UCLA Football: 5 Underclassmen the Bruins Can Build Around in 2013
The UCLA Bruins relied on many underclassmen at vital positions this past season, and 2013 will be no different.
Fortunately for the Bruins, the inexperienced players from a year ago will likely be more apt to perform at a higher level.
Much of the success for next season will fall on the shoulders of a sophomore quarterback. Protecting that sophomore quarterback will be an offensive line compromised of three sophomores, and the sophomore quarterback will be throwing to mostly sophomore wide receivers.
In addition, three-fourths of the secondary from a year ago is gone, leaving a gaping hole that's expected to be filled by more underclassmen.
Here is a look at five underclassmen that that the Bruins can build around.
*Note: This piece will focus solely on players that are currently on the roster. Incoming recruits won't be figured into things until a later date.
The center has a myriad of responsibilities on the football field.
Often being pegged as the lynchpin, or glue that holds the line together, a center needs to be able to make the proper calls at the line of scrimmage, in addition to proving a capable snap back to the quarterback.
Those responsibilities are usually undertaken by a veteran lineman. Out of necessity, the Bruins relied on redshirt freshman Jake Brendel this past season, and the results were positive.
The Plano, Texas native was a revelation from the position. Not only was he technically sound, but he flashed good athleticism and a nastiness.
Those two characteristics aren't usually associated with UCLA offensive linemen, so it was a welcomed surprise. Brendel is also a highly intelligent player (as he's a Mathematics/Applied Science major).
Essentially, the Bruins have their starting center (barring injury) for the foreseeable future. That development is huge, considering that the words "consistency" and "UCLA offensive line" haven't been grouped together in the same sentence for quite some time.
Due to his play this past season, Brendel was named as a First Team Freshman All-American by Sporting News.
The Bruins will lose three starters in the secondary to graduation this past season. Ample playing time will be available, and it's a complete toss up as to who will man the unit next year.
However, it's evident that Randall Goforth will figure into the mix somewhere.
The Long Beach Poly product played in all fourteen contests last year, and started in five of the games. Goforth demonstrated that he's a very savvy football player. He impressed with not only his intuitiveness, but also with his maturity.
Goforth's value also comes from the fact that he's incredible versatile. He's more than capable of playing as a cornerback, in addition to playing at safety or even as a nickel back.
With UCLA's monster recruiting class in the secondary coming in, competition for the four spots will be fierce.
Although he'll be just a true sophomore, Goforth will be one of the more experienced members of the unit. With his mental approach to the game, he'll surely garner a starting spot at either corner or safety. His ultimate positioning will most likely depend on the play of the incoming freshmen.
It would be expected for a redshirt freshman quarterback to struggle initially. It'd be even more likely that the redshirt freshman's season would resemble that of a roller coaster, as opposed to an ascending plane into the sky.
Brett Hundley broke the traditional norm—along with a few UCLA records in the process.
The now-redshirt sophomore quarterback from Chandler, Ariz. threw for 3,740 yards and 29 touchdowns in his freshman campaign.
Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that he set the record for most passing yards in a single season, the record for total offense in a single season and set the mark for the most completions in a single season for a Bruins quarterback.
Hundley is one of the biggest reasons as to why UCLA's win total jumped from six to nine this past season. He's added not only a dynamic element at quarterback, but he's also brought stability to the table at a position that's lacked it immensely over the past decade.
It's scary to think that Hundley conceivably has three more years on the collegiate level. Assuming he stays healthy, he's in line to become a serious Heisman Trophy candidate in years to come.
Devin Lucien put up rather modest numbers this past year.
For the season, he had 10 catches for 188 yards. He also was held out of eight games due to a collarbone injury.
With that said, why is he even on the list? Simply put, the soon-to-be redshirt sophomore from Crespi High School represents the most electric and explosive option on the outside for the Bruins.
Lucien has proven to be an acrobatic performer during this his limited time on the field. He's got a pair of extremely strong hands, and is very good at pursuing the ball in the air.
It's no secret that the Bruins have lacked a "game-changing" player from the perimeter. Of the prospects currently on the team, Lucien has the best chance to be that guy.
Expect him to battle for a starting spot this upcoming year alongside Shaq Evans.
Paul Perkins has a legitimate shot at becoming the Bruins' starting running back next season.
For many casual observers, the name Paul Perkins might be one shrouded in mystery.
Perkins did not play last year, and redshirted as a freshman. The Queen Creek, Ariz. native had the ability to play last season, but it didn't make much sense to burn his redshirt—especially with Johnathan Franklin and Damien Thigpen commanding the majority of the carries.
With Franklin off to the NFL and Thigpen recuperating a torn ACL, the position is completely wide open. To make things even more interesting, projected contributor Craig Lee has yet to get the qualifying score needed to enroll. Lee was expected to be a major factor right off the bat.
Of the remaining tailbacks, Perkins potentially best fits the mold as an every down back. Jordon James is more of a specialist at this point, often used on swing passes. In addition, Steven Manfro isn't nearly big enough to carry the load consistently.
Former 5-star recruit Malcolm Jones will walk back onto the football team after leaving the squad early last season. Jones has yet to demonstrate the lofty hype that he had entering college. It's a guessing game as to how he'll perform once thrown back into the fold.
Perkins is solidly built, and based on his high school tape, runs with great balance. He also hits the hole extremely hard before bursting out into the open.
Expect the Arizona native to make some noise in the running backs derby—even possibly garnering a starting role when it's all said and done.