Southern Football Report Preseason Poll: #8 UCLA Bruins

UCLA LogoThere is a team in Los Angeles who has won at least nine games in each of the last three seasons and they wear powder blue not cardinal and gold. The Bruins finished the 2014 season with ten wins marking the first time since 97-98 that UCLA had back-to-back ten win seasons. Former coach Rick Neuheisel had only one season over .500, 7-6 in 2009, but new head coach Jim Mora Jr has been the shot in the arm that the UCLA football program has needed for over a decade.

UCLA Junior Running Back Paul Perkins
UCLA Junior Running Back Paul Perkins

Believe it or not, the UCLA Bruins will be better offensively in 2015 than they were in 2014. That’s after losing a three year starter and 5th round draft pick by the Green Bay Packers in Brett Hundley who was a great quarterback for the Bruins but UCLA returns everyone else on offense except Hundley and will most likely insert super freshman quarterback Josh Rosen in as their starter in week one against Virginia. Rosen enrolled in January and will have to beat out junior Jerry Neuheisel but Rosen is the incoming number one quarterback prospect in the country from last season and it’s going to be interesting to see how the quarterback competition plays out. Whoever wins the job will be surrounded by talented and experienced guys starting with an offense line unit who helped pave the way for over 200 yards per game on the ground in 2014. Running back Paul Perkins was the beneficiary in 2014 with 1,575 yards and 9 touchdowns and he looks to improve on those numbers in 2015 and will be asked to do so if Rosen wins the quarterback job. Out wide the star of the wide receiving group is Jordan Payton who caught 67 passes last season for 954 yards and 7 touchdowns. He will lead a talented group full of playmakers including freshman Chris Clark who measures in at 6-foot-6 and 247 pounds of pass catching ability. This will be a fun offense to watch work.

UCLA Junior Linebacker/Running Back Myles Jack
UCLA Junior Linebacker/Running Back Myles Jack

It won’t be much different on the defensive side of the ball when the Bruins trot out eight returning starters from last year’s squad. In 2014, the Bruins did regress a little in points and yards per game but the return of a healthy Myles Jack is a dangerous thing for opposing offenses. Jack was the freshman defensive player of the year for the Pac-12 back in 2013 and recorded 88 tackles and 8 tackles for loss in 2014 while fighting through some nagging injuries and playing a little running back (28 carries, 125 yards, 3 touchdowns) for UCLA. He will lead a linebacker group with junior Deon Hollins that needs to be a little better against the pass but has the potential to be one of the better linebacker groups in the country especially with sophomore Kenny Young entering the lineup who served as a wonderful backup in 2014 to Eric Kendricks (149 tackles, 2nd round pick of the Minnesota Vikings). On the defensive line it will be a trio of juniors in Kenny Clark, Eddie Vanderdoes and the runt of the litter at only 255 pounds, Takkarist McKinley. The strength of the defense will be the secondary who allowed only 266 yards passing per game in 2014 and in the Pac-12, that is fantastic. Led by senior corner back Fabian Moreau, the UCLA defensive backfield has the potential to be the best in the conference and the Bruins will need them to be at their best with all of the aerial assault teams on the schedule.

UCLA Bruins Head Coach Jim Mora Jr
UCLA Bruins Head Coach Jim Mora Jr

The Bruins deserve credit in their non-conference games as they have scheduled as aggressively as any team in the country especially since Pac-12 teams play 9 conference games. UCLA opens the season at home against the Virginia Cavaliers who finished the season 2-10 last year but head coach Mike London will be coaching for his job in 2015, so who knows how desperate that team will be especially after allowing only one offensive touchdown in last year’s loss to the Bruins in Charlottesville. The Bruins hit the road the following week to Las Vegas to take on UNLV before heading back home to face off against BYU who shut out UCLA 59-0 in 2008, the last meeting between the two schools. The last Saturday in September will be the conference opener on the road against last season’s Pac-12 South division champion Arizona Wildcats who the Bruins will be looking to extend their three game winning streak. The first Saturday in October UCLA returns home to face a loaded Arizona State team before the bye week on October 10th. The Bruins will then play back-to-back Thursday night games against opponents fresh off of a bye week in Stanford (on the road) and California (at home), two teams who UCLA is 2-5 against under Jim Mora. The Bruins close out the month of October at home against the Colorado Buffaloes who have been in a rebuilding mode for what seems like two decades. November will be where the fun is with three road games beginning with Oregon State the first Saturday of the month. UCLA has won seven of the last nine trips up to Corvallis but lost 27-20 the last time they visited in 2012. The final home game of the season on November 14th will be against Washington State before the back-to-back road game stretch to close out the regular season against the underrated Utah Utes and the hate inter-city rival and preseason favorite to win the conference USC Trojans. The Bruins are looking to make it four in a row against the hated Trojans for the first time since 95-98 and will have a good chance to do so if this group stays healthy.

This is without a doubt the best team that Jim Mora Jr has had since arriving in Westwood and the Bruins dodge the Ducks out of the Pac-12 North for the first time in two seasons. The Bruins are loaded with talent on both sides of the ball and have true unquestioned team leaders on defense and offense. If the true freshman quarterback can get his act together and not turn the ball over too much, which freshman have tendencies to do, the UCLA Bruins can definitely make a run to the College Football Playoff in 2015.

The Rose Bowl - Capacity: 91,136
The Rose Bowl – Capacity: 91,136

2015 UCLA Bruins Schedule

Sept 5th            Virginia
Sept 12th          at UNLV
Sept 19th          BYU
Sept 26th          at (22) Arizona
Oct 3rd              (15) Arizona State
Oct 10th            BYE WEEK
Oct 15th             at (21) Stanford (Thurs)
Oct 22nd           California (Thurs)
Oct 31st             Colorado
Nov 7th              at Oregon State
Nov 14th            Washington State
Nov 21st             at Utah
Nov 28th            at (8) USC

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