Breaking news, rankings, predictions and analysis all in one place.

College Football Preview: 18. UCLA Bruins

18. UCLA Bruins

The city of Los Angeles has turned. For a long time the USC Trojans have ruled the city with an iron fist winning conference title after conference title. But last year even when the Trojans had Matt Barkley, Marqise Lee and a team filled with all-stars it was UCLA who won 9 games (including a dominant one over USC) and won the Pac-12 South title. The key pieces from last year's team returns to make it three straight Pac-12 championship appearances.

Backfield: Coach Jim Mora surprised a lot of people by announcing freshman Brett Hundley would start at quarterback. Hundley emerged as a dual threat
Brett Hundley
who was smart last year, not making many mistakes, a difficult thing for a freshman. He should continue to improve his sophomore year and could be a dark horse for a Heisman. The biggest issue for this Bruins team will be replacing Johnathan Franklin who ran for 1,734 yards in 2012. It isn't known who will replace him but junior speedster Jordan James and experienced senior Damien Thigpen should get a chance. Mora could also go with a committee approach to fit UCLA's spread offense.

Receivers: This looked like it would be a big issue entering last season but it proved to be a solid unit. And last year's leading receiver Shaq Evans returns for his senior year. Evans had 60 receptions for 877 yards last year and assuming Hundley does improve he could have an even bigger year. Other than that the receivers are less proven but the talent is there. Sophomore Devin Lucien didn't play at all in 2012 but has the potential to be a star in 2013. He has downfield speed and has the ability to make some spectacular catches. Two other sophomores also have star potential in Tyler Scott and Jordan Payton. Both aren't that fastest players on the field but are consistently find ways to get open and make plays. Another sophomore Devin Fuller does a lot of interesting things and could be a dangerous option as both a receiver and possibly a Wildcat quarterback if Mora wants something different. Freshman Eldridge Massington is a Texas product who should get the opportunity to show what he can do this year.

Offensive Line: Although the Bruins have an All-Pac 12 guard in junior Xavier Su'a-Filo the line still is a pretty large weakness. The Bruins offensive line was very inexperienced last season and more action should mean some improvement but even slight improvement won't help too much. Su'a-Filo is a beast on the left side and was part of the reason that Franklin had such a great 2012. He anchors the line and has the strength to be a force every snap. The right guard position is also in good hands. Senior Alberto Cid is massive and takes up a lot of space up front and will play an important role being the only senior starter on this O-Line. The other starter on the left side along with Su'a-Filo will be tackle Torian White. White is very athletic but he still needs to get a little bigger and stronger to be a force. If he doesn't improve the Bruins could have some issues as he is a very important piece to the puzzle protecting Hundley's blind side. Sophomore center Jake Brendel has the potential to be a very impressive player but doesn't move very well and is still maturing.

Defensive Line: Up front UCLA has a good mix of great run stuffers and athletic pass rushers. There is experience there with the return of two impact ends in seniors Cassius Marsh and Owamagbe Odighizuwa. Marsh is a freak of an athlete and proved to be an extremely solid pass rushers. Announcers should work on saying Odighizuwa's name early because they will be saying it often with his playmaking ability. Up the middle the Bruins have a proven run stuffer in senior Seali'l Epensa who matured a lot last year. Epensa isn't huge but he reads plays well and is athletic enough to fight his way through linemen and make plays in the backfield. Sophomore Ellis McCarthy was an important recruit last season but didn't the chance to prove what he could do last year with little playing time. He should see more snaps and could battle Epensa for a starting job because of his pass rushing ability. Four-star end Kyle Fitts is a USC decommit who has the potential to be a force from the beginning.
Anthony Barr

Linebackers: Former running back Anthony Barr came out of nowhere to be a real force. He proved to be an outstanding pass rusher recording 13.5 sacks including the one that injured Matt Barkley at the end of last year. He also is a strong coverage 'backer and made plays all over the field. Despite receiving first-round projections in the NFL Draft he decided to return for his senior season which was huge for UCLA. The inside 'backer slot is also in good hands with another talented pass rusher in junior Eric Kendricks who had 149 tackles, averaging more than 10 a game in '12. With Barr blitzing constantly it should really help out the other outside linebacker, sophomore Aaron Wallace. Wallace is a real athlete and teams double teaming Barr on the perimeter it should open holes and lanes for Wallace. Along with Kendricks the inside linebacker is strong with another sophomore Erick Zumwalt. Zumwalt isn't as much of a proven tackler as Kendricks but can make plays from sideline to sideline. Mora and his staff also improved this unit with a strong recruiting class with four-star commits Isaac Savaiinaea and Deon Hollins who should both make an impact.

Secondary: This could be the thing that could keep the Bruins from winning the Pac-12. Last year's star Tevin McDonald was released from the team for breaking team rules. There is talent in this unit but a lot of inexperience. Sophomore Randall Gorfoth should likely start at the free safety position and has the talent and potential to have a strong year. Junior Dietrich Riley will likely fight for the strong safety spot with senior Brandon Sermons. Both are experienced and have great instincts but need some time to adjust to the starting role. The cornerbacks aren't much better but like a lot of this team has the potential to be solid. Freshman Ishmael Adams is a little bit small, just 5-8, but sticks to receivers like glue and can make plays. The bright spot for the Bruins was that they focused on their secondary in this year's recruiting class. Arizona product Priest Willis should compete right away for the safety spots. Tahaan Goodman has good size and is very athletic and could be the future in this secondary.

The Bruins should continue to improve but even with Hundley and Barr they can't take the next step (Pac 12 title) unless their secondary improves and they find a back to replace Franklin.

No comments:

Theme images by LUGO. Powered by Blogger.