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.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
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
|25-Sep||at Arizona State||27||62-27||W||99%||51.9||100%|
|2-Jan||vs. Kansas State||26||40-35||W||97%||45.1||98%|
|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.
|FIVE FACTORS — OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|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|
|Q1 Rk||15||1st Down Rk||15|
|Q2 Rk||18||2nd Down Rk||8|
|Q3 Rk||16||3rd Down Rk||51|
Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|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
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?
|Paul Perkins||RB||5’11, 198||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8522||251||1575||9||6.3||6.2||43.4%||4||2|
|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|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|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|
|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|
|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.
|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|
|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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|FIVE FACTORS — DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|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|
|Q1 Rk||8||1st Down Rk||23|
|Q2 Rk||67||2nd Down Rk||18|
|Q3 Rk||33||3rd Down Rk||35|
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.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|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|
|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|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|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|
|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|
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.
|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|
|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|
|Marcus Rios||CB||6’0, 175||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9075||12||13.0||1.7%||1||1||2||1||1||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.
|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%|
|Ka’imi Fairbairn||6’0, 185||Sr.||80||64.3||50||0||62.5%|
|Ka’imi Fairbairn||6’0, 185||Sr.||47-48||14-15||93.3%||4-7||57.1%|
|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|
|Special Teams F/+||45|
|Field Goal Efficiency||36|
|Punt Return Efficiency||108|
|Kick Return 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
|Date||Opponent||Proj. S&P+ Rk|
|7-Nov||at Oregon State||70|
|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.