Bloguin Top 50: No. 28 — UCLA

UCLA Bruins
2014 Record: 10-3 (won Alamo Bowl vs. Kansas State)

1 Burning Question: Is Josh Rosen ready to step right in to replace Brett Hundley?

During his three seasons as starting quarterback for the Bruins, Brett Hundley was among the most entertaining players the Pac-12 had to offer. Now that Hundley is off to the NFL, Jim Mora needs to find his next starting quarterback if his program is to remain in the thick of the stacked Pac-12 South race this fall. Say hello to Josh Rosen, the Bellflower, California, addition to UCLA’s Class of 2015.

The pro-style quarterback was ranked the number one pro-style QB in the nation by 247 Sports, and he brings with him plenty of expectations while having to fill some big shoes in the process. It is expected Rosen will be thrown right into the fire on a roster that returns 17 starters from a year ago, meaning his ability to get up to speed should be made more comfortable with a veteran presence surrounding him. It also adds some pressure to the young passer, as he will be expected to keep things moving along smoothly when put on the field.

2 Key Stats to Pay Attention to

40.0 – Sacks allowed by UCLA in 2014. If you thought Penn State’s offensive line was going to be a concern with Christian Hackenberg, then imagine the stress on the UCLA offensive line with a true freshman quarterback under center. UCLA tied with Arizona and Arizona State for the most sacks allowed in the 2014 season among Pac-12 schools. The team which allowed the fewest sacks in the Pac-12 last season? Colorado.

0 – UCLA’s turnover margin in 2014. For as much talent as UCLA could throw at opponents on defense, it managed just 16 forced turnovers last fall, third fewest in the conference. The good news is the Bruins managed to break even by giving up the football as many times. New defensive coordinator Tom Bradley will hope to see more forced turnovers from the defense. With Bradley on the sideline, Penn State averaged 22.5 turnovers per season from 2008 through 2011.

3 Key Games That Will Make or Break the Season

Full 2015 Schedule

Sept. 5 – Virginia

Sept. 12 – at UNLV

Sept. 19 – BYU

Sept. 26 – at Arizona

Oct. 3 – Arizona State

Oct. 15 (Thurs.) – at Stanford

Oct. 22 (Thurs.) – California

Oct. 31 – Colorado

Nov. 7 – at Oregon State

Nov. 14 – Washington State

Nov. 21 – at Utah

Nov. 28 – at USC

Saturday, October 3, vs. Arizona State 
Record in Last 5 Meetings: 3-2
Last Year’s Result: W, 62-27

Why it Matters: In a crowded Pac-12 South, every game will be important. For UCLA, this game comes immediately following a road game at Arizona, which could be a toss-up. Should UCLA suffer a loss at Arizona, coming home to lose against Arizona State would put the Bruins in a deep hole right out of the gate in Pac-12 play. It also comes just before a bye week, which allows for time to prepare for Stanford. UCLA can manage to get by with one loss early in conference play, but it can not afford two losses to division opponents. On the flip side, going 2-0 against both Arizona schools would put UCLA in the driver’s seat of the Pac-12 South bus.

Saturday, November 21, at Utah 
Record in Last 5 Meetings: 2-2 (since 2011)
Last Year’s Result: L, 30-28

Why it Matters: Utah is a bit of a wild card in the Pac-12 South and should not be taken lightly. Of course, UCLA knows this after coming up two points short against the Utes last October. Late in the year, wins will be difficult to come by for UCLA, and winning at Utah is rarely easy. If Utah’s defense figures out how to slow down or stop a freshman quartreback and gets the running game going, UCLA could be heading home with a tough late-season loss in the division.

Saturday, November 28, at USC 
Record in Last 5 Meetings: 3-2
Last Year’s Result: W, 38-20

Why it Matters: This is the big rivalry game for UCLA, and there could be more than bragging rights on the line here. A division championship could be up for grabs in the final game of the regular season. The Bruins have had the upper hand in this series for three straight seasons, winning each of those three by double digits. However, USC is getting back to full strength and could be ready to throw a loss UCLA’s way.

Jordan Payton.

Jordan Payton.

4 Key Players

Paul Perkins, RB – The Pac-12’s leading rusher from a season ago, Perkins is back to follow up his 1,575 yards and nine touchdowns with even higher levels of production. He could end up seeing more carries this season as well, as Rosen does not figure to run the ball as often as Hundley did a year ago. Perkins averaged 6.27 yards per carry last fall and carried the football nearly 20 times per game.

Jordan Payton, WR – UCLA’s leading receiver from the 2014 season will be back to provide a steady and reliable target for the young Rosen under center. Payton has the capability of being a 1,000-yard receiver, although he finished last year with 954 yards. He also led the Bruins with seven touchdown receptions.

Myles Jack, LB – You didn’t think we forgot about Myles Jack, did you? He could still be used on offense at times, but it will be good to see Jack really take off on defense this season. HE, not anyone else, is the perfect player to have on the inside of Tom Bradley’s defense. After tallying 87 tackles last season, Jack should once again put up solid numbers on defense this fall.

Deon Harris, LB – Flanking one of the outside positions alongside Jack will be Harris, UCLA’s leading sack master from a year ago. Harris recorded nine sacks last season and should be another key ingredient in Bradley’s defensive schemes in Los Angeles.

5 Bold Predictions

5. Tom Bradley is a solid addition, but won’t make UCLA’s defense elite.

Tom Bradley is a well-respected defensive coordinator, and he takes over a good amount of talent at UCLA. However, expect UCLA to thrive on a bend-but-don’t-break style of defense more often than not. This was Bradley’s modus operandi at Penn State. Bradley had some very good defenses at Penn State, but few had a killer instinct. In the offense-first Pac-12, Bradley’s defensive wits will be tested, and he will pass the test more often than not. However, UCLA will give up some big plays as well.

4. Rosen wins Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors.

Predicting preseason awards can be difficult, especially for players that have yet to play a single down of college football. However, Rosen enters his collegiate career with plenty of praise from around the region and finds himself taking over a position with plenty of support around him. The transition should be moderately easy compared to what other freshmen quarterbacks might face this year, and he should do some (good) damage along the way. As a result, he could very well be the top newcomer in the Pac-12 this season, and he will get the hardware to prove it.

3. Jim Mora’s NFL rumors will continue.

Some coaches just feel like NFL coaches, and Jim Mora seems to fit that bill. For as much good work as he has done with UCLA since his arrival a few years ago, success at UCLA will continue to keep his name tied to possible NFL coaching rumors. If the Bruins put together another 10-win season, will he jump back to the NFL, where he was twice a head coach with the Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks? Or has that ship finally sailed, enabling Mora to continue to build a strong Pac-12 contender at UCLA as USC potentially gets stronger? Things worked out well for Pete Carroll. Might the timing be right for Mora to consider a jump back to the NFL?

2. UCLA goes undefeated in the Rose Bowl.

If you can defend your home field, you should be in pretty good shape. UCLA lost three games in the Rose Bowl last season after going undefeated on the road. This year that trend could be flipped. UCLA’s toughest games will all come on the road (Arizona, Stanford, Utah and USC), but they will be put to the test at home as well. BYU makes a visit during the Cougars’ brutal September, and Arizona State comes looking for revenge from last year’s blowout.

1. UCLA takes a step (or two) back.

UCLA gets the benefit of not having to face Oregon this season, but its Pac-12 schedule does the Bruins few favors. Facing Arizona and Arizona State in back-to-back weeks could be tough for a team still getting a freshman quarterback adjusted to the role. A bye week before Stanford is good, but Stanford still holds the upper hand on the Bruins of late. Facing Utah and USC in road games (I know, USC is not the worst road game) to end the season seems dangerous as well. Four losses just in those five games does not seem too unrealistic even with the veteran talent returning this season. Getting back to ten wins could prove difficult for UCLA this season, which means a return trip to the Alamo Bowl could be much more likely than any dream of playing in the Rose Bowl game or the College Football Playoff.

About Kevin McGuire

Contributor to Athlon Sports and The Comeback. Previously contributed to Host of the Locked On Nittany Lions Podcast. FWAA member and Philadelphia-area resident.