- New head coach Jim Mora, Jr. inherits a very good situation as UCLA welcomes back sixteen starters and 51 lettermen (only sixteen lost), while bringing with him an outstanding recruiting class. Mora, who spent the past two years as an NFL analyst and was previously an NFL head coach for both the Seattle Seahawks (2009) and Atlanta Falcons (2004-2006), has nine returning starters on defense and boasts one of the nation’s best defensive lines.
- The Bruins enter the 2012-2013 season with one of the most improved defensive lines in the country as they welcome back four players with starting experience, and six of the top eight linemen overall. North Carolina transfer Brandon Willis will further enhance an already solid defensive front for UCLA.
- UCLA also takes the field with an excellent secondary that consists of seven players who started last season, including Aaron Hester, Sheldon Price and Tevin McDonald. The Bruins only lose two part-time starters so this unit is more experienced and should make large gains over last year’s secondary.
- While UCLA will certainly be strong on defense, the Bruins also enter this season with an excellent backfield that is supported by a very good offensive line. In fact, UCLA’s backfield is arguably the best unit in the Pac-12 Conference this year as it boasts Johnathan Franklin, who has a legitimate opportunity to break the school’s record in rushing yards (needs 1,063 yards this season). With two of its top three running backs returning from last year, look for the Bruins to have success on the ground in 2012.
- The Bruins also remain very strong along the offensive line with left tackle Xavier Su’a-Filo and guard Jeff Baca leading the way. Last year’s offensive line paved the way for 4.8 yards per rush attempt, and I expect improvement upon those numbers in 2012. With Franklin in the backfield, look for the Bruins to feature a strong running game that takes advantage of their talented offensive line.
- The wild card for UCLA is quarterback Kevin Prince, who suffered a plethora of injuries during the Rick Neuheisel era, including a broken jaw, a separated shoulder and two concussions. Prince threw for 1,826 yards (56.2% completion rate) with a 12-8 ratio last year, but there is a real chance that Mora may give the starting nod to one of his freshman recruits. If I had a better idea of how UCLA’s quarterback situation was going to play out, I would be more aggressive in calling for the Bruins to compete for the Pac-12 South Title.
UCLA is one of the most experienced teams in college football, and Jim Mora, Jr. brings a valuable NFL pedigree with him to Los Angeles. With sixteen returning starters and a very good recruiting class, UCLA fans have every reason to be optimistic this year.