Finding a dominant runner not named Brett Hundley is the top item on the Bruins' to-do list. The 6'3", 227-pound junior quarterback led UCLA on the ground last season (748 yards and 11 touchdowns), and the second-most-talked-about rusher was Myles Jack, who racked up 267 yards and seven TDs while also starting at linebacker. "I think Brett developing as a passer, and the receiving corps we've got, should help us run the ball," says coach Jim Mora. "I like when Brett takes off and runs, but I'd like to be able to just pound it at people."
Besides Jack, the top candidate is 5'9", 196-pound senior Jordon James, who gained 6.3 yards per carry through the 2013 season's first four weeks before being sidelined with a right-ankle injury. Devin Fuller and Devin Lucien, both junior receivers, must develop into dangerous downfield targets. Bringing back an experienced offensive line should help: Five juniors and sophomores are back. Miami transfer Malcolm Bunche (6'7", 327 pounds), who's immediately eligible, will add depth.
Hundley, who became the first Bruin since 1960 to throw for, run for and catch a TD in one game, can't do it by himself all the time. In 2013 the Bruins had double-digit wins for just the eighth time in school history. With a preseason Heisman candidate under center, UCLA has a shot at the playoff if other playmakers emerge.
With Anthony Barr (66 tackles, 20 for loss) and Jordan Zumwalt (91 tackles) gone to the NFL, the time is now for Zach Whitley, a 6'1", 218-pound true freshman from Houston's North Shore High who was rated one of the best linebackers in his class. Coach Jim Mora doesn't mind playing rookies (18 true freshmen took snaps in 2013), and Whitley enrolled early to learn the playbook. He was impressive in spring practice and will get the chance to prove himself.
The Bruins host Oregon, USC and Stanford this season, but the first big challenge will be a nonconference battle with Texas on Sept. 13 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington—a matchup that at least looks less daunting than it did when it was scheduled in 2011. A Nov. 8 date at Washington could pose problems. After last season's 35--14 win at USC, coach Jim Mora shouted, "We own this town!" Another victory over the Trojans on Nov. 22 would confirm that.
SI POWER RANKINGS / By Rotowire.com
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SPECIAL TEAMS 91%
OPPOSING COACH'S TAKE
It all comes down to the quarterback and can he play consistently—and everybody will say that about UCLA. If you watch any stretch where the Bruins struggled last year, it's because [Brett Hundley] was missing throws. But he's such a good player, he's going to give people fits. If opponents can force him to make accurate throws, that's what will challenge him. If you pressure him, he's going to take off, and he's such a big, strong kid, he's hard to bring down. If he figures it out and puts it all together, Wow. [Offensive coordinator Noel] Mazzone is a fabulous football coach, so they'll be fun to watch, and they've got a nice group of wideouts. Defensively they're tough, physical and violent, and they want to get after you. That hasn't really been their calling card in the past. They have some mature players in the secondary—they've had good guys there before, but now they're experienced. It will be interesting to see how they replace those linebackers they lost, but they recruited well to fill those holes immediately. Bottom line, they're one of the best teams in the conference.
MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ/AP (HUNDLEY)
JESUS RAMIREZ/UCLA FOOTBALL (WHITLEY)