SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (AP) UCLA has experience, depth and balance across its talent-laden roster. The Bruins are built to make a run at the Pac-12 title and beyond.
As soon as they decide on a starting quarterback, that is.
Coach Jim Mora’s fourth team at UCLA is loaded with returning starters at almost every position, except for a gaping hole at the middle – for now, at least. Brett Hundley jumped to the NFL after three seasons as the Bruins’ starter, and he’s currently trying to hang on to a third-string job in Green Bay instead of leading UCLA’s offense again.
Mora isn’t worried about finding a leader for his offense – not with so many other good things going on.
”I think the thing that gives me some measure of comfort is knowing that we’ve got a pretty veteran group around that player, whomever it may be,” Mora said. ”We’ve got an experienced offensive line. We return the Pac-12’s leading rusher in Paul Perkins. … We’ve got an experienced and pretty talented receiving corps, though maybe not with the marquee name. So it’s very unlike Brett’s situation three years ago, where Brett had to step in and do a lot.”
Almost everybody expects Hundley’s successor to be Josh Rosen, the 18-year-old freshman from the Los Angeles area who was among the nation’s top recruits when he chose the Bruins. Rosen enrolled early at UCLA, kicking off the competition with junior Jerry Neuheisel for the top job in spring ball.
The winner will face high expectations for the Bruins, who have won a school-record 29 games in Mora’s first three years, including three straight victories over archrival Southern California. UCLA is poised for a breakthrough, but the Pac-12 South just might be the toughest division in football, with the Trojans, Arizona State, Utah and defending champion Arizona all harboring championship hopes.
Some more things to watch in Westwood and Pasadena this season:
BRADLEY’S TURN: Tom Bradley has taken over for Jeff Ulbrich as defensive coordinator, and the Bruins already are enjoying the impact of the former Penn State coach’s superior experience. While Mora, a longtime NFL defensive coach, and good friend Ulbrich sometimes got animated on the UCLA sideline last season, Bradley’s veteran calm should be a welcome influence.
BACK IN THE LAB: The Bruins are opening the season with two weeks of training camp in stifling San Bernardino, building team chemistry and togetherness before heading back to campus to prepare for their Sept. 5 opener against Virginia at the Rose Bowl. ”We’ve got a lot of things to work on, but we’ve got a good base, a good foundation,” Perkins said.
BIG LINE: Hundley was sacked 41 times last season, but anyone who watched UCLA knows that Hundley’s maddening tendency to hold on to the ball too long was the biggest reason for that garish number. The Bruins’ offensive line is loaded with talented veterans who helped Perkins to 1,575 yards rushing, the second-best total in school history.
SCHEDULE TWISTS: UCLA still hasn’t beaten Pac-12 powers Oregon and Stanford during Mora’s tenure, and last season’s home collapse against the Cardinal was perhaps the most discouraging thing to happen to the Bruins since he took over. The Ducks aren’t on the regular-season schedule this year, but UCLA still faces several tough road games against Stanford, Arizona, Utah and USC. The Bruins were an outstanding road team last season, but lost three times at the Rose Bowl.
IT’S CATCHING: UCLA’s quarterback will have plenty of big targets. The Bruins return seven of their top eight receivers from last season, including top pass-catchers Jordan Payton and Devin Fuller. Although UCLA says it was just a coincidence, Payton and Rosen were made roommates in San Bernardino.