Previewing The Pac-12: The UCLA Bruins

The 2011 UCLA Bruins won the Pac-12 South with a marginal record of 6-6 last season and played in the Pac-12's first championship game. That was the good. The bad? UCLA lost its final three games of the season, including a 50-point loss against cross-town rival USC and a bowl loss against Illinois that dropped the team to 6-8 on the season.

The Pac-12 South title was not good enough for Rick Neuheisel to keep his job, as the coach was fired after compiling a 21-29 record in four seasons in Westwood. In steps Jim Mora Jr., who returns to college for the first time since 1984, when he was a graduate assistant at Washington.

UCLA boasts one of the most talented backfields in the country with running backs Johnathan Franklin and Malcolm Jones leading the way. The biggest question for UCLA is who will be under center when the season begins August 30 against Rice. A four-way battle is expected to take place in training camp with newcomer Brett Hundley reportedly leading the way.

UCLA Season Preview

Offensive Starters Returning: 7

Defensive Starters Returning: 8

Key Players:

Johnathan Franlin, RB: Franklin was a honorable mention All-Pac-12 selection in 2011, rushing for 976 yards on 166 carries. Franklin averaged a career-best 5.7 yards per carry and had three 100-yard games in 2011. With uncertainty and inexperience at the quarterback position, it will be important for UCLA to have a consistant running game and it starts with Franklin.

Datone Jones, DE: Jones led Bruin lineman with 41 tackles in 2011, starting all 14 games. Jones also led the Bruins in tackles for loss (6.5) and sacks (3) last season. Jones alongside Donovan Carter, Cassius Marsh and Owamagbe Odighuzuwa give UCLA one of the most experienced defensive lines in the conference.

Breakout Player:

Tevin McDonald, SS: McDonald was named Freshman All-American by Yahoo! Sports and cbssports.com in 2011. McDonald tied a school record with three interceptions against Cal and posted 11 tackles against Arizona State. McDonald appeared in all 14 games, starting 11 of them last season and led the team in pass defenses with nine. Expect McDonald to emerge as one of the best secondary players in the conference by the end of the season.

Offense:

Bryan Fischer from CBS Sports tweeted out yesterday that UCLA has named Brett Hundley its starting quarterback in 2012. The redshirt freshman beats out seniors Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut, both of whom started games in 2011. Hudley, from Chandler, Arizona, was an Under Armour All-American in high school and was one of the top duel-threat quarterbacks recruited for the class of 2011.

Johnathan Franklin and Malcolm Jones give the Bruins a nice one-two punch at running back, as the two combined for over 1,000-yards in 2011. Shaquelle Evans and Joseph Fauria lead the Bruins receiving corps in 2012, combining for 58 receptions in 2011. Jerry Rice Jr., Jerry Johnson, Devin Lucien and Jordan James expect to see action at receiver for the Bruins in 2012.

The offensive line returns three starters from 2011 in Jeff Baca, Greg Capella and Alberto Cid. Six Bruin offensive lineman with playing experience return in 2012 including Xavier Su'a-Filo, who started 13 games in 2009.

Defense:

The Bruins return eight starters from a defense that gave up 417.1 yards per game in 2011 as opponents outscored the UCLA 439-323 last season.

The Bruins return three starters on the defensive line with Datone Jones leading the way. Jones lead the defensive line with 41 tackles and 6.5 sacks. UCLA is very deep on the defensive line as Donovan Carter, Cassius Marsh, Owamagbe Odighizuwa, Iuta Tepa and Seal'i Epenesa all return with game experience.

Damien Holmes, who started all 14 games on the defensive line last season, will move to outside linebacker in 2012. Keenan Graham also makes the transition from defensive line to linebacker for defensive coordinator Lou Spanos. Redshirt senior Patrick Larimore started 13 games in 2011 and led the team in tackles with 83.

The Bruins return their top two cornerbacks from 2011 in seniors Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price. Hester finished 2011 with 57 tackles and Price led the team with two forced fumbles. Andrew Abbott will be moved to safety after playing nickel back the past three seasons. Tevin McDonald is an emerging star at the safety position and should get national recognition this season.

Schedule:

UCLA faces a challenging non-conference schedule as they welcome Nebraska and Houston to the Rose Bowl in September. With an inexperienced quarterback, a challenging non-conference schedule is the last thing Jim Mora Jr. wanted to face in this first season.

UCLA gets five conference home games including USC and Stanford back-to-back the final two games of the season. UCLA also plays Arizona (Nov. 3) and Utah (Oct. 13) at home, meaning UCLA gets the most challenging conference games at home.

That being said, UCLA is a team in transition, the defense was not very good last season and offenses like Nebraska, USC, Stanford and Houston should not be easy for UCLA. Final season record: 5-7

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