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You can read the entire UCLA preview in Athlon Sports' 2013 Pac-12 magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
Pac-12 South PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Jim Mora, 9-5 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Noel Mazzone | DEF. COORDINATOR: Lou Spanos
Brett Hundley sprinted past the Rice Owls, necks turning 180 degrees just to watch him jet by for 72 yards. It was UCLA’s first offensive play of 2012, the redshirt freshman Hundley’s first as the Bruins’ quarterback, and it was a touchdown. Hundley raced into the hearts of UCLA fans who thirsted for a star quarterback.
Now comes the hard part: Building off a record-breaking freshman campaign of 3,740 passing yards and 29 touchdowns.
Now comes the harder part: Doing so without Johnathan Franklin, who broke the UCLA career and season rushing records in 2012. The Bruins will look to Hundley’s high school teammate, redshirt freshman Paul Perkins, junior Jordon James and former Gatorade National Player of the Year Malcolm Jones.
Now comes the hardest part: Keeping Hundley upright. Despite all his successes as a freshman, Hundley was sacked 52 times. A major upgrade in offensive line recruiting over the last two years brought in torrents of talent, but aside from Xavier Su’a-Filo — who returned from an LDS Church mission to dominate as a redshirt sophomore — the Bruins will again be short in the tooth.
If the Bruins find a suitable replacement for Franklin, and Hundley makes use of a solid receiving corps that includes talented seniors Shaquelle Evans and Darius Bell and promising sophomores Devin Lucien, Jordan Payton and Devin Fuller, they’ll improve on what was already a fantastic 2012 season.
The UCLA defense was better than it looked in its last performance, a 49–26 thrashing to Baylor in the Holiday Bowl. But not much better. Concerns still linger.
A dominating front seven should help to ease the youth movement. The Bruins return what could be the best linebacker corps in the Pac-12 and one of the best in the country, as the coaching staff did a stellar recruiting job on stud sack-master Anthony Barr. He’ll rejoin veterans Eric Kendricks and Jordan Zumwalt, both all-conference candidates, and a group of lauded recruits who will battle in fall camp for the remaining spot in the 3-4 scheme.
UCLA adjusted well to the switch from the 4-3 last year under coordinator Lou Spanos, particularly up front. Though Datone Jones is off to the NFL, Cassius Marsh and Owamagbe Odighizuwa return for their senior years looking to improve their draft stock. They lead a unit that includes veterans Seali’i Epenesa and Brandon Willis and prospects Ellis McCarthy, Kylie Fitts and Kenneth Clark. Odighizuwa's status for the opener is in doubt due to a hip injury, but the prognosis is not as serious as initially believed.
UCLA’s defensive fortunes will be decided by its baby backfield, and it’s a good one. Freshman cornerbacks Priest Willis and Johnny Johnson and safeties Tahaan Goodman and Tyler Foreman all rate among the country’s best at their positions, and they’ll join Ishmael Adams, Randall Goforth and Marcus Rios in a heated competition.
Kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn improved on a poor start to his freshman year, but he’s still a notch or 10 behind Kai Forbath. The Bruins lose the similarly brilliant Jeff Locke, who covered miles of field with his punts. Sean Covington comes in to take over the duties, but he could falter early like Fairbairn. The return game remains a major question mark as Damien Thigpen nurses a torn ACL.
The path to a division title is tougher in 2013, especially with a schedule that features road games at USC, Stanford and Oregon. Hundley will be better as a sophomore, but the Bruins need to find a replacement for Franklin. The defense, which returns five starters, has room to improve after giving up 415.9 yards per game last year. The Bruins could be a better team, yet fail to repeat as division champs.
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