The UCLA Bruins have been so close to a championship, yet so far, the last two seasons. In each of the past two years the Bruins have found themselves in the Pac 12 championship game but they came up short in each of those contests. As far as 2013 goes the Bruins lost some star talent so it will be a lot more challenging to make a third straight conference title game.
Head coach Jim Mora had a successful first season last year, finishing 9-5 and clinching the Pac 12 south division title, and although the first year is usually the toughest, year two figures to be more difficult.
For a school that was thirsty for a star quarterback Brett Hundley quenched that craving on the very first play of the 2012 season. The freshman scampered 72 yards to kick off his rookie campaign and it was only a forecast of what was to come. By season’s end Hundley set new school records in passing yards (3,740), completions (318) and total offense (4,075). Now the challenge is to avoid a sophomore letdown, which won’t be easy, especially without the services of Jonathan Franklin.
The Bruins lose Franklin, who last year broke the career and season rushing records for UCLA, so now they have to rely on a combination of backs in 2013. Junior Jordan James figures to be the starter while Hundley’s high school teammate, redshirt freshman Paul Perkins, projects to get his fair share of carries. It’s safe to assume that the UCLA coaches won’t expect the type of productivity that left with Franklin but there is talent to make up for some of the loss.
UCLA has a solid core of receivers for Hundley to target including the talented senior Shaquelle Evans and the promising sophomore Devin Fuller. The receiving corp is pretty young but they are stock full of athletic ability and talent. As long as Hundley can stay upright in the pocket, he was sacked 52 times last season, then the Bruins can do a lot of damage on the offensive side of the ball.
On the defensive line the Bruins return two senior starters defensive tackle Seali’i Epenesa and defensive end Cassius Marsh. To complete the 3-4 alignment up front is veteran defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa. Both Marsh and Odighizuwa figure to improve on their NFL draft stock this season.
UCLA had a stellar linebacker group last year but this year it can even better, perhaps the best unit in the entire Pac 12. Senior Anthony Barr leads the talented unit as he finished last season with the most sacks on the team with 13.5. Barr will be joined by veterans Jordan Zumwalt and Eric Kendricks while the final outside linebacker position is up for grabs. A lauded recruiting class will compete for some playing time but sophomore Aaron Wallace figures to earn the starting nod by the time the season kicks off on August 30.
The secondary is probably the biggest question mark on the defensive side of the ball in 2013. They will be young, which is always a necessity, but it remains to be seen how they will handle the pass-happy Pac 12. Two freshman will likely be starters by the opener, cornerback Ishmael Adams and safety Tahaan Goodman. Anthony Jefferson is the lone upperclassman in the group as the junior is pegged to start at the opposite corner from Adams. The battle for the final starting position at free safety will likely come down to sophomore Randall Goforth and freshman Tyler Foreman.
Perhaps the biggest factor that will prevent UCLA from earning a third straight division title, and making a return trip to the conference title game, is their schedule. To elaborate, their conference schedule is daunting with road games at the two powerhouse programs, Stanford and Oregon, while the Bruins also have to play at rival USC. The south division is still winnable with home games against Colorado and Arizona State but the Bruins will likely have to win each of their Pac 12 home games to have a chance.