Here we are, at the end of our 2012 UCLA football season schedule preview. Check out our previews on Rice, Nebraska, Houston, Oregon State, Colorado, California, Utah, Arizona State, Arizona, Wazzu, and South Cal (U$C).
Andrew Luck is gone. That’s the narrative for these Stanford Cardinal, and it’s a narrative they’re ready to stop listening to.
It’s the reality, though, and with the recognition of said reality comes some lower expectations, at least for 2012.
But Stanford should be pretty damn good. Indeed, the Cardinal are tied for a preseason ranking of 20 in the FanSided Top 25.
And for good reason. Of course, that lower ranking — since they were a top-five team last season — makes them beatable, meaning that UCLA will face a superior opponent, but the talent gap has closed significantly, or at least that seems to be the perception.
Last season, UCLA was beaten terribly by Stanford in Palo Alto, but now the Bruins get to play at home against a Luck-less Stanford team. Will this team exact revenge against the Cardinal, and how will they respond to what could be a letdown game since they play South Cal a week earlier?
Stanford Offense vs. UCLA Defense
As we’ve said before, Andrew Luck is now an Indianapolis Colt. But just as important are Stanford’s losses of offensive linemen David DeCastro and Johnathan Martin, both of whom helped to anchor Stanford’s incredible line and ease the workload for Luck and running back Stepfan Taylor.
Also gone are Luck’s top two receivers in Griff Whalen and TE Coby Fleener, both of whom combined for 1400 yards and 14 touchdown receptions.
Stanford has a lot of talent to replace, and though they may not reach the level of talent they had in 2011, they’re still sitting pretty well.
Stepfan Taylor, who ran for over 1300 yards and banged in 10 touchdowns, is coming back for his senior season. Wide receiver Ty Montgomery is the lone returner of the Tree’s top four targets, and he proved to be a hell of a wide-out late in the season as a freshman. The offensive line has a couple of young up-and-comers, too, headlined by David Yankey.
So the offense for Stanford will not be totally inept, but it’ll regress, and that’s not a horrible thing, since it’ll regress due to lack of experience more than anything.
It’s good news for UCLA, too. It just so happens that the passing game will take a backseat to what should be another strong season rushing-wise, and as we know, UCLA’s secondary wouldn’t have been able to keep up with another year of Andrew Luck. As a result, Stanford will run — and run hard — against what seems to be a vaunted UCLA front seven, and even more so with the 3-4 defense being implementing, making our talent at linebacker more transparent.
Stanford could put up a ton of points, but it likely won’t be an offense UCLA can’t keep up with, even if the Tree does, indeed, put up some points in Pasadena.
Stanford Defense vs. UCLA Offense
Stanford lost defensive-minded head coach Jim Harbaugh a year ago, and since then, the Stanford defense took a step back.
Not too much, though. The defensive unit ranked fourth in the nation in yards allowed on the ground, and was second in the Pac-12 in points allowed, a hell of an accomplishment considering the Pac-12′s firepower.
Just like us, though, the Stanford secondary might have problems; the front-line will be tough and physical, and fans will expect a ton out of them. Defensive backs Devon Carrington and Terrence Brown will be back, but the secondary is losing three starters in Delano Howell, Michael Thomas, and Johnson Bademosi.
So UCLA better develop a pass defense to exploit a hole in the Stanford defense. Running doesn’t seem to be the way to go, even if Johnathan Franklin is as good as he’s ever looked. Stanford will have the second-best defense in the conference — in our opinion, Utah’s going to be tops in 2012 — and playing through the air will likely be UCLA’s best chance at winning this one.
Prediction: Stanford 28, UCLA 24
UCLA has to be competitive against a Stanford team for Jim Mora’s first regular season to end successfully. Getting blown out to a solid team at home is the last thing this team needs to end its season, and being able to keep up with your run-of-the-mill top-25 team is always a good sign.
We’ll lose this one, it seems, though, and convincing yourself that UCLA is the favorite here is a tad misguided.