10 Questions UCLA Football Must Answer This Offseason
10 Questions for UCLA this Offseason
The UCLA Bruins have woken up in the last two seasons under head coach Jim Mora and established themselves as a legitimate contender in the Pac-12. They took a slight step backwards in 2013, losing the Pac-12 South division title for the first time in three seasons, but were able to end the year on a high note with a dominant win in the Hyundai Sun Bowl over the Virginia Tech Hokies.
That finish, combined with the abundance of youth returning in 2014 and the decision of quarterback Brett Hundley not to leave for the NFL, has the Bruins in prime position to take the next step as a program next season. Mora has things moving in the right direction at UCLA and could finally take them over the top next fall but only if they put in the work this offseason and answer some pressing concerns facing the program.
There is plenty of reason to be optimistic about this Bruins' team in 2014 as they are absolutely loaded with potential. But none of that potential will mean anything if the Bruins don't put in the work to turn that potential into production this offseason. Mora will make sure that the team attacks this offseason with 100 percent focus to get the Bruins where they want to be next fall. But will they be able to put that work to good use and win big in 2014?
If they hope to take that next step as a program in 2014, here are 10 questions that UCLA has to answer this offseason.
10. Where will the pass rush come from?
UCLA recorded 31 sacks in 2013, good for just sixth best in the Pac-12. But they'll have to find some new playmakers to get after the passer as they will lose players responsible for 22 of those sacks to graduation this year. Nobody returning to the roster in 2014 had more than two sacks this season, led by the trio of Ellis McCarthy, Kenny Orjioke, and Eric Kendricks. Will the Bruins find a way to generate a pass rush in 2014?
9. Can UCLA's youth become impact players?
One of the strengths of UCLA heading into 2014 is the youth of their roster. They got significant contributions from freshmen up and down the roster, which will reap benefits down the road but may have cost them in big spots in 2013. This offseason, those young playmakers have to develop into consistent contributors to take UCLA to the next level in 2014. Will that youth grow up in time for next fall?
8. Who will replace Shaquelle Evans?
The Bruins' offense broke off huge plays on the regular thanks in part to the efforts of wide receiver Shaquelle Evans. He led the team with 47 catches for 709 yards with nine touchdowns as he averaged over 15 yards per reception. Next season, Brett Hundley will have to look elsewhere for his big plays in the passing game. Will Devin Fuller (43 catches, 471 yards, four touchdowns) or Jordan Payton (38 catches, 440 yards, one touchdown) be the guy to step up and lead the receiving corps?
7. Who will step up in the running game?
One of the toughest things for UCLA to do in 2013 was to find consistency in the running game. Hundley ended up leading the team in rushing from the quarterback position but UCLA struggled with finding a running back they could rely on. Jordon James struggled with injuries during the year, so the team used a combination of freshmen Paul Perkins and Myles Jack to cobble together a running game. Will one of those three step up and take control of the running game?
6. Can UCLA continue dominance over USC?
Since Jim Mora came to UCLA, the Bruins have had a distinct edge over their cross-town rivals at USC. Winning back-to-back games against the Trojans and going toe-to-toe with them for the top recruits in Southern California has the Bruins on the path to becoming the dominant program in Los Angeles. Can UCLA run their winning streak to three games in 2014 and take another step towards taking control of their rivalry?
5. How will Eddie Vanderdoes impact the defense?
Eddie Vanderdoes was one of the impact freshmen for UCLA in 2013 after his high-profile defection from the Notre Dame Fighting Irish after National Signing Day last year. He finished the year with 37 tackles, including 4.5 tackles for loss, half a sack and a forced fumble. But Vanderdoes is capable of more as he becomes a bigger part of the UCLA defensive rotation in 2014. Can he capitalize on the opportunity and become a difference-maker on the Bruins' defense?
4. Who will replace Anthony Barr?
Anthony Barr broke out over the last two seasons as one of the premier pass-rushers in college football. Since making the switch from offense to defense, Barr has been a dynamic defensive force for the Bruins, recording 23 sacks over the last two seasons from his linebacker spot. He has been the driving force for the UCLA pass rush since joining the defense but now he moves on to the NFL. Can anyone step up in his absence and make the same kind of impact as Barr has?
3. Will Myles Jack be a two-way star?
As a freshman, Myles Jack made an impact on both sides of the ball for the Bruins. He quickly cracked the starting lineup on defense and emerged as one of the best young linebackers in the country, recording 76 tackles, including seven tackles for loss, one sack, two interceptions, 11 pass breakups and a forced fumble. But late in the season, with UCLA facing depth issues at running back, Jack switched sides of the ball and started playing on offense as well where he made an immediate impact. He rushed for 267 yards on 38 attempts with seven touchdowns. Will Jack continue to be a two-way difference-maker?
2. Is Brett Hundley the best dual-threat QB in the country?
Brett Hundley was one of the premier dual-threat quarterbacks in the country in 2013 and his decision to return to school for another season gives him an opportunity to become the best dual-threat QB in the country. The redshirt sophomore led the team in rushing, accumulating 748 yards on 160 carries, scoring 11 touchdowns on the ground. That was in addition to his excellent season through the air, completing 66.8 percent of his passes for 3,071 yards with 24 passing touchdowns and nine interceptions. Can he distinguish himself as the best of the best in 2014?
1. Can UCLA break through to a Pac-12 title?
UCLA has been to two Pac-12 Championship games in the last three seasons but has yet to break the Pac-12 North's strangle hold on conference supremacy. But the Bruins return a ton of talent in 2014 and a chip on their shoulder after losing control of the Pac-12 South in 2013. With turnover taking place at some of the other contenders in the conference (most notably the Stanford Cardinal), can UCLA finally break through as Pac-12 Champions?