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UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, LOS ANGELES (UCLA) BRUINS – BY THE NUMBERS:

COACH: Jim Mora (4th year)

2014 RECORD: 10-3, 6-3 and tied for second place in the Pac-12 South

* Beat crosstown rival USC for the third consecutive year, 38-20

* Beat Kansas State in the Alamo Bowl, 40-35

* Finished the 2014 season ranked #10 in both the AP and the coaches’ polls

* 2015 PRESEASON RANKINGS: #13 by the AP and Sporting News, and #14 by the coaches’ poll and the Los Angeles Times

 

As soon as Brett Hundley walked off the Alamo Bowl turf in San Antonio’s Alamodome, the overwhelmingly number one question regarding the team that the now-Green Bay Packer had just played his last game for rose among Bruin Nation in earnest:

Who will replace him behind center?

As it turned out – and as everyone has undoubtedly heard by now – that question was just answered as it was announced that Josh Rosen, a five-star from St. John Bosco High in nearby Bellflower who was considered the nation’s top high school quarterback, will take over the reins when UCLA kicks off their 97th season of football at the Rose Bowl against Virginia.

Enrolling in January and taking part in spring practice helped the true freshman immensely, as Rosen was embroiled in a battle with junior Jerry Neuheisel (yes, the son of the previous Bruin coach).

Who I personally like very much as he has done very well as a backup and was outstanding in the 20-17 win over Texas when he took over for an injured Hundley and threw the winning touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter; although Neuheisel battled hard in the spring and summer I feel his skill set is more suited as a backup, not as a starter who can win games week in and week out.

Besides, you don’t leave a five-star recruit on the bench; anyone who is ranked that high needs to be given his shot on the field, which apparently Rosen has earned.

Will he make freshman mistakes? Most likely.

But Rosen will have a luxury many teams don’t have when playing a quarterback who last saw playing time on a high school field…

Ten returning starters on offense, including (VERY important) the entire offensive line, almost all of the receiving corps, including the top two receivers from last season:

 Jordan Payton, who led the team with 67 catches and seven touchdowns,

 Devin Fuller, who caught 59 passes,

plus a true standout at running back…

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 Paul Perkins (pictured above), the defending Pac-12 rushing champion as his 1,575 yards and nine scores on the ground were so essential to the Bruins’ success in 2014, it earned him my personal co-MVP award along with Hundley; who can ever forget the way he saved UCLA in the Alamo Bowl with his 67-yard touchdown run with 2:20 left in the game and Kansas State mounting a major threat, part of his 194 yards in 20 carries, good for 9.3 yards a pop, on the night?

Plus on top of everything else, he proved to be a receiving threat out of the backfield last season with his 26 catches and two scores.

All of that and more will be needed in 2015 as Perkins and the offensive line, led by senior center Jake Brendel, will be counted on to get good yardage and first downs on the ground to keep the pressure off of Rosen and defenses honest.

And speaking of defenses…

Even though all-everything linebacker Erik Kendricks is now wearing a Minnesota Vikings uniform, the Bruins remain loaded on that side of the ball as eight starters return, led by this stud:

Myles Jack, who had eight tackles for loss among his 88 tackles at linebacker and will be moved to the inside for maximum impact.

Of course the preseason All-American will continue to be a jack (no pun intended) of all trades as he has been for the past two years, rushing for three touchdowns in 2014 and carrying ten balls into the end zone so far during his time in Westwood; Mora will be depending on him to be a leader of a UCLA defensive unit that is expected to better than the 28.1 points per game that they gave up last year.

Veterans abound on that Bruin defense, including:

– Defensive linemen Kenny Clark and Eddie Vanderdoes, juniors who both had over 50 tackles with Vanderdoes contributing two sacks for good measure,

– Deon Hollins, who will be a force at linebacker as he had ten TFLs in 2014 and is the leading returning sack-master with nine, which will be sorely needed as the key to stopping any offense is putting pressure on the quarterback and getting sacks,

– Marcus Rios, a cornerback whose last-minute interception against California in Berkeley saved the day and is expected to be one of the keys in that secondary, and,

– Ishmael Adams, who ran two picks for touchdowns last season, including one for 95 yards against Arizona State in Tempe while added another TD as a kick returner, making him a quintessential part of UCLA’s arsenal.

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UCLA’s Dance Team, a mainstay on the sidelines for decades, doing a routine during a recent game

 

All of these guys have been, and continue to be a part of, a revival and culture change that Mora implemented with a vengeance upon his arrival in Westwood as Year Four of that era commences.

It has shown in fan support in the Rose Bowl as the Bruins led the conference in attendance to the tune of 78,249 per game, with a high of over 84,000 for the Crosstown Rivalry match against USC.

It has shown in a new mindset among the team and the UCLA community as a whole that their football program is no longer the soft, “Gutty Little Bruins”, and is on the verge of being a national contender if not a contender already; some experts had picked them to be among the four teams in the College Football Playoff last year.

And it is showing in expectations as even though UCLA is picked to finish anywhere from second to fourth in the Pac-12’s South Division, depending on what publication you read or which pundit you listen to (no doubt due to the inexperience factor at QB),  there is a general feeling in Bruin Nation that things will ultimately be okay, unlike in past seasons when many fans exuded a “Murphy’s Law” attitude.

As such, considering this year’s schedule, which skips Oregon, a team that along with Stanford has been a giant thorn in the Bruins’ side, and includes many games that should be considered quite winnable, here is my official prediction as how this alma mater of mine will fare in 2015:

 

If Brett Hundley were still wearing True Blue and Gold and taking snaps from Jake Brendel, I would be predicting – at minimum – a ten-win season, a Pac-12 South title, and a more-than-legitimate chance at not only the conference championship, but a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Since that’s not the case, however, I see UCLA’s fate as being somewhat less, though a ten-win season is not out of the question as there’s too much talent on both sides of the ball for these Bruins to not be contenders.

It will all depend on two things:

1. How Rosen performs and whether he can keep the freshman mistakes to a minimum, and…

2. How well the talent around Rosen, particularly Perkins and the offensive line, can keep the pressure off a guy who will be taking his first college snap on September 5th.

Having said all of that, I see UCLA winning nine games and losing three, (hopefully not) 8-4 if things go wrong, with all three of those losses coming in Pac-12 play.

I don’t think they will end up in a New Year’s Six bowl, but they will be playing around that time as the Bruins will either be in the Holiday Bowl on December 30, or the Alamo Bowl (again) on January 2nd.

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Led by the UCLA Spirit Squad, the Bruins charging onto the field at the Rose Bowl ready for battle

 

As a little gift from one UCLA alumnus to my fellow members of Bruin Nation, here is a video clip of highlights thanks to YouTube from what was a very good 2014 campaign:

UCLA Bruins Football – 2014 Highlights

And in a gesture of solidarity, GO BRUINS!

 

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UCLA’s two mascots, Joe and Josephine Bruin, who have been roaming the sidelines and the stands since 1967

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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