Last year, there was a lot of hype surrounding UCLA Football. Brett Hundley was on the cover of Sports Illustrated twice before the season even started. Everyone seemed to think that last year could be "the year" that UCLA broke its national championship drought in football.
Well, we all know how that turned out. A tough loss to Utah at home without throwing the ball deep once followed by another loss to Oregon which got so bad that our defensive coordinator seemingly quit mid-game. But, despite that, the team still had a path to the playoffs going into the final game of the regular season against Stanford. When you come out flat against a well-coached Cardinal team, you can't expect to win and that's exactly what happened.
This year, however, the hype seems to be gone.
With the exception of Diddy swinging a kettle bell at Coach Sal Alosi in June, UCLA football has remained out of the news.
Other than that, very little has changed with this year's Bruin team. There will be a new quarterback and a much more experienced coach takes over as our defensive coordinator and that's really about it.
To be sure, these are significant changes. I expect that our defense will be much tougher this year. The players have an extra year of experience they didn't have last year and I believe that Tom Bradley will have a big impact on our defensive play.
And, for the record, having heard Coach Mora talk about the Bradley vetting process in the Spring has convinced me that Coach Bradley was an excellent hire. That's what I personally wanted to hear all along.
Offensively, we cannot dismiss the impact of having a new quarterback. All signs currently seem to point to the new QB being freshman Josh Rosen, but, personally, I'm not ready to write off Jerry Neuheisel yet.
This is the biggest question mark on the team as they head into fall camp two weeks from today. And, how much will that impact the team's performance throughout the course of the season, obviously, remains to be seen.
How should the QB competition affect our expectations for the Bruins this season?
Many fans may answer by saying "It depends on who plays." as many are more willing to forgive poor play if the starting quarterback is Josh Rosen, the true freshman.
I, however, argue that the QB competition shouldn't affect our expectations at all. Why?
Well, Coach Mora didn't say much about the QB competition during the Spring. When asked who the starting quarterback will be, he consistently said, "The guy who lines up for the first snap against Virginia on September 5th." And, while that battle has one less competitor due to the departure of Asiantii Woulard, that occurred after Coach Mora publicly said that he wasn't interested at all in bringing in Everett Golson as a graduate transfer. He went as far as to tell Bruins Nation that he would tell Golson that "we're set." at an event for his Count on Me Family Foundation.
That shows a degree of satisfaction with the quarterback position, probably brought about by the results of Spring Practice. To me, that says that Bruin fans should be concerned one way or another who lines up at QB for UCLA. Our coach is so pleased with the progress our quarterbacks have made that bringing in a player who led another team to a BCS Title Game was unnecessary.
Based on this, our schedule this year favors UCLA's chances to win the Pac-12 South as Washington State and Oregon State replace UW and Oregon on the schedule, leaving a Thursday night road game at Stanford on October 15th as the toughest game on the schedule.
But, this is where Tom Bradley's experience should prove invaluable. At Penn State, Bradley coached tough defenses that faced teams that liked to pound the ball on the ground, similar to Stanford. Expect the defense to be very well-prepared to stop the Stanford offense this year.
Based on the idea that our defense will be much better prepared this season than they were last season, it is very possible that UCLA could go into the $c game undefeated. Many of the so-called experts are predicting that the $c game could prove to be the deciding factor for the Pac-12 South. That may prove to be true, but it's also possible that UCLA could have the Pac-12 South already wrapped up.
Regardless, the Bruins will win the Pac-12 South this year and play in the Pac-12 Championship Game in Santa Clara, where a win could put them in the College Football Playoffs. But, I don't think they will have enough offensive firepower this year to win the P12CG against Oregon.
So, I believe that the Bruins will likely miss the CFP this year and "settle" for playing in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1999.
This year will be a year where the excuses about youth will, for the most part, be gone. The offensive line is loaded with experienced players. Paul Perkins is an experienced running back who led the conference in rushing last season. The entire defense is loaded with experienced players and now has an experienced defensive coordinator.
The only position where the coaching staff may fall back to the youth excuse is quarterback and there will be times where that will result in mistakes being made. But, it's on the coaching staff to provide the direction and the guidance necessary to show that last season's 10th ranked finish was not a fluke.
It's time for the coaching staff to...well...coach the team to the Pac-12 Championship Game and at least a Rose Bowl berth.