UCLA Football: 5 Under-the-Radar Players You Must Know

Marcelo VillaFeatured Columnist IIIMarch 28, 2012

UCLA Football: 5 Under-the-Radar Players You Must Know

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    UCLA head coach Jim Mora, Jr. has publicly expressed that every player on the roster will have an equal opportunity to be a starter in 2012, so which under-the-radar players have the best chance at getting ample playing time next season? There's five you should know.

    Restoring the reputation of UCLA's legendary football program will be no easy task for first-year coach Mora, but a favorable recruiting class and several returning starters does lessen the incline of a steep uphill climb. After a dry spell coaching in the NFL, Mora tries his hand at the college game ironically at the same university his father served as a coach for back in the day.

    Players are excited knowing that 2012 will present a lot of new opportunities and changes to a struggling program specifically on the depth chart, and Mora will take the allotted time needed to decide who will fill open holes next season. Because of how poorly the Bruins played last season, you could make a case that every player on this team is under-the-radar, but five specific players stand out when you think of potential breakout seasons.

5. RB Malcolm Jones

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    There's been a lot of talk about most of the rushing carries going to featured starter Johnathan Franklin and the young electric Jordon James but people are completely forgetting about junior Malcolm Jones.

    Jones should get his fair share of carries next season after spending most of his career behind Franklin and former Bruin Derrick Coleman. The Oaks Christian graduate rushed for 103 yards and a touchdown last season while filling most of his time doing dirty work on special teams. The former Gatorade Player of the Year had a prolific high school career but hasn't had the opportunity to translate that same success at the college level.

    Because the rushing attack will be so heavily relied upon in 2012, Jones may finally get his chance in a rotation of some sort.

4. CB Andrew Abbott

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    Cornerback Andrew Abbott was used in a defensive back rotation last season and still ended up becoming one of UCLA's top defenders. Now in his senior season, Abbott will be a veteran in the defensive backfield after earning his stripes though four seasons in the Bruins defense.

    Abbot led the team in interceptions with four and collected 44 tackles from his corner position. He and safety Tevin McDonald are two of the best defenders in the UCLA secondary this season and will have to step up in 2012 for a defense that gave up nearly 300 yards passing per game.

3. OLB Jordan Zumwalt

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    Junior Jordan Zumwalt is finally starting to prove the hype was for real when he was recruited to UCLA as one of the best linebackers in the country. Zumwalt totaled 60 tackles, six for a loss, and one interception as an outside linebacker last season.

    The conversion to a 3-4 defense makes for an interesting scenario in Zumwalt's case. UCLA could elect to use Zumwalt as a situational edge-rusher and utilize his ability to get in the backfield so quickly. The Huntington Beach, Calif., native was already successful in the 4-3, but the new defense gives him more freedom to make plays all over the field. Some analysts are already predicting Zumwalt as a possible Sunday regular at the next level.

2. ILB Eric Kendricks

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    Inside linebacker and team captain Patrick Larimore will return healthy for the Bruins in 2012 after suffering a thumb injury that kept him out of the team's bowl game last season, and filling the middle of the defense next to him will be sophomore Eric Kendricks.

    In his first season on the field, Kendricks showed fans why they should be excited about UCLA's defense for the next few years. The Fresno, Calif., native wasn't even a starter in 2011, yet he was second on the team in tackles with 76, including 4.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. The conversion to a 3-4 defense next season means Kendricks and Larimore will be double trouble for opposing offenses.

    There was some worry as to how the linebacking corps will fare without Sean Westgate but Kendricks shot that down with a stellar first season.

1. QB Brett Hundley

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    Quarterback play made former head coach Rick Neuheisel rip his hair out last season and unless a change is made, Mora could share the same bald fate in 2012.

    Kevin Prince has looked absolutely horrendous, and while fans pleaded he be benched, Neuheisel was relentless to keep giving him second chances. Bad decisions and inconsistency by Prince led to frequent sideline visits and a healthy earful from Neuheisel.

    When Neuheisel finally handed the reins to Richard Brehaut, it all came crashing down before him when his backup quarterback suffered a broken leg. Brehaut's injury was a pity considering he was actually playing quite well. Neuheisel had no other choice but to give Prince his job back.

    In 2012 Mora finds himself in a bit of a pickle with his starting quarterback. Prince has returned for his senior season along with a recovered Brehaut, but a third player has entered the mix for the starting job. That player is redshirt freshman Brett Hundley.

    Hundley was highly recruited out of high school and has been patiently waiting for his opportunity to compete. A dual-threat quarterback with athleticism, Hundley's chances of being the starter next season are a lot closer than you might think.

    You have to figure Mora will look at Prince and give him plenty of opportunities to win him over during spring ball, but a bad track record under center isn't helping his case. Brehaut, on the other hand, is a favorite to win the job after showing some poise in limited playing time last season, but a devotion to the UCLA baseball team may be what prevents him from getting the nod. Brehaut has juggled his dedication between the two before, but there is concern his focus is hazy as he nears the end of his college career and has to make decisions about his future.

    Hundley is inexperienced and untested to entrust your season to as a first-year head coach of the program, but Mora has stated before he will not make his decisions based on experience but rather on performance.