The big 2014 UCLA football guide: How high is the ceiling?

UCLA still might have too little depth and too few big play-makers to be a national title contender. But the Bruins have come too far in two years under Jim Mora to write them off just yet, especially with such a home-friendly schedule.

SB Nation 2014 College Football Countdown

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
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk Spec. Tms. Rk
F/+ +14.4% 15 +10.9% 23 +2.5% 18
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.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.19 41 IsoPPP+ 98.7 69
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
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 20.1 ACTUAL 16 -4.1
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 38 21 13 23
RUSHING 35 22 15 28
PASSING 44 19 21 33
Standard Downs 23 17 42
Passing Downs 28 11 108
Q1 Rk 18 1st Down Rk 31
Q2 Rk 15 2nd Down Rk 34
Q3 Rk 29 3rd Down Rk 6
Q4 Rk 50

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.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
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

Hey, we finally joined Facebook!

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.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
Opp.
Rate
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%
Malcolm Jones RB 53 244 3 4.6 4.2 37.7%
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%
Damien Thigpen RB 18 73 1 4.1 4.6 38.9%
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)




Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Shaquelle Evans WR-Z 81 47 709 58.0% 21.7% 47.9% 8.8 108 7.9 105.4
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
Darius Bell WR-Y 24 16 159 66.7% 6.4% 33.3% 6.6 -31 5.5 23.6
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
Grayson Mazzone WR 14 12 173 85.7% 3.8% 61.5% 12.4 46 12.4 25.7
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
Damien Thigpen RB 6 5 6 83.3% 1.6% 60.0% 1.0 -48 -0.1 0.9
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)

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 110.9 2.9 3.98 39.9% 66.7% 18.5% 70.8 8.7% 8.9%
Rank 26 73 15 61 71 55 109 117 97
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Career Starts Honors/Notes
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
Torian White LT 18
Malcolm Bunche
(Miami)
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.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.95 2 IsoPPP+ 125.8 1
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
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 24.9 ACTUAL 26.0 +1.1
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 54 30 59 19
RUSHING 72 44 68 32
PASSING 41 22 55 22
Standard Downs 36 75 3
Passing Downs 17 36 3
Q1 Rk 24 1st Down Rk 33
Q2 Rk 43 2nd Down Rk 41
Q3 Rk 13 3rd Down Rk 14
Q4 Rk 53

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 98.4 2.88 3.99 39.6% 55.6% 16.3% 113.3 3.9% 9.1%
Rank 67 50 121 69 9 97 34 77 20
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Cassius Marsh DE 13 45.0 5.6% 8.5 5.0 0 1 0 0
Owamagbe Odighizuwa
(2012)
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
Keenan Graham DE 12 17.5 2.2% 7.0 6.0 0 0 0 0
Seali'i Epenesa NT 12 13.0 1.6% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Brandon Willis DE 10 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 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.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
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
Jordan Zumwalt ILB 13 73.5 9.2% 6.5 0.0 2 0 1 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
Anthony Barr OLB 13 54.5 6.8% 20.0 10.0 0 1 6 1
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
Stan McKay ILB 13 10.0 1.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 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
Aaron Wallace OLB 13 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.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
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
Brandon Sermons CB 12 34.0 4.3% 3 0 0 1 0 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.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Sean Covington 6'0, 218 So. 54 41.9 3 27 18 83.3%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
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%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Ka'imi Fairbairn 6'0, 190 Jr. 59-60 9-12 75.0% 5-9 55.6%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Steven Manfro KR 5'9, 189 Jr. 18 24.8 0
Ishmael Adams KR 5'8, 185 Jr. 10 35.0 0
Shaquelle Evans PR 17 6.8 0
Randall Goforth PR 5'10, 180 Jr. 3 6.7 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 18
Field Goal Efficiency 78
Punt Return Efficiency 57
Kick Return Efficiency 31
Punt Efficiency 35
Kickoff Efficiency 7
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

2014 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
30-Aug at Virginia 62
6-Sep Memphis 90
13-Sep vs. Texas 38
25-Sep at Arizona State 21
4-Oct Utah 45
11-Oct Oregon 3
18-Oct at California 82
25-Oct at Colorado 99
1-Nov Arizona 36
8-Nov at Washington 28
22-Nov USC 9
28-Nov Stanford 6
Five-Year F/+ Rk 4.1% (50)
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 14
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* 10 / 4.7
TO Luck/Game +2.0
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.

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