UCLA Football: 4 Bold Predictions for Bruins' 2014 Season
The hype surrounding the UCLA football program hasn't been seen in quite some time. Jim Mora has completely transformed an average program into one squarely sitting in the hunt for both a conference and national championship.
This upcoming season also gives signal-caller Brett Hundley a chance to cement his legacy as perhaps the best quarterback to ever play at UCLA. In order to enhance his profile, he'll need to take the next step in defeating top competition (such as Oregon or Stanford).
Ranked as the No. 7 team in the initial poll, expectations are incredibly high. Anything short of a division title will be seen as a massive disappointment.
This piece will look at four bold predictions heading into the 2014 season. These proclamations will be listed down from the most tame to the most outlandish.
UCLA Will Beat Southern Cal for a Third Straight Year
Southern Cal absolutely dominated the crosstown rivalry during the Karl Dorrell and Rick Neuheisel eras in Westwood. Both coaches went a combined 1-8 against the Trojans. The domination was punctuated by a 50-0 shellacking—which ultimately led to the dismissal of Neuheisel.
How the times have changed.
Mora is undefeated (2-0) against the rival. Last year, UCLA impressively handled Southern Cal at the Coliseum by a score of 35-14. Based on perception and results, no longer is UCLA looked at as an inferior football program.
In 2014, UCLA will continue the streak—beating the Trojans for a third straight time. The Bruins are a deeper football team and thus will likely be a healthier squad by the time the two play each other.
Having the contest in the Rose Bowl will surely help, as will the return of Hundley as the quarterback.
UCLA Will Win the Pac-12 South
UCLA will reclaim the Pac-12 South Division in 2014.
As mentioned on the previous slide, Southern Cal has depth issues due to the scholarship limits. An injury to the offensive line, for example, could be crippling.
Arizona State is also in a bit of a precarious position. Todd Graham's team has to replace nine defensive starters from a season ago. For as talented as the offense is projected to be, it's an awfully big task to account for so much talent lost on the defensive side of the ball.
Arizona lost stud running back Ka'Deem Carey. Quarterback issues and a lack of depth on the defensive side of the ball will likely prevent the Wildcats from winning the division.
Colorado and Utah don't appear to possess the requisite depth in order to compete against the upper echelon of the division.
All of these points will allow the Bruins to regain the top spot, which in turn will signal an appearance in the Pac-12 title game.
Myles Jack Will Be a First Team All-American
What more can Myles Jack do?
Last year as a true freshman, Jack won the awards for Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year in the Pac-12. The athlete was also named as a first-team Freshman All-American by Sporting News.
Remember, Jack didn't carry the ball until the ninth game of the season versus Arizona. In limited time as a running back, Jack finished with seven touchdowns and a 7.0 yards per carry average. He also had 76 tackles as the starting outside linebacker.
Along with Eric Kendricks, the duo make up potentially the best linebacker tandem in the country.
Conventional wisdom suggests Jack has gotten bigger and faster and has likely enhanced his ability in the mental portion of the game. This will undoubtedly make him even better than a year ago.
Not only will Jack become a first-team All-American, but he could potentially become a dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate—especially if his role on offense continues to expand.
As Daniel Uthman of USA Today Sports reported, Jack is truly revolutionizing the two-way role in college football.
UCLA Will Represent the Conference in the Playoff
UCLA will get over the proverbial hump and make the inaugural College Football Playoff as one of the four participants.
In order for this scenario to unfold, UCLA likely cannot lose more than one game. One of the five power conferences will get shut out when it comes to deciding the field. It will be difficult for a two-loss team to join the party.
Assuming the Bruins achieve such a goal, wins versus Stanford or Oregon (or both) will have to happen. Mora has yet to beat either of the powers in the Pac-12. Stanford in particular has been a thorn in UCLA's side the past few years.
This season, Hundley will lead the Bruins to victory over at least one of the teams. It has to happen for a potential spot.
The star power at the top (Hundley, Jack) coupled with the overall depth on the roster makes UCLA the choice to come out of the Pac-12 and represent the conference in the playoff.