WR 5’10, 185 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8228
Austin Roberts WR-Y 6’2, 210 RSFr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9278
Jordan Lasley WR-X 6’0, 190 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8680
Chris Clark WR 6’6, 247 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9580
Cordell Broadus WR 6’3, 190 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9095

4. Perkins, Payton and the art of being overshadowed

Hundley stole most of last year’s headlines, and it isn’t hard to see why. He threw for 9,966 yards and 75 touchdowns in three years as UCLA’s starter. He was also a constant run threat; he timed his out-of-pocket sojourns perfectly (more than 60 percent of his carries gained more than five yards) and rushed for more than 850 non-sack yards last year.

Still, his supporting cast made his job quite a bit easier as his career progressed. He was asked to throw 478 passes as a redshirt freshman but only 392 as a junior, and Perkins was able to shoulder a significant load last fall.

Meanwhile, in Jordan Payton, Eldridge Massington and Thomas Duarte, Hundley had one hell of a receiving trio lined up wide. Payton was the go-to guy, but the three combined to catch 120 of 176 passes (68 percent) for 1,861 yards (15.5 per catch).

Slot receivers Devin Fuller and Mossi Johnson added a wonderful efficiency component to the offense, averaging just 8.2 yards per catch but catching 74 percent of their passes.

All five of these players return, and high-upside youngsters like sophomore Alex Van Dyke, redshirt freshmen Austin Roberts and Jordan Lasley and freshmen Chris Clark and Cordell Broadus wait their turn. Be it Neuheisel or Rosen, the starting quarterback will have all the weapons he needs at his disposal.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 122.7 3.38 3.68 45.5% 71.1% 18.7% 74.8 4.9% 15.7%
Rank 6 11 28 14 38 57 115 72 128
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Career Starts Honors/Notes
Jake Brendel C 6’4, 290 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8619 39 2014 2nd All-Pac-12
Malcolm Bunche LT 23
Caleb Benenoch RT 6’5, 305 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8934 22
Alex Redmond LG 6’5, 297 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8961 21
Simon Goines RT 6’7, 325 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8747 20
Scott Quessenberry RG 6’4, 208 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8778 19
Conor McDermott LT 6’9, 295 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7593 7
Kenny Lacy LG 6’4, 285 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8909 2
Najee Toran LG 6’1, 275 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8563 1
Carl Hulick OL 6’2, 288 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8328 0
Poasi Moala OL 6’4, 275 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9016 0
John Lopez OL 6’5, 305 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8868 0
Kolton Miller OL 6’8, 300 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8841  
Zach Bateman OL 6’7, 320 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8892  
Josh Wariboko OL 6’3, 305 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9498  
Fred Ulu-Perry OL 6’2, 310 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9318  
Andre James OL 6’5, 275 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9107  
Tevita Halalilo OL 6’4, 320 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9082

5. The most experienced line imaginable

It’s incredible to think back at how young UCLA’s line was a couple of years ago. Freshmen accounted for 41 starts in 2012 and another 42 in 2013; that the Bruins managed top-30 Off. S&P+ rankings both seasons was a massive accomplishment. Now, thanks to the combination of injuries and shuffling, the Bruins boast eight players with starting experience (131 career starts), and somehow only one of them is a senior.

Even if they were getting major help from Hundley and Perkins, the fact that the line ranked sixth in Adj. Line Yards last year was incredible. The Bruins were without two-year starter Simon Goines and were constantly juggling the lineup in the first half of the season — there were four different starting line combinations in the first seven games. But once the lineup settled a bit, the run game took off.

Now Goines is back, as are three two-year starters and a three-year starter. And countless four-star underclassmen are clamoring just to get onto the second string. All the QB has to be is competent, and the skill position players and line will take it from there.

(Hundley was a double-edged sword for the line. He did the line major favors in the run game, but he also ran his way into tons of sacks throughout his career. Nobody in the country took more sacks on passing downs than Hundley, and you can’t completely pin that on the line.)

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Defense

FIVE FACTORS — DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.76 21 IsoPPP+ 123.0 16
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 40.8% 61 Succ. Rt. + 104.5 49
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 27.6 116 Off. FP+ 100.0 65
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.4 66 Redzone S&P+ 96.9 75
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 18.0 ACTUAL 16.0 -2.0
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 65 26 39 16
RUSHING 42 46 65 31
PASSING 96 21 31 12
Standard Downs 31 52 22
Passing Downs 26 37 19
Q1 Rk 8 1st Down Rk 23
Q2 Rk 67 2nd Down Rk 18
Q3 Rk 33 3rd Down Rk 35
Q4 Rk 48

6. Hello, Tom

Jeff Ulbrich didn’t leave UCLA on the best of terms, as far as the fans go. He was offered a job as the Atlanta Falcons’ linebackers coach, told five-star linebacker prospect Roquan Smith that he had turned the position down, then took the job after securing Smith’s commitment. Smith was smart enough not to sign a National Letter of Intent and he ended up committing to Georgia instead.

Ulbrich’s lone season as coordinator was fine — the Bruins ranked 25th in Def. S&P+ (they were 24th in 2013) and had only two poor performances (Oregon, Stanford). But despite an incredible load of proven stars and former star recruits, the front seven was relatively passive overall. UCLA prevented big plays well but didn’t make a ton of havoc plays, especially against the run.

Enter Tom Bradley. The longtime Joe Paterno assistant has been associated with plenty of awesome defenses through the years. From 2005-11, his Penn State defenses only once ranked worse than 12th in Def. S&P+. After a two-year hiatus (during which he spent time as a color commentator for CBS Sports), he showed up as Dana Holgorsen’s associate head coach and defensive line coach last year. Lo and behold, West Virginia’s defense improved from 85th to 41st.

You never know how a new coach will do in a new setting (and it goes without saying that Los Angeles is a little bit different than State College or Morgantown), but it’s been a long time since Bradley’s name was tied to a defense that wasn’t awesome.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 97 2.98 3.76 37.1% 85.0% 17.2% 91.2 4.5% 6.1%
Rank 79 70 107 45 127 98 84 68 86
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Owamagbe Odighizuwa DE 13 50.0 6.5% 11.5 6.0 0 4 0 0
Kenny Clark NT 6’3, 308 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9016 13 44.0 5.7% 5.5 0.0 0 1 0 0
Eddie Vanderdoes DE 6’3, 305 Jr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9958 13 41.5 5.4% 5.5 2.0 0 0 1 0
Ellis McCarthy DL 13 16.0 2.1% 3.0 3.0 0 0 1 0
Eli Ankou NT 6’3, 295 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8377 13 4.5 0.6% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jacob Tuioti-Mariner DE 6’2, 262 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8772 10 4.5 0.6% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Takkarist McKinley DE 6’4, 230 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.8985 10 4.0 0.5% 3.5 2.5 0 0 1 0
Matt Dickerson DE 6’4, 270 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8896
Ainuu Taua NT 5’11, 296 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9179
Rick Wade DE 6’6, 245 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8856

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Eric Kendricks ILB 13 123.0 16.0% 11.5 4.0 3 2 1 0
Myles Jack ILB 6’1, 232 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9140 13 72.0 9.4% 8.0 0.0 1 7 0 0
Deon Hollins OLB 6’0, 225 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9192 13 28.0 3.7% 10.0 9.0 0 2 1 0
Kenny Young ILB 6’1, 230 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9253 13 28.0 3.7% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Aaron Wallace OLB 6’3, 243 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8538 13 14.5 1.9% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Isaako Savaiinaea ILB 6’2, 233 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.9377 13 7.5 1.0% 2.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Kene Orjioke OLB 6’4, 238 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8733 4 7.0 0.9% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Ryan Hofmeister ILB 13 7.0 0.9% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Cameron Judge OLB 6’1, 220 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8766 13 6.0 0.8% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jayon Brown ILB 6’0, 220 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8194
Dwight Williams LB 6’0, 200 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8848
Cameron Griffin OLB 6’3, 225 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8207
Keisean Lucier-South OLB 6’6, 220 Fr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9906
Josh Woods LB 6’3, 215 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9087

SB Nation College Football

7. Wanted: more havoc up front

Bradley inherits a pair of proven disruptors in linebackers Myles Jack and Deon Hollins. He’ll need to coax more out of the defensive front, which boasts all the star ratings you could want but didn’t make a ton of plays and provided rather pathetic resistance in short-yardage situations. Kenny Clark and Eddie Vanderdoes are beefy former star recruits, and Takkarist McKinley has potential as a pass rusher. However, the sum of the parts was greater than the whole last season.

If the line plays up to its recruiting rankings, the linebackers will shine. Hollins needs to become a little more well-rounded (he was a strong pass rusher, but that’s about it).

The presence of absurdly well-rounded Myles Jack helps. Jack alternated between stuffing the run (he had eight non-sack tackles for loss; the rest of the linebacking corps combined had just 12) and breaking up passes. If Hollins, McKinley and others can do a better job of attacking, Jack will do the reacting and swarming.

Beyond these two, the major question is which young former star recruit will step up. Roquan Smith may not have ended up in Westwood, but five-star freshman Keisean Lucier-South did. He needs to put on some weight but could end up a nice weapon in pass-rush situations. Sophomore ends Jacob Tuioti-Mariner and Matt Dickerson might be ready for larger roles this fall.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Randall Goforth (2013) S 5’10, 182 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8860 13 61.5 7.7% 0.5 0 2 4 3 0
Anthony Jefferson S 12 61.0 8.0% 3 0 1 9 0 0
Jaleel Wadood S 5’10, 175 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9433 13 51.5 6.7% 1 1 0 1 0 0
Fabian Moreau CB 6’0, 195 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8235 13 46.5 6.1% 3 0 1 8 0 0
Tahaan Goodman S 6’1, 190 Jr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9706 13 40.0 5.2% 1.5 0 1 2 0 0
Ishmael Adams NB 5’8, 190 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9400 13 35.5 4.6% 1 0 2 4 0 0
Priest Willis CB 12 19.5 2.5% 1 0 0 2 0 0
Marcus Rios CB 6’0, 175 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9075 12 13.0 1.7% 1 1 2 1 1 0
Jalen Ortiz CB 13 4.5 0.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Justin Combs CB 5’7, 170 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8001
John Johnson S 5’9, 175 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9313
Adarius Pickett S 5’11, 192 RSFr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9373
Denzel Fisher CB 6’1, 180 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8597
DeChaun Holiday CB 6’2, 190 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9656
Stephen Johnson II DB 5’11, 188 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9003
Colin Samuel CB 6’3, 180 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8913
Nathan Meadors S 6’2, 180 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8684

8. Welcome back, Randall

Backup cornerbacks Priest Willis and Jalen Ortiz both transferred this offseason, which dings UCLA’s depth on the outside. In Fabian Moreau, UCLA’s got one proven corner, and between Ishmael Adams and Marcus Ortiz, the Bruins have at least one more solid option. Any injury could result in quite a bit of freshman playing time. But the Bruins get Randall Goforth back.

Anthony Jefferson turned into a nice disruptive force for UCLA in 2014, then graduated. That could have left a leadership void in the back, but Goforth was given an extra year of eligibility after missing 2014 with multiple shoulder injuries. Assuming he’s healthy, he and fellow returnees Jaleel Wadood and Tashaan Goodman should allow the Bruins to continue to thrive from the standpoint of big-play prevention. This defense could improve a solid amount if Bradley can be counted on to raise the havoc bar for the front seven and the safeties continue to play well in the back without too many mistakes from the cornerback position.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Matt Mengel 6’2, 210 Sr. 59 40.2 3 29 20 83.1%
Adam Searl 6’0, 185 So. 11 39.1 1 7 7 127.3%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Ka’imi Fairbairn 6’0, 185 Sr. 80 64.3 50 0 62.5%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Ka’imi Fairbairn 6’0, 185 Sr. 47-48 14-15 93.3% 4-7 57.1%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Ishmael Adams KR 5’8, 190 Jr. 25 23.6 1
Mossi Johnson KR 6’0, 185 So. 8 22.0 0
Ishmael Adams PR 5’8, 190 Jr. 21 9.2 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 45
Field Goal Efficiency 36
Punt Return Efficiency 108
Kick Return Efficiency 36
Punt Efficiency 48
Kickoff Efficiency 36
Opponents’ Field Goal Efficiency 122

9. The bases are covered

UCLA’s speical teams unit wasn’t amazing last year, but it was sound. Ka’imi Fairbarn was nearly automatic inside of 40 yards and booted five of every eight kickoffs for touchbacks. Matt Mengel’s punts were mostly unreturnable, and while Ishmael Adams was inconsistent as a sophomore return man, he was also dangerous. Everybody’s back this year, too. If Adams’ punt returns and the Bruins’ kick coverage improves a bit (the Bruins ranked 78th in allowing 21.5 yards per return), this should be a top-40 unit.

2015 Schedule & Projection Factors

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk
5-Sep Virginia 46
12-Sep at UNLV 123
19-Sep BYU 45
26-Sep at Arizona 34
3-Oct Arizona State 24
15-Oct at Stanford 11
22-Oct California 51
31-Oct Colorado 75
7-Nov at Oregon State 70
14-Nov Washington State 66
21-Nov at Utah 39
28-Nov at USC 13
Five-Year F/+ Rk 16.4% (32)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 4 / 16
2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 0 / -2.3
2014 TO Luck/Game +0.9
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 16 (8, 8)
2014 Second-order wins (difference) 8.2 (1.8)

10. Better maintain those road chops …

Good news, UCLA: most of your tough games are on the road!

Okay, that’s not actually good news, but unless Brett Hundley was the reason for all of UCLA’s road mojo, a Pac-12 schedule that features trips to Arizona, Stanford, Utah and USC doesn’t seem as forbidding as it could. That’s one hell of a slate, isn’t it? The Bruins could be the top-5 team the numbers project and still go 10-2.

The question for this team is obvious. UCLA’s upside is undeniable, but the Bruins will be playing some big road games with an unknown quantity at QB. If Jerry Neuheisel can steer the ship, or if Josh Rosen can prove his upside enough to account for freshman mistakes, then the rest of the squad is loaded.

There won’t be enough touches to go around for a loaded set of skill position talent, and the offensive line should be fantastic. The front seven should get a nice boost from Tom Bradley’s presence, and the safety play should be steady.

In a loaded Pac-12 South, UCLA has more proven entities than anybody else. But the Bruins are the only South contender with an unproven quarterback. Will that cost them too much?

 

This article was written by Bill Connelly from SB Nation SB Nation National Feed and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.