Ed. Note: We’ve done a ton of UCLA football preview stuff. To sum it all up, and to have a comprehensive, definitive overview, Spencer gifted this for your eyes.
Keys to the Season: It’s very simple. UCLA will go as far as quarterback Brett Hundley takes them. Offensively, everything is there. An experienced running back, a loaded receiving core, and a system that hides the deficiencies of the offensive line are all available. Defensively, there are playmakers at every level. Returning D-linemen have potential to be dominant in the new 3-4 system. The Bruins are thin at linebacker, especially with the recent retirement of Patrick Larimore, but they are loaded with talent. The secondary, also thin, has tons of experience and are better suited for the aggressive style brought in by Coach Spanos. If Brett Hundley plays solid, not spectacular football, UCLA’s offense will average 30 points per game in Coach Mazzone’s offense. If he struggles, you will see it in the W-L record. If he lights it up, the sky is the limit for 2012 and beyond.
Week 1: UCLA @ Rice- Coming off of a dismal 2011, the Rice Owls return 5 starters on each side of the ball. Although expected to make a nice improvement in 2012 and possibly reach 6-7 wins, week 1 will not be one of them. They struggled mightily against the pass in 2011 and Brett Hundley will make a strong impression in his debut in 2012. Final score: UCLA 41 Rice 13
Week 2: Nebraska @ UCLA- Nebraska will come into the game as a heavy favorite, but the potential for upset is there. The Cornhuskers will not be as good in 2012 as they have been the last few seasons. They lose a lot on defense with the departures of All-America defensive lineman Jared Crick and linebacker Lavonte David and corner Alfonzo Dennard. Nebraska does however return quarterback Taylor Martinez and running back Rex Burkhead from a top 15 rushing offense in 2011. Closer than expected, but the Bruins fall short. Final score: UCLA 24 Nebraska 30
Week 3: Houston @ UCLA- Coming off of a close loss, the Bruins will come back and put a whooping on the Cougars for their first home win of the season. Houston, coming off of a school best 13-1 season will have a major drop off in 2012. The loss of Kevin Sumlin, Case Keenum, and their record setting receivers will be crippling. Their defense returns 7 starters, but that may not be a good thing. Final Score: UCLA 38 Houston 17
Week 4: Oregon State @ UCLA- The Beavers had a major drop off in 2011 as they fell all the way to 3-9, but they have talented, young skill players who all gained experience last year. They return 15 starters and may have an outside shot at a bowl game. In a less- competitive conference, they could win 7-8 games, but in the Pac 12, I expect 5-6 wins. By 2014, I expect OSU to be an 8-9 win team. Final Score: UCLA 33 OSU 17
Week 5: UCLA @ Colorado- Week 5 against the Buffaloes, UCLA could be on upset alert. Coming off of back to back wins at the Rose Bowl, the Bruins will be tested in Boulder. The Buffs will be confident after an easy early season schedule. They boast an impressive offensive line, but no experienced skill players. They do, however, have a weak defensive line and this could be a big game for Jonathon Franklin. How big? Over 200 yards! Although closer than Bruin fans hope, UCLA wins. Final Score: UCLA 30 Colorado 26
Week 6: UCLA @ California- Just when you think the Bruins have it rolling, here comes Cal. This series has been an adventure the past 10 years. No team seems to be able to gain momentum against each other. The Bruins beat the Bears handily last year behind Tevin McDonald’s breakout 3 interception game. Like the Bruins with Hundley, Cal will go as far as senior quarterback Zach Maynard takes them. As bad as he played against the Bruins, he had a few great games, as well. UCLA lets one get away. Final Score: UCLA 17 Cal 28
Week 7: Utah @ UCLA- The Bruins come home, and tough Pac 12 foe Utah stands in their way. I believe this is the most important game of the season for the Bruins. The outcome could go either way and will be a major deciding factor in the Pac 12 south standings. Utah has a fantastic running back in John White IV, who rushed for over 1,500 yards last season, but the Utes have struggled with consistency at quarterback. Bruins win an instant classic and position themselves well in the Pac 12 south. Final Score: UCLA 34 Utah 31 3OT
Week 8- Bye
Week 9: UCLA @ Arizona State- The Bye week could not come at a better time for the Bruins as they come off the emotional win over Utah. A potential letdown against Arizona State is possible, but the extra week should squash that. After facing Oregon the week before, the Sun Devils will not be taken back by the UCLA pace and speed. Prepared as they may be, the Sun Devils don’t have the quality, nor experience defensively to keep up. Todd Graham will have his offense rolling by this late October match up and this could give the Bruins problems. Both teams light up the scoreboard in Tempe, but the Bruins have too much and stick a fork in them late in the 4th. Final Score: UCLA 41 ASU 31
Week 10: Arizona @ UCLA- Coming off of a big win over ASU, the Bruins come home and face a different kind of challenge. After facing the pass oriented spread attack of Todd Graham, Rich Rod and the Wildcats will be an adjustment. Arizona is a program to look out for in the future as it appears to be a great fit for Coach Rodriguez. They do, however, lack the team speed needed to run the offensive system to its max capacity. Quarterback Matt Scott’s skills fit the system perfectly, but the other skill players are not a major concern. Bruins keep it rolling. Final Score: UCLA 25 UA 14
Week 11: UCLA @ Washington State- In the ultimate trap game, the Bruins head up to Pullman, Washington to face a new era Mike Leach squad. There is no doubt in my mind that Coach Leach will turn around the Cougar program and have them consistently in bowl games. The big question is how soon? I think they are 1 year away from 7 wins and will finish with 5 or 6 wins in 2012, but one will come against the Bruins. UCLA, riding a 3 game winning streak, will be looking ahead to the battle against USC the following week and the Cougs catch them sleeping at the wrong time. Final Score: UCLA 20 WSU 30
Week 12: USC @ UCLA- Everyone knows about 50-0. This will be on the Bruins mind for the entire USC week as they try to avenge the most embarrassing loss in school history. It won’t be easy against the preseason #1 team in the country, though. I fully expect USC to disappoint the talking heads of ESPN and the national media and enter this game with 2 losses. The Bruins will certainly be more competitive in 2012, but the quality of talent at USC is far superior at this time and the Trojans are a little too much. Robert Woods and Marqise Lee will have big games again and UCLA loses to archrival for the 6th straight meeting. Final Score: UCLA 20 USC 37
Week 13: Stanford @ UCLA- UCLA finishes the late season grind with a home game against the Stanford Cardinal. Expect a major drop off in 2012 with the loss of Andrew Luck. The loss of Coach Jim Harbaugh will also be felt, albeit 1 year late. David Shaw did well in year 1 at Stanford, but was noticeably outcoached by Mike Gundy in their bowl game. Without Luck, the Cardinal will rely even more on their power running game. The offensive line and stable of backs are the strength of the team, along with a stout defense. The Bruins get overpowered in the trenches and finish the regular season with a third straight loss. Final Score: UCLA 23 Stanford 35
Overall Record: 7-5. The Bruins have the talent to be as good as 9-3. The major question marks come at the QB position and depth at the OL, LB, and Safety positions. The attitude of Coach Mora and staff seems to be quickly adapted to and the players are fitting Mora’s personality. The Bruins have been prone to the unexplainable outcomes in the past. They will play a great game, and follow it up by a complete stinker. Although the new staff is now on board and consistency is what they preach, it is mostly the same players from the past. The 2 stinkers this year come against Cal and WSU. The Bruins finish with a tough schedule, so they will need to get off to a fast start. If they can avoid the stinkers throughout the first 10 games, Bruin fans will be giddy in late November.
Bowl game: Las Vegas Bowl, UCLA vs. Boise State- Boise State misses again on a BCS bowl and after a drop off from the Kellen Moore era will come into the Las Vegas Bowl a little under the radar compared to recent years. UCLA pursued Coach Petersen hard, but he ultimately chose to stay at Boise State. In a tough matchup for the Bruins, Boise State separates in the 2nd half and wins by a solid margin. The Bruins enter the offseason on a losing streak, but the improvement in not only the record, but in the style of play, and margin of victory/defeat leads to continued recruiting momentum and the Bruins land another top 10 class.