UCLA finished the 2011 season with a 6-8 record and their current 2012 college football win totals at 5Dimes are set at under 6 wins (-135) and over 6 wins. (+115).
After a dismal four-year run in which UCLA had a 21-28 record, HC Rick Neuheisel was fired (He was allowed to coach the 2011 PAC-12 Conference Championship game, where UCLA lost 49-31 to Oregon). He was replaced by former Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks HC Jim Mora.
Helping us preview and project UCLA’s 2012 season win totals are the writers over at the UCLA blog The Trojan-Haters Club.
Reasons for optimism?
UCLA could be one of the most improved teams in the Conference this season, due mainly to the recent coaching change. Jim Mora, Jr. brings in a whole new attitude of toughness and competitiveness that was sorely lacking for the last decade.
Mora’s no-nonsense approach has weeded out the players whose hearts weren’t into it, and has seen the most talented players rise to the top of the depth chart.
New O.C. Noel Mazzone has installed a new Offensive attack which will take specific advantage of the skills that the Bruin roster possesses, and will produce much more scoring than last year did.
UCLA also boasts one of the best RB groups in the PAC 12 conference. Jonathan Franklin is the leader at the position, followed by Malcolm Jones and Steven Manfro.
Improved QB Play
If the Bruins are to shake their middle-of-the-pack status in the PAC-12 Conference, first-year Coach Jim Mora will need one of three QB’s to improve the QB position.
The three QB’s competing for the job include red-shirt freshman Brett Hundley, the more-experienced veteran Richard Brehaut, who is slightly ahead of last year’s starter Kevin Prince.
The need for rapid development is paramount if UCLA expects to improve upon last season’s poor offensive numbers (376.6 ypg and 23.07 ppg, both of which placed the Bruins in the lower half of the league).
Potential Breakout Stars
This year will see breakout seasons from several lesser-known Bruins, starting with diminutive Running Back Steven Manfro. The 5′ 11″ Redshirt Freshman will make his mark not in the running game, but rather on the receiving end of Swing Passes. New OC Noel Mazzone loves to call short pass plays that isolate quick ballcarriers in open field, against defenders one-on-one, and Manfro has a real knack for catching the ball and immediately making a move to shake that defender, allowing him to turn the corner, and race downfield with a head of steam.
When the Bruin QB’s look a little further downfield, they will have a slew of previously unproven Wide Receivers with the potential to make big plays. Jerry Johnson and Shaquelle Evans should be the game-changers, with chain-movers Logan Sweet and Devin Lucien contributing as well.
On Defense, tough Linebacker Eric Kendricks should bolster a much-improved Defensive unit with quickness and excellent field awareness. In the Defensive Backfield, ballhawk Tevin McDonald will be the player from whom opposing Quarterbacks will try to throw away. McDonald has a nose for the ball not seen at UCLA since Rahim Moore was making picks and deflections all over the field a few years ago.
Quarterback: Despite expected better play form the QB position, the Bruins will still be inexperienced if Hundley starts, or lack any proven talent at QB if Brehaut or Prince start.
Neither of the three was able to distinguish himself during spring drills, so Mora has declared the job wide open . “We don’t have a guy who is the clear-cut, this-is-the-guy, indisputable, everybody-can-see-it, no-debate, can’t-second-guess starter,” said Mora, “I didn’t feel that during the spring.”
Offensive Line: The Bruin OL was a mess during the Neuheisel regime and things don’t look much better in Mora’s first season.
The Bruins lack depth but do have some experience returning. Senior Jeff Baca returns at RG and Junior Greg Capella, who started 13 games at guard last year, will handle the center position. Sophomore Xavier Su’a-Filo will handle the left tackle spot. He started 13 games there in 2009 before taking a two-year Mormon mission.
Schedule Analysis and Projected Win Probabilities
UCLA has 7 home games this season as opposed to 6 in 2011 (The Bruins went 5-1 last year in the Rose Bowl, losing only to Texas). However they trade the likes of Washington State, ASU and Colorado for five 2011 bowl teams Nebraska, Houston, Utah, USC and Stanford.
The Bruins were a miserable 1-7 in road games last year, but six of those games were against bowl teams and USC. This year’s away schedule is far more manageable, with only an away game at Cal looking like a likely loss.
Below is UCLA’s 2012 football schedule. I have placed the probability of the Bruins winning each game to the right of each opponent.
@ Rice (80%)
Oregon State (65%)
@ Colorado (60%)
@ California (35%)
@ Washington State (50%)
The total number I come up for UCLA is 635, or 6.35 wins based on the win probability numbers. Only two games appear to be likely losses on UCLA’s schedule — an away game against Cal and a home game against USC. UCLA will also most likely be underdogs in games against Nebraska and Stanford, however both of those games are at home, so I give the Bruins a slight chance at upsetting one of those two.
UCLA’s 2012 College Football Win Totals
Based on my projections I can see the Bruins going 7-5 during the regular season: 4-3 at home, with losses to Nebraska, USC and Stanford, and 3-2 on the road, with losses to Cal and either ASU or Washington State.
So will Jim Mora be able to improve UCLA’s fortunes this season or are the Bruins destined for another losing year? Let me know in the comments section how many games you think UCLA will win this year. Thanks – Pez.