UCLA’s Bruins charging out of the tunnel before a home game at the Rose Bowl. Photo courtesy of uclabruins.com
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, LOS ANGELES (UCLA) BRUINS FOOTBALL
The 98th Season
First Season: 1919
2015 Record and Highlights:
8-5 (5-4 and third place in the Pac-12 South)
The emergence of Josh Rosen as one of the best quarterbacks in the country as he had the best freshman debut in school history with his three touchdown passes in the Bruins’ opening win over Virginia.
Beat BYU 24-23 on a last second interception.
Lost three of their last four games, including to USC 40-21 in the Crosstown Rivalry Clash and to a (then) 5-7 Nebraska team, 37-29, in the Foster Farms Bowl
Head Coach: Jim Mora, 5th season
Josh Rosen – So. QB, 6′ 4″, 210 lbs.
Eddie Vanderdoes – Jr. DE, 6′ 3″, 305 lbs
Jayon Brown – Sr. LB, 6′ 0″ 220 lbs
If there is one thing that the members of Bruin Nation and the UCLA community in general can take from this version of the football team from the school where I earned my bachelor’s degree from, is this:
AS GOES JOSH ROSEN, SO GOES THE BRUINS.
The young man considered to be the top quarterback in the Pac-12 Conference and one of the best in the country, who’s expected to surpass his standout freshman season: Josh Rosen. Photo courtesy of fansided.com
Being that the sophomore had one of best freshman seasons under center of any first year player in college football history – and certainly the best in UCLA history,
And being that with standout running back Paul Perkins, who did so much to take the pressure off of Rosen with his 1,343 yards and 14 touchdowns, is now a New York Giant,
Along with the fact that the receivers Rosen so depended on last year, Devin Fuller, Jordan Payton, and Thomas Duarte, are likewise gone,
I can’t see how I can say anything different.
One other thing that I know for sure concerning my collegiate alma mater:
Every Bruin fan needs to pray for the season-long health of not only Rosen, but for every other starter as well, particularly the offensive line and the defense, and especially the front seven.
The reason is a simple one:
While UCLA’s defense became a concern when Eddie Vanderdoes went down during the first game, the 2015 campaign essentially ended when Myles Jack, who’s now a Jacksonville Jaguar, tore his ACL during a practice after the BYU game and was lost not only for the season, but for the rest of his time in Westwood as he left school and declared for the NFL draft soon afterward.
Opponents stared to score points in bunches, mainly by running the ball down the Bruin defense’s throat, after that.
Highlights of the 2015 opener vs Virginia, where Rosen made a collegiate debut for the ages with his three touchdown passes in UCLA’s 34-16 win. Courtesy of YouTube
As an illustration of the run defense’s futility, I’ll never forget being at the game against Arizona State when near the end of that loss, the Sun Devils carried more than half of UCLA’s players on the way to tacking on an insurance touchdown.
Quite embarrassing, to say the least.
Here’s the point I’m trying to make:
While Jim Mora and his staff have done a good job recruiting and building up depth, unlike teams such as Alabama and Ohio State the Bruins are not at the point where they can lose a key guy and not skip a beat.
In other words, if players like Vanderdoes or any other key starter – especially Rosen (God Forbid!) – goes down…
UCLA’s season, much like what happened last year, is more or less over.
Having said all of that, there’s a reason why Mora’s band of Bruins are picked to either finish first or second in the Pac-12 South, depending on which publication you read.
And through one may be led to believe otherwise, it’s not just because of Rosen, who’s considered by most to be among the best quarterbacks in the nation and certainly the best in the conference, as the talent in Westwood is at its usual high level.
Perkins was so good at running back during the previous three seasons, UCLA reckons that no one person can replace him, opting to use three guys – Soso Jamabo, Nate Starks, and Bolo Olorunfummi, to carry the load on the ground.
Paul Perkins scoring a touchdown against BYU last year; although the Bruins still have quality depth at running back he will certainly be missed. Photo courtesy of gojoebruin.com
They all have experience and have done well when called on, averaging at least 5.4 yards a carry, so the Bruins should be OK as running back is one position where they have the needed depth.
To help out at receiver, Ishmael Adams, who had spent his whole Bruin career catching opposing quarterback’s passes, will now be catching throws from Rosen as the senior has switched to wideout.
Eldridge Massington, Darren Andrews – who brings experience to the table as he caught 43 passes in 2015 – and speedy freshman Theo Howard will be trying to fill the shoes left by last year’s crew.
As for UCLA’s defense, it figures to be a good one with experience as there are quite a few people returning such as Vanderdoes, linebackers Jayon Brown and Deon Hollins and defensive backs Randall Golforth, Marcus Rios and Fabian Moreau, who missed all of 2015 with a broken foot.
The schedule favors the Bruins as they skip Oregon and up-and-coming Washington in the Pac-12, with their chance to take back the Victory Bell from USC coming at home in the Rose Bowl.
But that doesn’t mean they’ll be playing no one but cupcakes as the opener at Texas A&M, and particularly Stanford – who has had their way with UCLA for nearly a decade – will be challenging.
UCLA’s mascot, Joe Bruin, riding on top of a float before a game. Photo courtesy of flickr.com
Having considered everything, here is how I officially see these UCLA Bruins’ fate being in their 98th year of football:
This is a Bruin squad that’s talented enough to win ten games and to represent the Pac-12 in Pasadena on January 1st, particularly since their starting QB is seen as one of the best in the country, who’s expected to put up huge numbers this year and lead UCLA to glory.
However, this is also a team that could go 6-6 if players – and not just Rosen, either – get hurt as it’s inexperienced beyond the starters; heck, it’s inexperienced with the starting wide receivers.
I will give their health the benefit of the doubt and put these Bruins down for nine wins, knowing it could VERY easily be eight.
I agree with the prognosticators who say that they will finish either first or second in the Pac-12 South and go to either the Holiday or the Alamo Bowl, but…
If Rosen has the season everyone’s expecting and everybody stays healthy and performs to their capabilities, I wouldn’t disregard the chance of a Rose Bowl berth – or even a spot in the College Football Playoff of everything goes perfectly.
Which should be the operative word – perfectly – as things need to go the Bruins’ way to fulfill Bruin Nation’s long time dream of going to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1998.
As such, I’ll get a much better idea of how UCLA’s season will unfold at around 4:30 p.m. on September 3rd, right after they face Texas A&M’s Aggies and roughly 100,000 very loud members of their “12th Man” in College Station.
My hope is that the Bruins’ results that day will lead me to feel more one way than another.
BE SURE TO CHECK OUT MY GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS OF THESE UCLA BRUINS ON THIS SITE LATER THIS WEEK!