UCLA Football 2010: Preview and Predictions


Looking at the various college football publications for this upcoming season, it is clear that the UCLA Bruins are not getting any love or respect.

Athlon’s has the Bruins finishing eighth in the Pacific-10 Conference.

So does Lindy’s.

And the media pundits covering the recent Pac-10 Media Day at the Rose Bowl, as well as Sports Illustrated.

Paul Myerberg of PreSnapRead.com has UCLA in 7th place.

The Sporting News is a little more optimistic about UCLA’s potential fortunes; they pick the Bruins to finish sixth.

After a 2009 season which saw progress in the form of a 7-6 record and a win in the Eagle Bank Bowl, there are admittedly some concerns in Westwood for 2010, namely among the defense’s front seven.

Coach Rick Neuheisel must replace five out of the seven defensive linemen and linebackers, including standouts like Reggie Carter, Alterraun Verner, and especially Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year Brian Price, who is now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Price was an absolute beast on the defensive line who caused much havoc for opposing offenses during his three years as a Bruin; you cannot replace a guy like that.

Datone Jones is the lone returning player up front, and Akeem Ayers will provide much needed stability at middle linebacker, but the heart and soul of UCLA’s defense will undoubtedly be junior free safety Rahim Moore, who led the nation with ten interceptions and is on many preseason All-America lists.

Moore, Jones, and Ayers will be the leaders of a Bruin defense that will desperately need their leadership if UCLA is to build on their 2009 campaign. The potential is there; the question, however, is whether of not the new players will be able to perform.

With the return of quarterback Kevin Prince, leading rusher Jonathan Franklin, productive receivers in Taylor Embree and Nelson Rosario and most importantly four starters on the line, Neuheisel and coordinator Norm Chow will expect the Bruin offense to improve on last year’s 22 points per game, which was 8th in the conference and a big factor in their mid-season five game losing streak.

To combat their anemic output, UCLA is counting on their new “pistol” offense – a variation of the shotgun – and the fact that the players are in their 3rd year under Chow to help generate more points.

A third straight top 10 recruiting class, led by LB Jordan Zumwalt, DL Cassius Marsh, RB Jordon James and National Gatorade Player of the Year Malcolm Jones, will be expected to contribute right away as the Bruins continue to build.

The one area that UCLA has nothing to worry about is their kicking game. Kai Forbath is considered the best in the country and a shoo-in for the Lou Groza Award, having made 28 out of 31 field goals in ’09. Jeff Locke is an excellent punter as well.

My outlook on how 2010 will go in Westwood is that UCLA will be a better team than in 2009, but their record may well not show it as the Bruins have the toughest away schedule in the FBS.

With having to play Texas, California, Oregon and Washington on the road, Neuheisel’s team will be on a death march. I don’t expect UCLA to win those games, especially against the defending Pac-10 Champion Ducks in Autzen Stadium and last year’s national runner-up Longhorns in Austin.

The home contests, on the other hand, are more winnable. Here’s my opinion on how the Bruins will fare:

Stanford, Sept. 11: TOUGH BUT WINNABLE.  Despite the emergence of QB Andrew Luck, this game against Jim Harbaugh’s Cardinal can be summed up in eight words:

Let’s see how they do without Toby Gerhart.

That will ultimately be the difference in this Pac-10 opener.

Houston, Sept. 18: HARD FOUGHT WIN.  Outside of USC, this will be one of the two toughest home games the Bruins will have.

The reason: QB Case Keenum. He’s an excellent field general with a cannon arm and a quick release that could give UCLA fits.

However, the Rose Bowl crowd and the fact that these Cougars are facing a higher level of competition than their Conference USA foes will lead to a Bruin triumph.

Washington State, Oct. 2: LIKELY A BLOWOUT WIN.  That’s a sad program in Pullman, WA right now. If the Bruins don’t win this game by at least a comfortable margin, something is dreadfully wrong. I consider this the only real gimme of 2010.

Arizona, Oct. 30: TOUGH BUT WINNABLE.  With QB Nick Foles and RB Nic Grigsby, these Wildcats have had UCLA’s number the past couple of years. The home field and crowd gives the Bruins an edge, but it will be a hard fought matchup.

If this game were in Tucson, I’d have this as a loss.

Oregon State, Nov. 6: TOSS UP.  Along with Houston, this is the other one of the two toughest home games UCLA will play before their crosstown war with USC.

The Rodgers brothers, WR James and RB Jacquizz, are two of the best athletes in the Pac-10; these Beavers are talented enough to win the conference.

As for USC on December 4th, I’m going to refrain from picking a winner until the week of that brawl with the Trojans, as I want to see how UCLA and ‘SC’s seasons unfold.

Although they have lost 30 scholarships and are banned from the post season for two years (pending appeal) due to NCAA violations, USC will still be a formidable team; it’s not like they will go 5-8 or 4-9. Look for QB Matt Barkley to be vastly improved from his freshman campaign, as well as their defensive front seven.

As the UCLA Bruins begin their 92nd year of football in Westwood, this is how I believe their fortunes will go:

An overall record of six victories and six defeats, including a four wins in the Pac-10, which will be good for sixth place and a berth in the Kraft Foods Bowl (formerly the Emerald Bowl) in San Francisco.

Compared to what the other prognosticators think about the Bruins’ chances in 2010, I’m taking an optimistic view.

But I know it will be tough; UCLA could easily finish 5-7 or worse. It will depend on two things:

1.  How well the offense – and particularly the offensive line – continues to improve, and…

2.  How the new personnel in the defensive front seven does.

Now that you’ve heard it here first, let the season commence.