UCLA has won 19 games in two years under Jim Mora, but the Bruins have their sights set on even bigger goals in 2014. With 15 starters back, UCLA is Athlon Sports’ favorite to win the Pac-12 South in 2014. And if all of the pieces fall into place, the Bruins have the schedule and personnel to make a run at a spot in college football’s new four-team playoff. Quarterback Brett Hundley is one of the best in the nation, and even with the departure of linebacker Anthony Barr, the defense should be one of the best in the Pac-12.
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Previewing UCLA’s Offense for 2014:
At a press conference in January announcing his intention to stay at UCLA for his redshirt junior season, quarterback Brett Hundley glowed about what could be in 2014, when the Bruins return plenty of talent from an offense that showed flashes of dominance during last year’s 10-win campaign. “
“With what’s coming in and what we have already,” Hundley said, “I think all the stars are really aligned.”
That starts on offense, where Hundley will have no shortage of weapons at his disposal. Last year’s leading receiver Shaq Evans is off to the NFL, but a slew of young talent, led by junior Devin Lucien and sophomore Thomas Duarte, looks more than capable of shouldering the load. The run game will be a question mark, after Hundley led the team in rushing yards (748) and touchdowns (11). Jordon James and Paul Perkins are expected to reprise their roles at the top of UCLA’s committee.
Inconsistency and injuries on the offensive line have hampered the Bruins before, but even without guard Xavier Su’a-Filo, UCLA’s offensive front looks stronger than it has in the past.
Athlon's Cover 2 Podcast previews the UCLA Bruins for 2014:
Previewing UCLA’s Defense for 2014:
Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 Pac-12 Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 12 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.Losing a freakishly athletic pass-rusher like Anthony Barr, who had 23 sacks in the last two seasons, will certainly hurt a defense that surpassed expectations in 2013. But after spending last season developing a lot of its young talent, UCLA’s defense should actually be better as a whole.
Sophomore linebacker Myles Jack — who became the first player in history to be named both Pac-12 Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year — is already one of the best young defenders in the nation, after finishing with 75 tackles and two interceptions as a freshman. He’ll have to take a step forward, especially in his pass rush, but all signs point toward a breakout season.
Sophomore nose tackle Kenny Clark could be this year’s star-in-the-making on defense, as he’s set to anchor a defensive line chock- full of talent. The real surprise, though, is likely to come in the secondary, where the Bruins were much better than expected last season. After finishing third in pass defense in the Pac-12, UCLA’s defensive backs look even stronger this season, led by cornerback Fabian Moreau, who UCLA coach Jim Mora says looks like a future first-round pick.
Previewing UCLA’s Specialists for 2014:
Expectations upon his arrival in Westwood were that placekicker Ka’imi Fairbairn would join a long line of elite UCLA kickers. That goal was derailed for a bit by his inconsistency from 40-plus yards the last two seasons. He had just four field goals in the Bruins’ final seven games in 2013. But early returns this season are good on Fairbairn, after he looked very consistent during the spring. Punter Sean Covington and his big leg are also back, after averaging 41.9 yards per punt as a freshman.
When Mora spurned coaching offers from his alma mater, Washington, and Texas to return to UCLA, he did so with an understanding that the cupboard would be full of talent for years to come in Westwood. This season, the Bruins should start to see those returns in full force, with a Heisman Trophy candidate returning under center and a nice collection of talent on both sides of the ball.
In 2013, UCLA reached double digits in wins for the first time in eight years, but the expectations will undoubtedly be higher this time around. For the first time in a long time, UCLA’s focus has turned toward potentially competing for a national championship. First, of course, it’ll have to navigate the increasingly strong Pac-12 — a league the Bruins haven’t won since 1998. With 14 starters back, though, things are certainly trending upward in Los Angeles.
Five Reasons Why Athlon Sports is Picking UCLA No. 7:
1. UCLA is trending up
Jim Mora has UCLA trending in the right direction. The Bruins have won 19 games over the last two years, the most since claiming 20 victories from 1997-98. In addition to the results on the field, UCLA’s recruiting has improved. The Bruins inked the No. 45 class in 2011 but have signed three consecutive top-20 classes. With a financial commitment to Mora, improved facilities and 19 wins over the last two years, UCLA is a program on the rise.
2. Brett Hundley’s return
In 13 games last season, Hundley threw for 3,071 yards and 24 touchdowns and completed 66.8 percent of his passes. Hundley’s passing yards and touchdowns dropped from his freshman season, but UCLA’s supporting cast was also going through some turnover. With experience returning at receiver and on the offensive line, Hundley should take another step forward in his development in 2014.
3. Home schedule
There’s no denying UCLA has one of the toughest schedules in the nation. The Bruins play Texas in a neutral site affair, visit Tempe for a matchup against Arizona State and have home dates against Arizona, USC, Stanford and Oregon. Also, an early November road trip to Washington won’t be easy. But look at the overall slate – three of the toughest games are at home. With USC, Stanford and Oregon visiting the Rose Bowl in the regular season, that’s enough for UCLA to gain an edge in a tight South Division race.
4. Improvement on defense?
UCLA ranked fourth in the Pac-12 last season, giving up 5.4 yards per play in nine conference games. The Bruins return eight starters but must replace standout linebacker Anthony Barr and end Cassius Marsh. Although Barr and Marsh will be missed, this unit could take another step forward in 2014. The secondary could be the best in the Pac-12, and the front seven is loaded with talent, including linebacker Myles Jack, end Eddie Vanderdoes and tackle Kenneth Clark. USC, Stanford and Oregon should have solid defenses, but if UCLA’s young talent develops, this could be the Pac-12’s best unit by the end of 2014.
5. Offensive line concerns
The biggest concern for UCLA in 2014 could be the offensive line. The Bruins must replace standout guard Xavier Su’a-Filo and return four starters for 2014, including guard Alex Redmond and center Jake Brendel. Helping this unit’s rebuilding effort is the arrival of Miami transfer Malcolm Bunche. UCLA allowed 29 sacks in Pac-12 games last year (most in the conference) and rushers averaged only 3.9 yards per carry. Those two numbers have to improve if the Bruins want to be a playoff contender.