UCLA Football: Early Game-by-Game Prediction for the 2014 Season
Although we're only in May, it's never too early to take a look ahead at the upcoming schedule this season for Jim Mora and the UCLA football team.
It's a daunting schedule, to say the least. A nonconference tilt across the country at Virginia is followed shortly after by a high-profile contest versus the Texas Longhorns at AT&T Stadium.
The conference slate features difficult games on the road against Arizona State and Washington, followed by home clashes against the likes of Southern Cal, Oregon and Stanford.
Here's a look at a very early game-by-game prediction for the UCLA Bruins.
*UCLA's entire regular-season schedule for 2014 can be found here.
August 30: At Virginia
The game in Charlottesville, Virginia, will be somewhat fascinating.
UCLA will be making the trip across the country to the other coast. The kickoff time is scheduled for 12:00 p.m. ET.
It wouldn't be a complete shock to see the Bruins start a bit slow considering they have to navigate the three-hour time difference. With that said, UCLA has much more talent across the board. Virginia went 2-10 in a weak ACC last season. The Cavaliers will also be relying on inconsistent and inexperienced personnel.
I expect Virginia to start well, but the talent disparity will be too great to overcome.
Result: Win (1-0)
September 6: Vs. Memphis
Much like Virginia, Memphis doesn't have a ton of talent. The Tigers went 3-9 last year in the AAC. Leading rusher Brandon Hayes has graduated, thus leaving much of the load on the shoulders of sophomore quarterback Paxton Lynch.
This will be the first home game of the year for Brett Hundley and UCLA. I expect to see plenty of offensive fireworks in this contest.
One concern could be the Bruins looking ahead to the following week's game versus Texas. Knowing Mora and the coaching staff, though, it shouldn't be a problem.
Result: Win (2-0)
September 13: Texas (in Arlington, Texas)
This will be the biggest early season test for the Bruins. Charlie Strong takes over a program loaded with both talent and expectation.
Although the game is technically being played at a neutral site, I'd expect the vast majority of the audience in attendance to be wearing burnt orange.
With a new coaching staff and uncertainty at the quarterback position, there's no telling how good Texas will truly be. This game likely will be nationally televised. UCLA will want to perform well on the big stage and should be able to win.
Hundley's brilliance will be the difference ultimately.
Result: Win (3-0)
September 25: At Arizona State
UCLA will want to exact revenge upon its Pac-12 South Division rival.
In recent memory, both Arizona State and UCLA have been evenly matched. The Bruins beat the Sun Devils in 2011 and 2012 by a combined three points, while ASU beat UCLA last season by five points in the Rose Bowl.
Graham's team does return stud quarterback Taylor Kelly and wide receiver Jaelen Strong. However, ASU also lost the majority of its talented defense from a year ago.
I'd expect this game to yet again be close. Playing on the road in Tempe is never an easy proposition. Fortunately for UCLA, it has almost two weeks to prepare for ASU. With the amount of defensive starters the Sun Devils will have to replace, UCLA should be able to win narrowly.
Result: Win (4-0)
October 4: Vs. Utah
Like ASU, the Utah Utes have played UCLA tough for the past two seasons. Both games were decided by a touchdown.
Utah brings a physical style of football to the table. What it lacks in athleticism and speed, it makes up for in power and sheer size.
Utah signal-caller Travis Wilson was victimized by six interceptions in last year's game. He also has battled concussion issues. His health (or lack thereof) will go a long way in determining how good Utah will be this year.
I don't expect a blowout, due to Kyle Whittingham's prowess as a defensive coach. However, UCLA should win the game by 10-14 points.
Result: Win (5-0)
October 11: Vs. Oregon
This will be the biggest test of the season for UCLA.
At this point, Oregon and UCLA should find themselves undefeated. In theory, both will also likely be Top 10 teams.
Oregon is an explosive team. Even without Bralon Addison (lost for the year due to a torn ACL), the dynamic backfield of Thomas Tyner, Byron Marshall and Royce Freeman is the deepest in the nation. Meanwhile, quarterback Marcus Mariota will be one of the top players in college football this season. His combination of arm strength and mobility makes him a nightmare to defend against.
Playing the game at the Rose Bowl surely helps UCLA's chances at becoming victorious. However, I'm not sure the team will be quite ready to take on a team of Oregon's caliber.
Result: Loss (5-1)
October 18: At Cal
Sonny Dykes suffered a very tough first year in Berkeley. Injuries and a lack of consistency led to a 1-11 season.
The talent level between the two teams isn't close. UCLA should have no problem wininng this game (and handily). However, the Bruins have not beaten Cal in Berkeley since 1998. This statistic should give the Berkeley faithful a bit of hope.
But barring a complete collapse, this should be the year UCLA exorcises the proverbial demons.
Result: Win (6-1)
October 25: At Colorado
Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre is doing an admirable job of rebuilding a depleted program. It won't be too long until Colorado is a respectable, quality opponent. At this point, however, the team doesn't have the requisite amount of depth or talent to be overly competitive.
The altitude in Boulder could pose a problem, but UCLA should have no issue winning the contest.
Result: Win (7-1)
November 1: Vs. Arizona
This could end up being a very interesting contest.
Although Arizona's stud running back, Ka'Deem Carey, is now in the NFL, the wide receiver corps for Rich Rodriguez could be the most talented in the conference. Notre Dame transfer DaVonte' Neal, Texas transfer Cayleb Jones, Austin Hill and Garic Wharton should be a very potent quartet.
Arizona's biggest question will be at quarterback. Four players are currently vying for the starting gig.
The Wildcats could pose some problems. Rodriguez runs an unconventional 3-3-5 defense to go along with an explosive offense.
Regardless, UCLA is bigger up front on both sides of the ball. It should be able to win the game in the trenches.
Result: Win (8-1)
November 8: At Washington
The contest against Washington will be the ultimate trap game.
For one, it'll be the first time Mora comes back to coach against his alma mater. Secondly, new Huskies head coach Chris Petersen has inherited a very talented roster. Peterson's coaching acumen is quite impressive. He should be able to have success with the personnel left in his hands.
Third, the crowd in the newly renovated Husky Stadium provides a tremendous atmosphere. November in Seattle will also likely result in cold, wet, windy weather.
For all of those reasons, UCLA will be upset.
Result: Loss (8-2)
November 22: Vs. Southern Cal
This year will mark the return of Steve Sarkisian to Los Angeles. He inherits a team with good talent within the starting lineup. Defensively, USC will be buoyed by a strong defensive line, and captain Hayes Pullard will look to quarterback the defense.
There's no question Southern Cal has talent. However, the depth just isn't there yet. One or two injuries could severely hinder the Trojans' efforts on the offensive line.
Although Southern Cal fans might not want to hear it, UCLA is the deeper and more talented team at this point. In all likelihood, this game could be for the Pac-12 South Division crown.
Look for UCLA to win for a third straight season.
Result: Win (9-2)
November 28: Vs. Stanford
This could finally be the year in which UCLA gets the proverbial monkey off its back versus the Cardinal.
Stanford has remained in the upper echelon of the conference for the past five seasons. David Shaw's program has constantly given UCLA problems.
In 2014, Stanford will have to replace a good chunk of its team from last year, including the likes of Tyler Gaffney, Trent Murphy, Ed Reynolds, David Yankey and Shayne Skov, among others.
This game could go either way. However, the contest is being played in the Rose Bowl. UCLA—now a somewhat experienced team—will shake the Cardinal curse and take down Stanford for the first time since 2008.
Result: Win (10-2)
Final Record: 10-2
If everything breaks right, UCLA will get a second crack at Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
The contests versus Oregon and Washington are definitely winnable. However, inexperience up front on the offensive line and the lack of a true bell-cow back are both concerns.
UCLA does have the depth and talent needed to win the Pac-12 South. Barring injury, the Bruins could be primed for a spot in the new College Football Playoff.