UCLA Football 2012 Preview: A New Era Dawns


If any casual sports fan who didn’t follow west coast college football took a look at the UCLA football program over the past five seasons, he would think one thing:

“These Bruins are not very good.”

A 27-37 record over that five-year span will lead him to draw that conclusion, and with the way that UCLA has performed and executed on the gridiron, it would be hard to convince him otherwise.

Things reached a nadir in Westwood at the end of 2011, which was capitalized by a humiliating 50-0 defeat at the hands of USC in the Coliseum that almost immediately led to the firing of Rick Neuheisel.

It is extremely safe to say that although the Bruins were the Pac-12 South champions – thanks to Utah and Arizona State choking and ‘SC being banned from a post-season bowl – the former Bruin quarterback’s tenure as head coach was a failure as his four-year record was a terrible 21-29, punctuated by a gimmicky “Pistol” offense his last two seasons that helped with the running game, but ultimately didn’t work.

Jim L. Mora was hired by UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero to try and get the Bruins back to the upper echelon of FBS football and particularly Pac-12 football – not to mention the program to a more even footing with their powerful crosstown rivals – once and for all. Mora’s credentials are credible, having come from the NFL ranks where he was the head man in Seattle and Atlanta, taking the Falcons to the playoffs.

Mora is also known as an intense, in-your-face, no-nonsense coach who demands accountability from his players, which is exactly what the UCLA program needs as they have spent their fall camp 70 miles east of Westwood in the heat of San Bernadino to avoid distractions and to prepare tham for a season which will be very important to the direction of the Bruin program.

One prominent problem that UCLA has had these past few years has been the performance and dependability of its quarterbacks.

Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut have shared time under center the past three seasons with rather limited success, as the best record the Bruins have had in that span was 7-6 in 2009. In choosing redshirt freshman Brett Hundley, a heralded five-star quarterback, to be the starter, Mora has decided to turn the page and start fresh, which really should be the overall theme in Westwood and the Rose Bowl this season.

New offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone is swithcing from the “Pistol” (thank goodness!) to a no-huddle paced spread offense, which will suit Hundley well as he can both throw and run.

The running game, which is led by senior Johnathan Franklin, who is 1,062 yards away from UCLA’s all-time career rushing record, and junior Malcolm Jones will be good as that has been a Bruin bright spot for a while. Shaq Evans, Ricky Marvray and Jerry Johnson will head the receiving corps, and tight end Joseph Fauria, at 6′ 7″, will be a go-to guy and should be very good target as well as an All-American candidate; he is that good.

Indeed, UCLA’s skill players will not be too much of a concern – the concern lies in an offensive line that, quite frankly, has been disappointingly sub-par for years, especially in pass blocking. Xavier Sua-Filo is the best o-lineman the Bruins have, but as he is returning from a two-year Mormon mission, he will be seeing action for the first time since 2009.

Can anyone say rusty?

Jeff Baca is the other lineman who can be considered solid, but the rest of that group is unproven at best and question marks at worst. How UCLA’s offense does this year will definitely depend on the execution of the big men up front.

Big time.

The Bruins’ defense, for quite a while, has had a ton of unfulfilled potential that has disappointed more often than not.

Top recruit Ellis McCarthy should help a defensive line that has underachieved, as Datone Jones and Cassius Marsh need to step up and become the monsters up front that many have said they would be.

Eric Kendricks and Jordan Zumwalt will lead a linebacking crew that will try and stay healthy and, except for free safety Tevin McDonald, UCLA’s starting secondary, which includes Sheldon Price, Aaron Hester and Andrew Abbott, are all seniors who will likewise need to step up as like the rest of the defense, they have underachieved at times.

Much like at running back, the kicking game shouldn’t be a problem as freshman Ka’imi Fairburn has been making field goals like crazy in practice, while Jeff Locke is merely one of the best punters in the country.

Considering the personnel that the Bruins have, the new culture and approach that Mora is imposing, and the favorable schedule that stands before them, starting August 30 at Rice – a game where they should be the clear favorite – here’s my official prediction starement on how UCLA Bruin Football will fare in 2012:

The Bruins will, because of their new intense culture, have a good chance to perform better and to be a better team than in 2010 and 2011.

However, a learning curve and growing pains, particularly with a first-time starter at quarterback and a questionable offensive line, will mean that UCLA will probably stumble a couple of times.

That’s why I feel that the Bruins will win seven games and go to a lower-tiered bowl, like in Las Vegas or San Francisco.

Whether this prediction will turn out to be accurate or not is anyone’s guess, but one thing is for certain:

Bruin fans will know very soon whether the inconsistent and sometimes poor play of their football team over the past five seasons was the fault of the players or the previous coaching regime; if the Bruins start off badly, then it was the players. If they start off well, then it was the previous men in charge.

One can see the frustration that has been building in Bruin Nation this century as far as the lack of football success, but due to a new coach and new offensive and defensive schemes, things may take a little bit longer to bear fruit.

In other words, a key word to UCLA’s 2012 football campaign will be…