College Football Picks Top Ten Countdown- #5 UCLA
Jim Mora Jr. is probably underrated when it comes to college football coaches. The job he has done at UCLA is nothing short of remarkable. Rick Neuheisel had really hurt this UCLA program in a big way, but Mora Jr. has them out of the dumps and into the national title conversation in a hurry. Last year’s team exceeded most people’s expectations, and there is little question that this year’s team is much better on paper. Can they get it done on the field?
UCLA returns many of their best players, including quarterback Brett Hundley. In fact, the Bruins return 17 starters in all, which is the most in the Pac 12. UCLA plays in a highly competitive Pac 12 conference, but their schedule is set up for a run in 2014. Road games at Arizona State and Washington could be bumps in the road, but they are very fortunate to get Oregon, Stanford, and USC all at home.
Injuries slowed down this team quite a bit last year, but they still finished the season ranked number 16 in the AP Poll. This team has much higher aspirations, and I can’t imagine them not improving on last year’s record.
2014 UCLA Bruins Offense
It all starts with quarterback Brett Hundley, who I believe is one of the top five quarterbacks in the country. Hundley was the team’s leading rusher at 748 yards last year, and he threw for 3,071 yards. He threw 24 touchdowns and just nine interceptions. Most impressive was Hundley’s 66.8% completion percentage. To put all these numbers in context, you really need to understand that UCLA’s offensive line was a total disaster last year. The injury bug bit that group extremely hard. Hundley was working behind a patchwork offensive front and he was still able to put up numbers like that, which shows just how special he is.
It wasn’t just the offensive line that was dinged up last year. Jordon James is the Bruins top running back, but he wasn’t healthy very often in 2013, which forced Hundley to be the team’s main ball carrier. James comes into his senior season healthy, and for the Bruins to take that next step upward, he needs to be the team’s leading rusher and take some pressure off Hundley. Coach Mora doesn’t want to see Hundley taking as many hits this year. The line looks much improved if (and it’s a big if) they can stay healthy.
UCLA’s wide receivers are not spectacular, but they have a lot of possession receivers who should be reliable targets for Hundley. The Bruins finished 38th in the nation in total offense last year. I’ll call for UCLA to make a big jump and finish in the top 20 in total offense this year.
2014 UCLA Bruins Defense
UCLA’s defense returns eight starters, but they did lose Anthony Barr to the NFL, and Barr was their most explosive player. Fortunately for them, Myles Jack looked like a stud in his freshman year, and he is going to be breaking into backfields frequently for the next couple seasons. Lou Spanos was the defensive coordinator for the Bruins last year, but he’s now with the Tennessee Titans. UCLA promoted Ulbrich to defensive coordinator, and they hope to not miss a beat this year. Ulbrich has worked closely with the linebackers in the past, and he has a great group of linebackers to lean on again this year. Jack is the new team leader, but Eric Kendricks is also terrific on the inside.
UCLA has recruited very well on the defensive line, and they have a ton of size and strength there. Eddie Vanderdoes looked like a future star last year, and I expect big things from him in his sophomore season. Nose tackle Kenny Clark does a great job plugging the running lanes. The secondary is one of the best in the nation. The four starters in the secondary have lots of experience, and they are going to make it very tough for opponents to throw the ball.
All in all, the UCLA defense should improve on last year’s numbers. If you are going to beat this defense though, it will likely have to be on the ground.
College Football Betting Odds from BetOnline
2014 UCLA Odds to win National Title: +1,600
Odds to win Pac 12: +250
Odds to win Pac 12 South: +150
UCLA to make 4 team playoff (Yes): +300
UCLA Season Win Total: 9.5
I like this UCLA team a lot. The Bruins suffered through a ton of injuries last year and still improved quite a bit from the previous year. If the Bruins have a little more luck on the injury front, this team could be a part of the four team playoff at the end of the season. I like the value on them both to win the Pac 12 and make the four team playoff.
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