UCLA Football: The State of the Program After 2013 Season
The 2013 season for Jim Mora and the UCLA Bruins should be labeled as a success.
Mora's extremely young team managed to go 9-3, culminating in a blowout 35-14 victory over crosstown foe Southern Cal in the Coliseum. On the basis of beating the Trojans alone, the season was a good one.
The team took major strides in becoming a prominent program on the West Coast. Mora played 18 true freshmen this season, and he relied almost exclusively on underclassmen to make up his two-deep depth chart.
With a majority of the team returning in 2014, the future appears to be considerably bright.
Here's a look at the program in its current state, and a glimpse into the future for the UCLA Bruins.
The status of redshirt sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley will be the single biggest question mark facing the football program in the offseason.
Should the talented signal-caller return to Westwood, UCLA has the makings of a very dominant 2014 team. Hundley's return could also signal the first real Heisman Trophy candidate in years for UCLA.
Anthony Barr, Keenan Graham, Cassius Marsh and Jordan Zumwalt are the main contributors on defense that graduate. Offensively, Shaq Evans is the only big contributor exhausting his collegiate eligibility.
Offensive lineman Xavier Su'a-Filo could opt to leave for the NFL, but it's not known at this time as to his plans for the next level.
UCLA will return the vast majority of its team in 2014. A group comprised mostly of freshmen and sophomores will now become sophomores and juniors.
The 4-star athlete (per Scout.com) out of Bellevue, Wash., is a pit bull on the field. Although not overly big for the safety position, he more than makes up for it with his physicality and intelligence on the field. His game is eerily similar to that of former All-Pro safety Bob Sanders.
Baker hails from the same high school as current UCLA Bruin Myles Jack. The two are said to be very good friends. Baker took an unofficial visit to UCLA this past weekend, and will trip officially towards the end of January.
He is down to UCLA, Oregon and Washington at this point.
Mixon is the premier running back not only in the state of California, but from a national perspective as well. Rivals.com rates Mixon as the ninth-best player in the entire country.
UCLA needs help at the running back position. At times this past season, four of the five scholarship backs on the roster were out with injury. The Bruins also don't possess what anyone would call an every-down back. The majority of the tailbacks on the squad are smaller, quicker types that excel from more of a situational standpoint.
Mixon would instantly upgrade the position for UCLA. Not only would he become the biggest back on the roster, but he'd provide the Bruins with an option to carry the proverbial load in the backfield. His potential arrival could also keep Myles Jack fresh as a linebacker.
The 5-star athlete (per Scout.com) from Fresno is another elite skill player with the ability to impact UCLA's offense early.
Living up to his surname, Quick is very agile and athletic. He's capable of making people miss in space, and using his electric speed to turn a five-yard catch into a 50-yard touchdown.
UCLA desperately needs an injection of athleticism in its receiving corps. Quick has the ability to come in right away and impact the depth chart.
Stars of the Future
Wide receiver Devin Lucien stepped up towards the end of the season, giving the team hope that he could turn into a very good receiver down the line.
Lucien, along with Devin Fuller, could make a big leap in 2014. Lucien's productivity increased considerably in the last portion of this season. He made two huge grabs against Southern Cal, which both got the Bruins first downs.
Fuller is the quickest and most elusive receiver on the roster. He finished second on the team in catches with 42. When healthy, he's dynamic from the slot and absolutely devastating on crossing routes.
Defensive linemen Kenny Clark and Eddie Vanderdoes are two athletes with great futures. Both true freshmen, Clark and Vanderdoes started the majority of the year on the defensive line. As the nose guard, Clark was stout and held his position incredibly well. His ability to push the center back into the quarterback and effectively collapse the pocket was impressive.
Vanderdoes has a motor that doesn't stop. He uses his hands quite well and has a combination of a quickness and power that flashes on film.
The thing is, UCLA's roster is littered with young players that have the potential to be big contributors down the line. The aforementioned list above doesn't even include the likes of Thomas Duarte, Alex Redmond, Tahaan Goodman, Caleb Benenoch, Kenny Orjioke, Ellis McCarthy or Priest Willis.
And for the record, Myles Jack already is a star.
The coaching carousel hit Los Angeles with much fervor last week.
Washington made a strong attempt to pry Jim Mora away from Westwood. Ultimately, Mora opted to stick with his current situation over his alma mater. UCLA unsurprisingly announced an extension for Mora and a dedication to improving its football program.
Southern Cal's new coach Steve Sarkisian made a ploy to sway UCLA offensive line coach Adrian Klemm to USC. Klemm turned down the Trojans and got a raise with the Bruins.
Lastly, UCLA fired running backs coach Steve Broussard. Mora made a shrewd hire in bringing on Kennedy Polamalu as the new coach of the backfield.
Polamalu is one of the most respected running backs coach in any level of football. He's got extensive recruiting ties in the state of California. He's also a revered figure within the Polynesian community. In short, he's a dynamic recruiter.
Continuity is key with this staff. It's a group that enjoys working with one another. A big reason why is the relationship the staff has with Mora.
The prospects of the 2014 season truly does hinge on the return of Brett Hundley.
If Hundley does not return, UCLA will rely likely upon redshirt freshman quarterback Asiantii Woulard to take the reigns of the offense. Woulard has yet to play up to this point. Barring a Jameis Winston-like season, it's unlikely that UCLA would improve upon the 9-3 record of this year.
If Hundley does return, the Bruins have a viable shot at playing in a BCS Bowl game. As pointed out earlier in the piece, UCLA returns the majority of its roster.
The schedule also should be relatively favorable. UCLA will play Oregon, Stanford and Southern Cal all in the Rose Bowl.
This is a program on the rise. Mora has awoken the "sleeping giant," and he has this team on the track towards national prominence.