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UCLA Football: 2017 Bruins Preview and Prediction

Jim Mora, UCLA Football

Jim Mora, UCLA Football

After winning at least eight games in each of the past four seasons, UCLA cratered to 4-8 in 2016. Injuries, namely to quarterback Josh Rosen, certainly contributed to the decline, but that’s done little to squelch any talk about head coach Jim Mora’s job security. Rosen’s healthy return is critical, although he will need more support from the running game and his offensive line. The defense has some pieces to work with, but there are plenty of questions on that side of the ball too following the loss of three NFL draft picks. UCLA should be better with Rosen back under center, but does that mean simply getting back to a bowl game or competing for the Pac-12 South title?

Previewing UCLA Football’s Offense for 2017

Los Angeles is a city rife with total makeovers, and after last year’s 4–8 record, it was not surprising to see Jim Mora opt for a complete overhaul on offense for the Bruins. Four new coaches were brought in as part of a staff revamp, highlighted by new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. Expect an emphasis on establishing the run early in games, and the fact that the entire running back corps returns, including the trio of Soso Jamabo, Bolu Olorunfunmi and Nate Starks, should help tremendously.

All eyes this fall will be focused on other areas, however, and that chiefly means quarterback, where junior Josh Rosen is hoping to get his promising career back on track after a shoulder injury in 2016. The signal caller was at 100 percent for spring practice, and it’s safe to say that the former five-star is hoping to make up for lost time even if the receiving corps he’ll be throwing to is lacking veteran standouts.

Any optimism UCLA fans feel about Rosen’s return will be tempered by offensive line concerns, which have been the team’s Achilles heel. All-Pac-12 center Scott Quessenberry anchors the group, which loses only one starter but needs vast improvement across the board after struggling to run the football (2.93 yards per carry last season) and keep the QB upright.

Previewing UCLA Football’s Defense for 2017 

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While it took a while for defensive coordinator Tom Bradley to settle into life on the West Coast, he managed to turn his group into one of the few positives the Bruins had last year. This season will be a different beast, as replacing NFL talent at all three levels like Takkarist McKinley, Jayon Brown and Fabian Moreau won’t be easy. Luckily, though, the team has recruited well enough that the defensive staff won’t be lacking for options when it comes to playmakers.

Leading the way is linebacker Kenny Young, who developed into a quality starter and should be able to improve significantly upon the 5.0 sacks and 8.5 tackles for a loss as a junior. Jacob Tuioti-Mariner has the flexibility to play at just about every spot along the defensive line and could follow his former teammates to the NFL with more seasoning. How stingy this group is defensively may come down to how well a pair of five-stars rush the passer though — 2015 signee Keisean Lucier-South and 2017 early enrollee Jaelan Phillips.

Previewing UCLA Football’s Specialists for 2017

Placekicker JJ Molson was just 12-of-20 on field goals as a freshman, but the coaching staff hopes that a full offseason of work will be enough to turn things around. Austin Kent (38.3 yards per punt) figures to take over full-time punting duties, while return duties are set to be taken over by Jordan Lasley after several misadventures in that area a season ago.

Final Analysis

Those who swear allegiance to the powder blues have been trying to figure out if the Bruins’ disastrous 2016 season was a blip in the radar or part of a troubling trend under Mora. Injuries to key players like Rosen were a big factor in the team’s recent backslide, but two straight campaigns of declining win totals have many thinking that 2017 will be a referendum on the head coach’s tenure.

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Despite concerns, the return of Rosen to the starting lineup is enough to get people to buy low on a team that should make big gains offensively. That should take some pressure off a re-tooled defense that is stuffed with talented players, and it’s hard to go anywhere but up on special teams.

It might be tough to have a breakthrough season given how competitive Pac-12 South has become, but this has the potential to be a top-25 team if the pieces fall into place.

National Ranking: 33

Pac-12 South Prediction: 2