EXPERIENCED, WITH ONE EXCEPTION
With 18 returning starters, UCLA packs much of the firepower from last year's 10--3 squad, which missed out on the Pac-12 title game only because of a 31--10 loss to Stanford in the regular-season finale. Yet for all that experience, there's a critical piece missing: Brett Hundley, the Bruins' three-year starter at quarterback.
Coach Jim Mora has yet to name his replacement, but Josh Rosen, the top-ranked QB recruit in 2015 who enrolled in January, is widely considered to be the favorite. Rosen is known for his strong arm, but his composure and game IQ set him apart. Mora says Rosen has gained a comfort level after going through spring practices and that his teammates have developed a confidence in him as well.
Rosen will have experience around him in senior running back Paul Perkins, who led the Pac-12 with 1,575 yards rushing last year, and receiver Jordan Payton (67 catches, 954 yards, seven TDs).
On defense the Bruins lose Butkus Award--winning linebacker Eric Kendricks but retain the freakishly athletic, 6'1", 232-pound Myles Jack, who'll move inside this year. Longtime Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley joins the staff, and Mora expects Bradley to make UCLA more aggressive with its blitzes.
BYU should test the Bruins' defense on Sept. 19, but the real difficulty will come in-conference. Four of UCLA's five Pac-12 South foes won nine or more games last year and finished in the AP Top 25. Back-to-back games against Arizona (away) and Arizona State (home) to begin conference play should set the tone, and a crosstown trip to USC to end the season could determine the division champ.
The Bruins had just four sacks in their first four games last year before junior linebacker Deon Hollins emerged. He finished the year with nine sacks, including six in the final four games and three in a 40--35 Alamo Bowl win over Kansas State. If the 6-foot, 225-pound Hollins can produce all season, it will create opportunities for his teammates.
OPPOSING COACH'S TAKE
The thing that stands out with the Bruins is their athleticism and speed across the board. They're efficient offensively and really balanced, so you don't get any keys on what they're going to do in certain situations. They spread you out and make you defend all 11 guys and every inch of the field.... Paul Perkins is an outstanding back with good vision, and they've got some wide receivers that I think are bigger than our defensive linemen.... Their defense doesn't allow you a lot of easy throws because the corners come up and press you. You have to try to beat them downfield to keep them honest. Their linebackers cover a lot of ground and close well, so your underneath passing windows are smaller.... Last year they were effective at changing their front from snap to snap and did a nice job of confusing our guys.
DUSTIN BRADFORD/ICON SPORTSWIRE (JACK)
GUILLERMO HERNANDEZ MARTINEZ FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (HOLLINS)