With QB Josh Rosen back, UCLA can feel its luck changing
LOS ANGELES (AP) From early injuries to a late-season flop, UCLA couldn't seem to catch a break last year.
Coach Jim Mora is hoping the Bruins' luck was just building up for this fall.
And the best reason to believe UCLA's fortunes will change is the sophomore behind center.
Josh Rosen is back to run a new-look offense for the Bruins, whose promising 2015 campaign was beset by injury woes and disappointing performances. UCLA still went 8-5, but lost two home games, two rivalry road games and its bowl game.
''We're coming off a season that was, in our estimation, a little bit disappointing to us, especially the way that it ended,'' Mora said. ''We'd like to make amends for that.''
The disappointment of last season, which was capped by dispiriting losses to USC and Nebraska, obscured the fact that Mora has built a durable winner in Westwood. UCLA hasn't won the Pac-12 since 1998, but the Bruins have been a contender for four straight seasons, which hadn't been true in the previous two decades.
The Bruins also have Rosen, who certainly seems to be the type of quarterback who can turn a good team into a powerhouse.
He passed for 3,670 yards and 23 touchdowns as a freshman, but he'll have to hook up with a largely new set of receivers this fall.
New offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu is building a run-based offense utilizing tight ends and fullbacks. The change will be significant, but it could mean big opportunities for Rosen, who will have the chance to direct the Bruins' approach to a greater degree.
Here's what to know about UCLA:
HEALTHY AND HAPPY: UCLA never really recovered from losing three of its best defensive players to injuries early last season. Linebacker Myles Jack didn't even wait until the year ended before bolting for the NFL, but the other two are back: run-stuffing defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes and cornerback Fabian Moreau. They rejoin a defense already returning eight starters, although their 2015 unit was porous at times.
TAILBACK TRIO: Paul Perkins bolted early for the New York Giants, but three gifted tailbacks are still in uniform. Soso Jamabo, Nate Starks and Bolu Olorunfunmi all showed star potential last season while combining for 923 yards. They'll compete aggressively for carries – and there should be plenty, if the Bruins' new offense is running properly.
BIG KICK: Ka'imi Fairbairn, the Pac-12's career scoring leader, is gone after four seasons as UCLA's kicker. Freshman J.J. Molson is likely to take over.
SEASON OPENER: The Bruins travel to College Station for an intersectional against Texas A&M. It's a tough trip, but Mora's squads have played exceptionally well in similar early-season games away from Pasadena, beating Texas, Nebraska, Virginia and Rice during his tenure. The Bruins will have to do it again two weeks later on a trip to BYU.
KEY GAMES: Stanford visits the Rose Bowl on Sept. 24, giving Mora his next chance to stanch his 0-5 record against David Shaw; Washington State, which shockingly beat UCLA last season, hosts the Bruins on Oct. 15; and USC visits for the 86th crosstown showdown Nov. 19.
PREDICTION: Given how many important things broke poorly for the Bruins last season, perhaps it's time for things to run in the other direction this fall. With Rosen at the controls, anything seems possible for the new offense. If the defense can avoid last season's ridiculous injuries, UCLA is capable of a 10-win season and a trip back to the Pac-12 title game.