Editor’s note: This is the latest in a six-week series where we will take an early look at each of Arizona’s 12 football opponents this season. Today, we look at UCLA. Up next: Colorado on Monday.
Over the past four years, UCLA has done exactly what every football program in the nation sets out to do — improve.
The Bruins won four games in 2010, six in 2011, nine in 2012 and finally reached double digits last season with a 10-3 campaign.
So what’s next for coach Jim Mora’s team? Well, if improvement happens again in 2014, the Bruins could be in the hunt for a national title.
And while 17 starters are back, the Bruins will certainly have their work cut out for them with one of the more difficult schedules in the country. The Bruins travel to Virginia to open the season and after a home game with Memphis, Mora’s team will travel to Arlington, Texas, to play the Texas Longhorns.
UCLA also has to deal with Pac-12 North powers Oregon, Stanford and Washington.
The talent is there, but does the schedule set up for success? We’ll have to wait to see.
In the meantime, here’s a closer look at the Bruins:
When: Saturday, Nov. 1.
Where: The Rose Bowl
Last year’s record: 10-3
Projections: After a 10-win season last year, UCLA is ready to compete for a national championship this season.
That’s the popular take on the Bruins entering the 2014 season. Phil Steele ranked UCLA fifth in his preseason top 40 and has the Bruins winning the Pac-12 South. Steele also thinks there’s a good chance UCLA could be favored in every game it plays this season. That makes sense with the Bruins getting Oregon, USC and Stanford all at home. The Sporting News and Lindy’s both have the Bruins ranked eighth nationally and winning the PAC South.
The Sporting News wrote: “Mora’s goal has been to compete for a national championship within five years, and he could do it in year three.”
3 names to know
QB Brett Hundley: Everyone knows the Bruins signal-caller by now. The junior threw for 3,071 yards and 24 touchdowns last season. He also rushed for 748 yards and 11 more scores. He’s a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate this season, and if it weren’t for Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, Hundley would be the top quarterback in the Pac-12 by a wide margin.
LB/RB Myles Jack: Yes, Arizona still has to deal with Jack for at least two more seasons. Last year as a true freshman, Jack made 75 tackles from his outside linebacker spot and also rushed for 267 yards and two scores as a running back. Of course, his signature game last year came against the UA. Jack rushed for 120 yards and a touchdown on six carries. He also had eight tackles and recovered a fumble.
LB Eric Kendricks: Kendricks led the team with 106 tackles last season and will be the leader of the defense this year as a senior. He will play inside in the Bruins’ 3-4 defense along with fellow linebacker Isaako Savaiinaea. Kendricks had a game-high 13 tackles against Arizona last season.
3 numbers to know
1,107: Not only does UCLA return Hundley and his 748 rushing yards, running backs Paul Perkins and Jordon James are also back after combining for 1,107 yards and 11 touchdowns last year.
36.9: UCLA ranked 20th in the country last year in scoring offense, averaging 36.9 points per game, and most of the weapons from that attack are back for another year.
10: UCLA won 10 games last season for the first time since 2005.
How they’re different
The Bruins should actually look pretty similar to last season when they came to Arizona Stadium and beat the Wildcats 31-26. UCLA returns nine starters on offense and eight more on defense.
Even with losing stud linebacker Anthony Barr to the NFL, the Bruins should be more talented overall this season as Mora continues to stock the roster with solid recruiting classes.