Why UCLA can win the playoff: Talent, speed, playmakers galore

EDITOR’S NOTE: FOX Sports college football columnists Stewart Mandel and Bruce Feldman think a handful of teams have a legitimate shot at hoisting the College Football Playoff trophy this season. This week, they’ll make a case for each of those squads.

UCLA BRUINS

1. What we like: The Bruins have more returning starters than any team in the Pac-12. Paul Perkins led the conference in rushing with 1,575 yards, and Jordan Payton had almost 1,000 yards in receiving. Plus, the O-line should be much better than it’s been in years (although that is not saying too much).

Jim Mora hired Tom Bradley to run the defense, and players say the former Penn State DC’s attention to detail is a big difference. Bradley has some terrific talent to work with. In Kenny Clark and Eddie Vanderdoes, UCLA has two of the best D-linemen in the country. With Myles Jack, Deon Hollins and rising star Kenny Young, they have speed to ruin any offensive game plan. The secondary has talent, too, led by play-making CB Ishmael Adams. The Bruins also have dominated their arch-rival, USC, since Mora arrived. And they don’t have to deal with Oregon in the regular season.

2. What concerns us: The lone hole in the starting lineup is at QB, and that means a battle between Jerry Neuheisel — who came to UCLA as a walk-on — or touted true freshman Josh Rosen. The hunch here is that Rosen will emerge as the starter. The 6-4, 205-pounder is extremely talented, but he’s still never played in a college game. It’s been 30 years since a team won a national title with a true freshman quarterback (OU, Jamelle Holieway).

There have been true freshmen QBs that have shined in their debut seasons. Deshaun Watson just did at Clemson, although he did miss a big chunk of the season to injury. Matt Barkley, Terrelle Pryor and Chad Henne also played well, but still being consistent enough to lead a team to the national title at this stage is a very deep dive. Playing at Stanford, a team that thrashed the Bruins last year, also looks dicey, as does a road trip to Utah, the week before the big rivalry game at USC.

3. What would the committee think? With BYU, ASU, Arizona (road game), Stanford (road game), Utah (road game) and USC (road game), the Bruins’ schedule is plenty demanding and has what I think are six potential Top 25 opponents. They scheduled no FCS teams either, but UNLV is pretty woeful. Still, if they can go 11-1 and then beat the Pac-12 North champ — either Oregon or Stanford — that’d look as good as just about anyone else’s.

WHY YOUR TEAM COULD WIN CFB PLAYOFF