Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Final 2013 Record: 10-3 (6-3 in the Pac-12)
Quarterback Brett Hundley's decision to return to UCLA for his redshirt junior season catapulted the Bruins into the Top 10 of early 2014 rankings and generated a buzz around the program not felt in many years.
How many years? Try 60. Hundley addressed UCLA faithful at a Bruins basketball game against Arizona on Jan. 9, saying he hopes to win a national championship, a feat not accomplished there since 1954.
UCLA certainly won't waltz to a national championship or even the Pac-12 South crown. The Bruins are the division's only team that draws North opponents Oregon, Stanford and Washington, a murderer's row that promises to test the Bruins' mettle.
And, though Hundley is back, there are gaps still to be filled.
Hundley will play behind a more seasoned offensive line, which began coming into its own with three freshmen starting by season's end. However, anchor Xavier Su'a-Filo opted to enter May's NFL draft. The Bruins also lost Torian White to indefinite suspension shortly after injury cut his campaign short.
Shaquelle Evans, the most consistent target in the passing game, is gone, and the injury-plagued corps of running backs never quite had anyone take the reins Johnathan Franklin left behind.
UCLA also loses one of the most high-impact performers in college football, linebacker Anthony Barr, as well as hard-hitting middle linebacker Jordan Zumwalt.
No, it won't be a cakewalk for UCLA. But there's no doubt that the Bruins look like front-runners on paper.
Mora has recruited exceptionally well—for evidence, look no further than the outstanding play of linebacker Myles Jack, the Pac-12's Defensive and Offensive Freshman of the Year. Jack was the face of a 2013 freshman class, 18 of whom played at some point.
That group of 18 includes defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes, who played a prominent role down the stretch. The offensive line trio of Caleb Benenoch, Scott Quessenberry and Alex Redmond also has invaluable experience, which should translate to a more confident Hundley operating in the pocket.