Nevada-UCLA Preview

Considering the sputtering state of the UCLA program he took

over, Jim Mora’s first season as a collegiate head coach couldn’t

have been much more impressive.

With key players returning as well as the arrival of an

acclaimed recruiting class, he thinks his second year could be even

better.

The 21st-ranked Bruins open Saturday night by hosting Nevada in

the schools’ first meeting.

Inheriting a team that had gone 10-16 over the previous two

seasons, Mora guided UCLA to a 9-5 record and Pac-12 South title in

his first year as a coach since being fired by the Seattle Seahawks

in January 2010.

After just its second win over archrival Southern California

since 1999, UCLA ended with three straight losses. Two of those

defeats, though, were to powerhouse Stanford, including 27-24 in

the Pac-12 title game decided by a fourth-quarter field goal.

Mora’s roster appears to be dotted with reasons why the Bruins

are a trendy pick to contend for the league’s championship

again.

“In all my years of coaching college football, this is the

best-looking team I’ve had,” Mora said facetiously, his only

previous collegiate experience coming as a graduate assistant with

Washington in 1984. “This team just looks different. It’s bigger.

It’s more physically imposing. If we can keep developing this way,

we can eventually meet our goals.”

UCLA returns stars on both sides of the ball in quarterback

Brett Hundley and linebacker Anthony Barr. Hundley accounted for

4,095 yards of total offense last year as a redshirt freshman,

breaking Cade McNown’s single-season school record.

Hundley threw for 29 touchdowns while running in nine more,

though he’ll hope for better protection from a more experienced

offensive line after being sacked 52 times – 10 more than any other

FBS quarterback.

“We’ve got to make sure what people thought of us last year

doesn’t go to our heads,” Hundley said.

Barr, whose 13 1/2 sacks last year lead all returning FBS

players, earned second-team All-American honors in his first season

after switching from offense to defense. However, he’s just one of

five returning starters on a defense that will lean on heralded

freshman Eddie Vanderdoes after losing senior defensive end

Owamagbe Odighizuwa due to offseason hip surgeries.

UCLA received good news last month when the NCAA ruled

Vanderdoes eligible for the season. His status had been unclear

after he committed to Notre Dame on national signing day, then

chose the Bruins to be closer to his cancer-stricken

grandmother.

“Because we don’t have Owa, it’s just critical that we were able

to bring Eddie in,” Mora said. “Now, Eddie is young. As good as he

was in high school, this is just a different level, so I think we

have to be careful about how much we expect of him right away.”

After the retirement of Hall of Fame coach Chris Ault, Brian

Polian takes over a Nevada squad that went 7-6 last season. The

Wolf Pack are coming off their eighth consecutive bowl appearance

and were picked to finish fourth in the Mountain West Conference’s

West Division.

“I cannot express how excited I am to lead the Nevada football

program into what will be a very bright future,” said the

38-year-old Polian, who has served as an assistant for numerous

schools, most recently with Texas A&M.

Nevada receiver Brandon Wimberly has caught a pass in all 40 of

his career games, the FBS’ longest active streak.

This marks the third straight season Nevada has opened on the

road against a Pac-12 foe. The Wolf Pack lost 69-20 to then-No. 13

Oregon in 2011 and defeated California 31-24 last year.

Nevada has allowed an average of 47.6 points in losing all 10

road meetings against Top 25 opponents since 1999.