10 Bold Predictions for UCLA Bruins' 1st Season with Jim Mora Jr.
Jim Mora Jr. has more than a decade of NFL coaching experience under his belt, but in 2012, he will take on the fairly challenging task of turning around the once historic football program at UCLA.
The Bruins finished last season with a loss to Illinois in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl and a 6-8 record overall under former head coach Rick Neuheisel. Mora's hiring at UCLA came with its share of criticism from fans and analysts alike, but this may be the year the Bruins begin to rebuild.
Mora's energy and positive attitude sounds promising, and a favorable recruiting class makes the task at hand a bit easier. All the tools are in place for Mora to have a decent first year with the Bruins, but there are certainly no guarantees.
Instead, here are 10 bold predictions for Mora's first season with UCLA.
1. UCLA Will Finish Above .500
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Under Rick Neuheisel, the Bruins finished above .500 in just one of his four seasons with the team. Last season, the team qualified for the Pac-12 championship game despite a losing record.
The only reason the team qualified for the game was due to the fact that cross-town rival USC was ineligible to participate in postseason games at the time. Now that USC is eligible to compete in 2012, it will be much tougher to contend in the Pac-12 South.
At the very least, the Bruins should finish the season above .500 and possibly earn a bid into one of the lower-ranked bowl games.
2. UCLA Will Be Better on Offense
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Last season, UCLA was the ninth-ranked offense in the Pac-12 with 376.6 yards per game. The rushing game was a bright spot on the team, while quarterback play was one of the worst in the conference.
New offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone will be the answer to the team's lack of offensive production. Mazzone was the offensive coordinator for ASU last season and helped develop Brock Osweiler into one of the best quarterbacks in the Pac-12. The Sun Devils also ranked near the top in the Pac-12 offensively.
Neuheisel ran the pistol offense at UCLA, which is why the running game was so heavily favored, but Mazzone and the Sun Devils functioned with a pro-style offense that created balance between the running and passing game.
If UCLA adopts the pro-style offense next season, Mazzone will look to establish that same type of balance, thus making the quarterback a more important component on offense.
3. UCLA Will Lead the Pac-12 South in Rushing
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The punishing duo of Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman was ranked third in the Pac-12 with 2,497 yards rushing and should rank near the top once again in 2012.
With a question mark at the quarterback position next season, the Bruins will be heavily relying on their rushing game for production. Franklin is more than willing to carry the workload for the Bruins and could have a breakout season if he can duplicate the type of season he had last year.
The loss of Coleman is a tough one, but Franklin is capable of 1,000 yards rushing and becoming the feature back for UCLA.
4. Kevin Prince Will No Longer Be the Starting Quarterback
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This may not be much of a bold prediction, but it's something that Bruins fans will be happy to hear. Kevin Prince was given numerous chances to be the starting quarterback at UCLA, but he continued to make costly mistakes in key situations for his team.
Neuheisel invested a lot of time and effort into helping Prince improve last season, but it just doesn't seem to be working out. Last season was a definite improvement from 2010 for Prince, but this may be the season he finds a permanent spot on the bench.
Top recruits Devin Fuller and T.J. Milweard are nationally ranked quarterbacks and will challenge Prince for the role of backup along with Brett Hundley. Prince will undoubtedly compete to earn the starting role, but he may need a miracle to beat out so many polished candidates.
5. Richard Brehaut Will Be the Starter in 2012
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A broken leg cut Richard Brehaut's season short in 2011, but he showed his ability to manage a game on offense and protect the ball.
Despite only playing in six games of the regular season, Brehaut came just shy of 1,000 yards passing and threw for six touchdowns and no interceptions. In the season opener against the University of Houston, Brehaut threw for 264 yards and two touchdowns while completing a little more than 65 percent of his passes.
Brehaut will have a lot of competition in training camp against Hundley and the additions of Fuller and Milweard, but he will have the edge in experience when Mora makes his decision.
If Brehaut can stay healthy, the Bruins will benefit from having a quarterback that won't make costly turnovers and will help them in the passing game.
6. UCLA's Recruiting Class Will Have an Early Impact
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Jim Mora Jr. and his coaching staff tirelessly put forth the effort to have one of college football's top recruiting classes, and some of these players may very well play when the season starts and have an early impact.
Mora's class includes four players ranked in the top 100 prospects and one of the top defensive tackles in the nation in Monrovia, Calif. native Ellis McCarthy. Mora has stated that every position will be a competition and that experience will not be an issue when deciding on starters, so this class of recruits will have a very good chance of seeing early playing time.
If Mora continues to put together recruiting classes like this one, UCLA's program may be on the rise in terms of talent.
7. UCLA Will Finish Second in the Pac-12 South
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Contending for the Pac-12 championship may be a bit of a reach for the Bruins in 2012 with powerhouse USC back in the mix, but a realistic prediction may be that the team will finish second in the Pac-12 South.
Aside from USC, the Bruins will face stiff competition from ASU and possibly Utah. However, Mora and his class of new recruits should be enough to get UCLA the second-best record in the division.
ASU was in line for a spot in the championship game last season but lost key games down the stretch and failed to make the cut. The Sun Devils are also coming of a loss to Boise State in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas.
ASU is in a similar situation with new head coach Todd Graham taking the reins in 2012, but it may not be enough to get it back to its winning ways.
8. UCLA Will Not Be Blown out by USC
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The battle for the Victory Bell was meant to be one of college football's greatest rivalry games, but in recent years, the game has turned out be more of a UCLA beatdown at the hands of USC.
Last November, the Bruins were flat out embarrassed in a 50-0 blowout by Matt Barkley and the Trojans. The shutout of the Bruins may have been a factor in the decision to let Rick Neuheisel go at the end of the season.
The rivalry game between both L.A. schools is a part of the historic tradition at UCLA, and Jim Mora Jr. can't afford to be blown out in his first season with team. The Bruins may not have the talent to win this game, but they should make it more competitive the next time around.
9. UCLA Will Be Better Defensively
The combined efforts of Jim Mora Jr. and defensive coordinator Lou Spanos will help bolster a defense that ranked near the bottom in the Pac-12.
Mora was the defensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers from 1999 to 2003, while Spanos served as a defensive assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1995 to 2009 during their Super Bowl dominance thanks to an elite defense.
Mora will most likely take control of the defense in 2012, but Spanos will be a big contributor as well. The Bruins have fresh new recruits on defense that are highly ranked, so lack of talent shouldn't be an issue on the defensive side of the ball.
10. Jim Mora Jr. Will Stay Employed Until the End of His Contract
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Five years is plenty of time to turn a program around, and Jim Mora Jr. is an experienced enough coach to make changes in Westwood. Rick Neuheisel was given five years with the Bruins as well but was fired after four losing seasons.
Mora won't be expected to match the success of USC's football program, but at the very least, he'll be expected to put up a better showing than Neuheisel.
Mora's first season with the Bruins will prove whether he's ready to move the team in the right direction, and if UCLA starts off slow out of the gate, he may find himself on the hot seat before his contract expires.
This first season will need to be a strong first impression in order to make it to the end of his contract.