Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.
1. Full throttle
College football is a glacier. Things change very slowly. It took about 40 years of debate to create a four-team playoff. The top 20 teams one year are more or less the top 20 the next.
Well, things usually change slowly. Occasionally you see an overnight shift so stark and so natural that you forget it wasn't that way all along. It feels like Utah State has been a competent-to-great mid-major for a decade now, but three years ago, the Aggies were awful. It feels pretty natural for Arkansas to be at or near the bottom of the SEC West and for Auburn to be scaring the hell out of Alabama. Two years ago, that was very much not the case.
And of course, it feels like UCLA has always been a national power and awakening giant. Not so.
Two years ago, the Bruins were slumbering. They had finished the season in the AP top 25 just once since 1998. They had run Karl Dorrell out of town for having the audacity to go 23-15 over a three-year period, then went 21-30 with Rick Neuheisel. They made a hire that was "a transparent attempt by UCLA to find their own Pete Carroll, a long-time NFL guy who failed as an NFL coach but has loads of experience and charisma." Analysts scoffed at the hire. Bruins Nation went nuclear (well, more nuclear than normal).
Again, this was barely two years ago. But then Mora signed a good recruiting class, then another, then another. His first Bruins team improved from 6-8 and 85th in the F/+ rankings to 9-5 and 35th. His second improved to 10-3 and 15th.
Heading into Year 3, Mora has a roster that has some flaws and questions and a whole lot of potential four-star answers. He returns one of the nation's most efficient quarterbacks, four of his top five running backs, three of his top four receivers, six offensive linemen with starting experience, three five-star veterans on the defensive line, five of his top seven linebackers, seven of his top eight defensive backs, and almost every component from a strong special teams unit. Among those bored with picking Alabama, Florida State, Oregon, or Stanford at the top of their preseason rankings, some have begun to include UCLA in that group.
Is this too much, too soon? From a stat perspective, absolutely. You're not supposed to create an elite team nearly from scratch in just two years. But in the year after significant improvement, you're not supposed to significantly improve again, either. Under normal circumstances, there's supposed to be some regression to the mean.
But high-caliber coaching and recruiting can quash that regression, especially when accompanied by depth of experience on the two-deep. It's hard for me to see UCLA playing at a top-5 level in 2014, but ... top 10? Top 15? Absolutely. This feels right and normal, and the good vibes should continue this fall. In the Pac-12, there's always going to be a tough schedule to worry about, but even that has taken shape nicely, with each of the top three teams on the docket (Oregon, Stanford, USC) coming to Pasadena. This should be a pretty fun fall in Westwood.
2013 Schedule & Results
|Record: 10-3 | Adj. Record: 11-2 | Final F/+ Rk: 15|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L||5-gm Adj. Avg.|
|31-Aug||Nevada||88||58-20||W||34.8 - 21.1||W|
|14-Sep||at Nebraska||39||41-21||W||42.2 - 17.0||W|
|21-Sep||New Mexico State||122||59-13||W||32.3 - 25.4||W|
|3-Oct||at Utah||31||34-27||W||27.9 - 25.9||W|
|12-Oct||California||103||37-10||W||23.9 - 20.0||W||10.3|
|19-Oct||at Stanford||3||10-24||L||21.3 - 28.1||L||6.2|
|26-Oct||at Oregon||5||14-42||L||23.7 - 28.5||L||0.2|
|2-Nov||Colorado||95||45-23||W||37.5 - 26.5||W||1.1|
|9-Nov||at Arizona||25||31-26||W||34.6 - 28.1||W||2.0|
|15-Nov||Washington||18||41-31||W||36.6 - 25.5||W||3.4|
|23-Nov||Arizona State||13||33-38||L||35.2 - 30.2||W||5.8|
|30-Nov||at USC||11||35-14||W||41.4 - 23.1||W||10.4|
|31-Dec||vs. Virginia Tech||27||42-12||W||47.9 - 21.5||W||13.4|
|Points Per Game||36.9||20||23.2||35|
|Adj. Points Per Game||33.8||25||24.7||34|
2. What happened in October?
It's not hard to see UCLA potentially playing like a top-10 team this fall, simply because the Bruins did it for much of 2013, i.e. before October 1 and after November 1. In that span, they crushed Nebraska in Lincoln, handled Washington, thumped USC, and emasculated Virginia Tech in the Sun Bowl. They did lose at home to Arizona State, which cost them a third straight trip to the Pac-12 title game, but it took a pick six and two missed field goals for that to happen. In all, this was a big-time team outside of October.
Unfortunately, October also happened. For the second straight year, there was a rather stark mid-season slump.
- Adj. Points Per Game (first 3 games): UCLA 36.4, Opponent 21.2 (plus-15.2)
- Adj. Points Per Game (next 4 games): Opponent 25.6, UCLA 24.2 (minus-1.4)
- Adj. Points Per Game (last 6 games): UCLA 38.9, Opponent 25.8 (plus-13.1)
The cracks began to show in a tighter-than-expected win over Utah, a game which was almost turned by another opponent pick six. (When quarterback Brett Hundley makes a mistake, it's a pretty significant one.) Left tackle Torian White was lost for the season, while running back Jordon James suffered an ankle injury that would keep him out for most of seven games.
The defense regressed a bit, but the offense briefly collapsed. The Bruins suddenly couldn't run the ball -- 34 carries for 78 yards against Cal, 27 for 74 against Stanford -- and it put too much pressure on Hundley.
The Bruins hung with Oregon for three quarters before giving in to a 21-point fourth-quarter onslaught, but the recovery began in full against Colorado. The run game stabilized (with help from linebacker Myles Jack, who carried 35 times for 265 yards and six scores against Arizona, Washington, and Arizona State), and after throwing for just 256 yards with two scores and four picks against Stanford and Oregon, Hundley completed 69 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and one interception over the last five games of the regular season. The defense was still only above average down the stretch, but it didn't matter.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||44.4%||54||Succ. Rt. +||116.9||13|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||26.5||9||Def. FP+||104.4||15|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.8||21||Redzone S&P+||114.2||21|
|Q1 Rk||18||1st Down Rk||31|
|Q2 Rk||15||2nd Down Rk||34|
|Q3 Rk||29||3rd Down Rk||6|
3. A few more big plays wouldn't hurt
Noel Mazzone has been around. He has spent most of the last two decades as an offensive coordinator, serving in the post at Ole Miss (1995-98), Auburn (1999-01), Oregon State (2002), N.C. State (2003), Ole Miss again (2004-05), Arizona State (2010-11), and now UCLA, with a stint as the New York Jets' receivers coach mixed in for good measure. In Tempe, he resurrected both his career and Dennis Erickson's ASU offense with a system that involved heavy motion and hybrids. Slot receivers saw a lot of carries, running backs saw a lot of passes, and ASU used every inch of the field.
You can still see plenty of that at UCLA, too, though receivers barely saw any carries last year. Mazzone has wisely elected to run the ball more, catering to his quarterback's dual-threat capabilities -- Hundley threatened to reach 3,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in 2013 -- and with the pieces he has inherited in L.A., he has put together one of the nation's most efficient offenses.
A few more big plays wouldn't hurt, though. While UCLA ranked 13th in Success Rate+ (opponent-adjusted efficiency) last fall, the Bruins ranked just 69th in IsoPPP+, which measures the magnitude of the successful plays (adjusted for opponent, too, of course). They finished well in the red zone, and they set the defense up well in the field position game, but they needed quite a few plays to finish drives, and that can sometimes backfire.
Neither Jordon James nor then-freshman Paul Perkins showed much explosiveness in the run game last fall; the biggest big-play threats in the backfield were Hundley and Myles Jack. Meanwhile, of the three wideouts who caught at least 20 passes in 2013, only one (Shaq Evans, now a New York Jet) averaged better than 11.6 yards per catch. There are all sorts of efficiency weapons at Hundley's and Mazzone's disposal, but the Bruins could use a few more gashes to go with the nicks.
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Brett Hundley||6'3, 227||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||248||371||3071||24||9||66.8%||35||8.6%||7.1|
|Jerry Neuheisel||6'1, 195||So.||3 stars (5.6)||11||13||124||0||0||84.6%||1||7.1%||9.0|
|Mike Fafaul||6'2, 205||So.||NR||4||4||42||0||0||100.0%||0||0.0%||10.5|
|Asiantii Woulard||6'3, 208||RSFr.||4 stars (5.9)|
4. Hundley will get hit
UCLA is not alone in this sentiment, but any talk of a top-10 performance probably ends if the star quarterback goes down. And the Bruins are relatively lucky it hasn't happened already. With no highly-touted backup of which to speak, Hundley took most of the snaps in 2013. He also took plenty of lumps -- he attempted 125 rushes (second on the team) and got sacked 35 times. Granted, at 6'3, 227, he's built to take a few hits. And granted, the backup situation is a bit more exciting/stable in 2014 with the addition of four-star redshirt freshman Asiantii Woulard to the mix. But aside from an ankle injury early in his redshirt freshman campaign, Hundley has been mostly injury-free. It's a requirement if UCLA is going to maintain its high-efficiency, middling-explosiveness ways.
And to be sure, Hundley is going to have to take some hits. His presence in the run game was a grave necessity in 2013; plus, as with so many dual-threat quarterbacks, he takes a lot of sacks while trusting his legs to save him. A few more dump-offs and throwaways wouldn't hurt, but the good comes with the bad; it's sometimes hard to get rid of a player's bad habits without putting the good ones at risk, as well.
|Paul Perkins||RB||5'11, 200||So.||3 stars (5.6)||134||573||6||4.3||3.8||32.8%|
|Brett Hundley||QB||6'3, 227||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||125||949||11||7.6||6.4||54.4%|
|Jordon James||RB||5'9, 196||Sr.||4 stars (5.9)||101||534||5||5.3||4.6||38.6%|
|Myles Jack||RB||6'1, 230||So.||4 stars (5.8)||38||267||7||7.0||12.1||31.6%|
|Steven Manfro||RB||5'9, 189||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||24||107||1||4.5||5.6||33.3%|
|Devin Fuller||WR||6'0, 198||Jr.||4 stars (6.0)||4||8||1||2.0||2.8||25.0%|
|Ryan Davis||RB||5'8, 195||So.||3 stars (5.6)||4||31||0||7.8||3.7||75.0%|
|Craig Lee||RB||5'11, 185||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Nathan Starks||RB||6'0, 190||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Jordan Payton||WR-X||6'1, 215||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||58||38||440||65.5%||15.5%||55.6%||7.6||-16||7.4||65.4|
|Devin Fuller||SLOT||6'0, 198||Jr.||4 stars (6.0)||55||43||471||78.2%||14.7%||61.5%||8.6||-3||9.0||70.0|
|Devin Lucien||WR-Z||6'1, 200||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||30||19||339||63.3%||8.0%||55.2%||11.3||107||11.0||50.4|
|Paul Perkins||RB||5'11, 200||So.||3 stars (5.6)||30||24||296||80.0%||8.0%||55.2%||9.9||34||9.6||44.0|
|Thomas Duarte||WR-Y||6'3, 225||So.||4 stars (5.8)||21||16||214||76.2%||5.6%||47.1%||10.2||35||10.4||31.8|
|Steven Manfro||RB||5'9, 189||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||12||9||113||75.0%||3.2%||30.0%||9.4||12||10.6||16.8|
|Jordon James||RB||5'9, 196||Sr.||4 stars (5.9)||11||10||55||90.9%||2.9%||72.7%||5.0||-48||5.1||8.2|
|Jalen Ortiz||SLOT||5'9, 180||So.||3 stars (5.7)||7||4||27||57.1%||1.9%||57.1%||3.9||-25||3.8||4.0|
|Darren Andrews||SLOT||5'10, 190||So.||3 stars (5.6)||5||4||52||80.0%||1.3%||0.0%||10.4||8||4.4||7.7|
|Logan Sweet||WR-Z||6'0, 198||So.||NR||3||3||48||100.0%||0.8%||N/A||16.0||18||0.0||7.1|
|Kenneth Walker||WR-X||5'10, 180||So.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Eldridge Massington||WR-Z||6'3, 210||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Austin Roberts||WR||6'2, 215||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)|
|Alex Van Dyke||WR||6'4, 205||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Xavier Su'a-Filo||LG||27||1st All-Pac-12|
|Jake Brendel||C||6'4, 285||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||27|
|Simon Goines||RT||6'7, 330||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||20|
| Malcolm Bunche
|LG||6'7, 327||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||14|
|Alex Redmond||RG||6'5, 300||So.||4 stars (5.8)||13|
|Caleb Benenoch||RG||6'5, 310||So.||4 stars (5.8)||9|
|Scott Quessenberry||LG||6'4, 282||So.||3 stars (5.7)||6|
|Ben Wysocki||RG||6'4, 292||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0|
|Carl Hulick||C||6'2, 275||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0|
|Conor McDermott||LT||6'9, 285||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0|
|Poasi Moala||LT||6'4, 278||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Kenny Lacy||LG||6'4, 280||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|John Lopez||OL||6'5, 315||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Kolton Miller||OL||6'8, 305||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
5. Mora's deepest line yet
Despite losing White in September and Simon Goines in November, the UCLA line more or less held up in 2013. It wasn't spectacular, but it got its running backs to the second level of the defense a decent percentage of the time. (The sack rates were terrible, but to a decent degree, that's on Hundley.)
A lot of the line's success was due to guard Xavier Su'a-Filo, a second-round pick by Houston in the NFL Draft. But one great player does not make a good line. (Just as Taylor Lewan.)
That Su'a-Filo and White are gone obviously isn't a good thing, but the return of five other players with starting experience at UCLA (all of whom were either freshmen or sophomores in 2013), plus Miami transfer (and 2012 Hurricanes starter) Malcolm Bunche won't hurt. And four more four-star true or redshirt freshman could enter the rotation as well. Health and stability would be lovely, but the entire two-deep should be at least semi-intriguing.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||43.9%||86||Succ. Rt. +||98.5||59|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||33.1||10||Off. FP+||106.6||4|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.0||55||Redzone S&P+||88.4||91|
|Q1 Rk||24||1st Down Rk||33|
|Q2 Rk||43||2nd Down Rk||41|
|Q3 Rk||13||3rd Down Rk||14|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
| Owamagbe Odighizuwa
|DE||6'3, 270||Sr.||5 stars (6.1)||14||34.5||4.3%||6.0||3.5||0||3||0||2|
|Eddie Vanderdoes||DE||6'4, 310||So.||5 stars (6.1)||13||29.0||3.6%||4.5||0.5||0||0||1||1|
|Kenny Clark||NT||6'3, 315||So.||4 stars (5.8)||13||23.5||3.0%||4.0||1.0||0||0||1||0|
|Ellis McCarthy||DE||6'5, 330||Jr.||5 stars (6.1)||13||19.5||2.4%||3.0||2.0||0||2||0||0|
|Kylie Fitts||DE||6'4, 275||So.||4 stars (5.9)|
|Eli Ankou||NT||6'3, 295||So.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Matt Dickerson||DE||6'5, 280||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Jacob Tuioti-Mariner||DE||6'3, 265||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Ainuu Taua||NT||6'0, 298||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
6. Turnover up front (and on staff)
It's a half-full, half-empty situation up front for the UCLA defense. On one hand, almost no other school in the country can boast three five-star returnees, not to mention another five former four-star recruits. Senior Owa Odighizuwa returns from a 2013 hip injury and will join fellow blue-chippers Eddie Vanderdoes and Ellis McCarthy up front; sophomore nose tackle Kenny Clark is back, too. UCLA had quite a bit of line youth last year and survived with decent (if unspectacular) numbers.
But the Bruins also had two excellent pass rushers in Cassius Marsh and Keenan Graham, not to mention backup tackle Seali'i Epenesa. All three -- so, half of last year's two-deep, basically -- are gone. So, too, are star linebackers Jordan Zumwalt and Anthony Barr.
And so is Lou Spanos. Mora's defensive coordinator left to become linebackers coach for the Tennessee Titans, so Mora promoted linebackers coach and special teams coordinator Jeff Ulbrich to the coordinator role. One never knows how such a transition will go, but we do know that UCLA's linebackers and special teams were both rather spectacular in 2013. That's something.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Eric Kendricks||ILB||6'0, 230||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||11||84.5||10.6%||4.0||2.0||1||2||0||0|
|Myles Jack||OLB||6'1, 230||So.||4 stars (5.8)||13||63.5||8.0%||7.0||1.0||2||11||1||0|
|Isaako Savaiinaea||ILB||6'2, 232||So.||3 stars (5.6)||13||20.0||2.5%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Ryan Hofmeister||ILB||6'0, 220||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||12||15.0||1.9%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Kenny Orjioke||OLB||6'4, 235||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||13||10.5||1.3%||2.0||2.0||0||0||1||0|
|Jayon Brown||OLB||6'0, 220||So.||3 stars (5.6)||13||8.0||1.0%||0.0||0.0||0||0||1||0|
|Cameron Judge||ILB||6'1, 215||So.||3 stars (5.7)||11||7.0||0.9%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Taylor Lagace||ILB||6'11, 210||So.||3 stars (5.5)||12||4.5||0.6%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Deon Hollins||OLB||6'0, 225||So.||4 stars (5.8)||11||4.5||0.6%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Kenny Young||LB||6'2, 225||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)|
|Zach Whitley||LB||6'1, 218||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)|
7. The ULTIMATE ultimate "ATH" recruit
In last year's UCLA preview, I called Anthony Barr "the ultimate 'ATH' recruit." Barr was a subpar short-yardage back and/or receiver, but he converted to OLB when Mora and Spanos came to town, and wow, did he thrive. He set the bar unreasonably high for all future change-of-position guys (not to mention all future UCLA OLBs). In two years, Barr logged 41.5 tackles for loss, 23.5 sacks, six passes defensed, and 10 forced fumbles.
Technically, though, the "ATH" designation suggests one should thrive at multiple positions. Barr did not. Instead, the designation is most well-personified by sophomore Myles Jack, who put together the most unique set of impressive stats you'll ever see from a true freshman last fall: 63.5 tackles, 7.0 tackles for loss, 13 passes defensed, 267 rushing yards, and seven rushing touchdowns. His ability to defend the pass allowed Barr to wreck shop on the other side of the defense, and his ability to run the ball took some pressure (and hits) off of Brett Hundley, especially in the red zone. His almost certainly UCLA's best OLB and RB this year, but while he'll play both, he's still an OLB first.
Thanks to Jack, Eric Kendricks, and good recruiting, UCLA linebackers should once again produce solid numbers in 2014. There's no way to assume the Bruins match all of Barr's incredible production, and there's potential reason to worry about the depth of the front seven, but the quality of the starters will still be awfully high.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Anthony Jefferson||S||6'1, 190||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||13||65.5||8.2%||1||0||2||5||0||0|
|Randall Goforth||S||5'10, 180||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||13||61.5||7.7%||0.5||0||2||4||3||0|
|Ishmael Adams||CB||5'8, 185||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||13||46.5||5.8%||1.5||0.5||4||4||0||0|
|Fabian Moreau||CB||6'0, 200||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||12||39.5||5.0%||0.5||0||0||4||1||0|
|Tahaan Goodman||S||6'1, 198||So.||4 stars (6.0)||13||11.0||1.4%||0||0||0||2||1||0|
|Priest Willis||CB||6'1, 206||So.||4 stars (6.0)||9||5.5||0.7%||0||0||1||1||0||0|
|Justin Combs||CB||5'7, 175||So.||2 stars (5.4)||3||2.5||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Marcus Rios (2012)||CB||6'0, 170||So.||4 stars (5.8)||9||2.5||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Charles Dawson||CB||5'9, 175||So.||NR|
|John Johnson||NB||5'9, 185||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Tyler Foreman||S||6'1, 195||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Jaleel Wadood||CB||5'11, 175||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)|
|Adarius Pickett||NB||6'0, 185||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)|
|Ron Robinson||S||6'2, 197||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
8. The most underrated safeties in the country
Barr and the front seven tended to steal the headlines for UCLA's defense last year, and with cause. But look at the Five Factors numbers above; the Bruins were mediocre in Success Rate+ and downright bad in the red zone, but they won 10 games in 2013 because of their incredible ability to minimize big plays. They ranked first in the country in IsoPPP+; despite living in the offense-friendly Pac-12, they allowed only 16 gains of 30+ yards all season (sixth in the country) and only six of 40+ (third).
You don't do that without a pair of stellar inside linebackers, of course, and Kendricks and Zumwalt were certainly good at their jobs (and recognized for it). But you also don't pull that off without incredible play from your safeties. It's a shame, then, that safeties Anthony Jefferson and Randall Goforth, who combined for 1.5 tackles for loss, 13 passes defensed, and three forced fumbles, weren't found on the All-Pac-12 first- or second-team last year. They did their jobs in a rather nondescript way -- I watched UCLA plenty of times last fall, and my eyes were drawn to everyone but the safeties -- but without them, UCLA doesn't rank 22nd in Passing S&P+ and 17th in Passing Downs S&P+, and corner Ishmael Adams doesn't end up with four picks.
Unless the pass rush completely collapses without Barr, UCLA's pass defense will be one of the best in the conference, and Jefferson and Goforth are the primary reasons for that. They aren't exactly Kenny Easley back there, but they're excellent nonetheless.
|Sean Covington||6'0, 218||So.||54||41.9||3||27||18||83.3%|
|Ka'imi Fairbairn||6'0, 190||Jr.||48||64.3||24||0||50.0%|
|Sean Covington||6'0, 218||So.||42||63.3||21||0||50.0%|
|Ka'imi Fairbairn||6'0, 190||Jr.||59-60||9-12||75.0%||5-9||55.6%|
|Steven Manfro||KR||5'9, 189||Jr.||18||24.8||0|
|Ishmael Adams||KR||5'8, 185||Jr.||10||35.0||0|
|Randall Goforth||PR||5'10, 180||Jr.||3||6.7||0|
|Special Teams F/+||18|
|Field Goal Efficiency||78|
|Punt Return Efficiency||57|
|Kick Return Efficiency||31|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||53|
9. A great field position formula
UCLA had one of the nation's most efficient offenses, a defense that forced two turnovers per game, outstanding kickoffs and kick returns, and decent punts and punt returns. That's a pretty fantastic formula for good field position, and it showed -- UCLA field position margin (average starting field position minus opponents' average) of plus-6.5 yards was No. 5 in the country, behind only Michigan State, Ohio State, North Texas, and Texas A&M.
And while Shaq Evans is no longer around to field punts, the other special teams pieces all return, as do the reasons for UCLA's efficient offense. So don't expect the Bruins' field position numbers to change too much.
2014 Schedule & Projection Factors
|25-Sep||at Arizona State||21|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||4.1% (50)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||14|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||10 / 4.7|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||16 (8, 8)|
10. Landmines early, heavyweights late
If the Rose Bowl has plenty of home-field magic in store for UCLA, the Bruins' 2014 season could be pretty magical. Only two of five road games come against team projected better than 60th, and the three biggest names on the schedule all visit Pasadena.
If you fancy UCLA as a national title contender, know this is exactly the type of schedule that a national title contender can survive. Plus, if there's another October swoon, that might be alright -- most of the big games are in September and November!
If we look at only a team's starting 22, UCLA could be right up there with Oregon and Stanford in the Pac-12 (and therefore national) hierarchy. I struggle to put them that high, however.
Brett Hundley takes far too many hits, and depth both at quarterback and in the defensive front seven is a concern. The Bruins need a big-time play-maker (not named Hundley) to emerge at skill positions and in the front seven, and if that doesn't happen, it's probably too much to ask that they emerge unscathed, both in the big home games and in what are still a few challenging trips away from home (Texas in Arlington, Arizona State in Tempe, Washington in Seattle). This should be a very good team, but the Bruins are likely the top team in the conference's second tier.
That I feel regretful for saying this and for tamping the idea of UCLA as a title contender is pretty amazing considering where things stood two years ago. But here we are.