The sun is shining in Westwood and things are starting to heat up on the gridiron. Less than 75 days away from the start of UCLA’s football season, the real questions are starting to bubble their way to the surface as Mora and Co. search for answers. What will the offensive line look like in 2013? I’m not Coach Mora, but I’ll give you the info that I’ve got.
With the loss of graduated senior Jeff Baca at right guard, leadership needs to find a new home, and I expect it to settle in with junior Xavier Su’a-Filo. A five-man, three-freshman line proved to be just enough last year, but the hungry Bruins have made it clear that they’re shooting for the stars—not settling for just enough.
Su’a-Filo, who began his career in 2009, still maintains his eligibility status, as 2010-11 was spent on a two-year Mormon mission while not enrolled at UCLA. He returns as the driving force in the trenches, being the only upperclassman with experience to draw on. With an outstanding crop of incoming recruits, hopefully “Big X” can mentor them, ease their transition into the program and push the O-Line to new heights.
Nonetheless, no matter how many steps the line can take forward, they have already been set back a huge amount from last year. That’s the cost of losing your school’s all-time leading rusher—Johnathan Franklin. Having the force of Franklin behind you is not only reassuring, but it can make up for some mistakes by the offensive line. That talent is gone to the NFL now, and Franklin’s shoes are waiting to be filled, but it isn’t likely we’re going to see that happen this season.
So what can the line do to benefit the team come opening night? Well, they can show their versatility by adapting to this season’s offense, one that revolves around Brett Hundley (my pick for Heisman front runner along with fellow Pac-12 QB Marcus Mariota and defending Heisman winner Johnny Manziel). That versatility will have to show in adjusting to each running back that takes the field—be it Malcolm Jones on 3rd-and-short or Damien Thigpen on 1st-and-10—as UCLA pounds the ball by committee. The struggles will come early, as is the case with every season, but hopefully the Bruins can figure it all out in time for a tough two-game road trip to Stanford and Oregon.
There’s a wealth of talent on the O-Line, and the starters from 2012 all have another year under the belt. Su’a-Filo should be the stalwart he always is, but it’s up to him to lead an otherwise youthful group of linemen. UCLA’s success will go hand-in-hand with the performance up front, so expect plenty more about the Bruins’ bigs before the season starts in August.