The UCLA Bruins football program
will be undergoing a year of transition in 2012 after not being able to
close the competitive gap between its intra-city rival over the past
four seasons, with the school hiring a former NFL coach to replace alum
Rick Neuheisel on the sidelines.
Neuheisel fell short in challenging the USC Trojans
Rick Neuheisel talked a big game in the Southern California media, but the program failed to live up to those expectations in going 21-28 over his four years in Westwood, as he was ultimately fired in December. UCLA lost all four meetings with USC over that period of time, getting outscored by a sizable 134-28 margin over that span, including an embarrassing 50-0 setback in last year’s meeting
as 16-point road underdogs. It’s an even more disappointing result when you consider the Trojans have been hampered by NCAA sanctions since 2010.
Bruins are hoping to catch lightning in a bottle
Jim Mora Jr. wasn’t the first choice on UCLA’s list
to take over the program, with that distinction being held by Boise State head coach Chris Petersen, but athletic director Dan Guerrero may have stole a page out of the hiring playbook of its crosstown rival. Mora has a similar background to what Pete Carroll had before his run at USC, including two different stints as an NFL head coach with the Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks. His success will ultimately be measured in how quickly he adjusts to the recruiting game, as current Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin is a master in that area.
Quarterback position is up for grabs
Seniors Richard Brehaut and Kevin Prince took every snap in directing the program to a 6-8 record in 2011, but freshman Brett Hundley is seen as a threat to get some playing time in this transitional year. The quarterback position isn’t going to be a strength for UCLA in 2012, considering the talent of other signal-callers in the Pac-12 Conference. USC’s Matt Barkley is at the top of that list
, throwing for a conference record 39 touchdowns in 2011.
How much of a load can Franklin handle?
UCLA will be able to move the ball on the ground against any team on its 2012 schedule, with Johnathan Franklin running behind an offensive line that has three returnees. The senior tailback has gained 2,669 yards in his career, including 976 yards on 166 carries in 2011. The Bruins finished third in the Pac-12 in averaging 178.4 rushing yards per game last year.
Schedule provides a chance to make some noise
Mora surely didn’t shed a tear when he saw that the Oregon Ducks weren’t on the team’s schedule this year, which is already considered an advantage in trying to earn a bowl berth. UCLA will play seven of its 12 games at the Rose Bowl, including three straight games to open up September after its season-opening contest at Rice on Aug. 30. A bowl berth may be on the line in hosting Stanford in its final regular-season game on Nov. 24.
Don’t expect a return to the championship game
UCLA was handed a 49-31 loss by the Oregon Ducks in the inaugural Pac-12 championship game last year, earning that berth due to NCAA sanctions that were placed on the Trojans. The Greek sportsbook has established the Bruins as the eighth-choice to win the conference at college football betting odds
of +3800, signaling that a repeat visit to that event isn’t likely in 2012.