4-8, 2-7 in Conference
Key Wins: Ehhh….BYU?
Key Losses: Texas A&M, Arizona State,
UCLA has undoubtedly been little brother in the Los Angeles area. Even in USC’s worst years UCLA seems to find a way of being overshadowed by the Trojans. With that said, they still reside in LA which is widely known as the West Coast hotbed for college football recruiting, competing nationally with cities like Houston and Miami. This has shown A) in their basketball program and B) in their football recruiting rankings. UCLA crushed in recruiting this offseason and could see their two 5* players, DE Jaelan Phillips and CB Darnay Holmes, see significant playing time this season.
2016 saw Josh Rosen, their notorious quarterback (for better or worse), get injured and miss out on many of UCLA’s games. The Bruins went from a 60% passer with a 2:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a 9 yards-per-attempt quarterback to a 52% passer who sported a 1:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio with 5 yards-per-attempt. Other teams have faced similar problems and succeeded, to be sure. Those other teams, I can guarantee you, probably had better running games than UCLA. The Bruins averaged 84 yards-per-game. That was good for second-worst in the country behind Texas State (82 ypg).
Head Coach: Jim Mora
Jim Mora assumed UCLA’s head coach position in 2012. Since then, he has led the Bruins to two Top 16 appearances (twice hitting #7) and a Top 10 finish in 2014. As mentioned before, UCLA has constantly lived in USC’s shadow. UCLA’s recent success can be attributed to two things: Jim Mora’s recruiting ability and USC’s harsh suspension related to Reggie Bush. In 2014, UCLA finished 10th, USC finished 20th and finished unranked the next year. In 1998, UCLA finished 8th, USC finished unranked. The year before that, UCLA finished 5th, USC was again unranked.
Rumors have swirled about Jim Mora’s detest for coaching in college and his overt willingness to return to the professional ranks. This is an odd coupling with his warming seat over the last few years. If UCLA does well, it’s possible that Mora will jump back to the NFL. If UCLA does poorly, it’s possible that Mora will get fired and usher in the era of Chip Kelly!
I mean…it’s possible.
Josh Rosen has made a name for himself as a pro-style quarterback with a smart head on his shoulders. He has also made a name for himself speaking out against the NCAA’s lack of payment structure for athletes. He has further made a name for himself by wearing a “Fuck Trump” hat at Trump’s golf course in California. Jim Mora has told him, through the media, that he should consider his actions unless he wants to end up like Johnny Manziel. I don’t know quite how that equates to the alcohol and drug-fueled benders Manziel went on, but Mora thinks it could be a distraction.
Aside from that, it’s readily apparent that UCLA cannot succeed without Rosen. If he remains healthy, the only question on offense lies in the backfield. As I mentioned before, the Bruins’ running game was garbage. When a defense doesn’t care if you run the ball, your passing game isn’t going to go anywhere, either. UCLA has the tools and talent for a rebound, but it largely relies on a running back emerging from the fold. Their recruiting success of late dictates that someone should step up.
The Bruins’ defense was surprisingly good despite the offense not being able to stop tripping over its feet. They finished 47th in yards allowed and 59th in points allowed per game (which could largely be attributed to the offense’s inefficiencies). UCLA lost a significant amount of production to the draft and graduation, the biggest of names being linemen Takkarist McKinley and Eddie Vanderdoes who went in the NFL’s first and third rounds respectively.
With all the production leaving, the Bruins still have gobs of talent remaining. In 2015, 2016, and 2017, UCLA had the 12th, 13th, and 20th-ranked recruiting classes respectively. Three players on the defensive side of the ball in the last two years were five-stars while nine others were four stars. If defensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu has been working magic, the Bruins could have a lockdown defense.
Projected Record: 7-5
Another year of purgatory for the Bruins and another year of wondering what Jim Mora is going to do after the season. 7-5 is certainly not enough to draw attention from the big leagues but it does not seem to be enough to encourage UCLA to push him out. Unfortunately for the Bruins, the South is experiencing a surge for the first time in the Pac-12’s history and UCLA seems to be on the losing end of it. Maybe Chip Kelly isn’t too far off.