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TODAY at No. 8: UCLA Coach: Jim Mora (29-11, entering fourth season; 29-11 overall record) 2014 record: 10-3, 6-3 in Pac-12; tied for second...

college football lock winnersTODAY at No. 8: UCLA

Coach: Jim Mora (29-11, entering fourth season; 29-11 overall record)

2014 record: 10-3, 6-3 in Pac-12; tied for second in South Division

Look back: If you’re looking for a word to describe UCLA last season, it would be uneven. The Bruins started out by winning their first four games, but three of those were closer than anticipated. A blowout victory over highly touted Arizona State seemed to indicate Jim Mora’s team had turned the corner, but back-to-back losses to Utah and Oregon set the team back. UCLA wrapped up the season by winning five of its last six games, including a third straight over rival USC. A win over Kansas State in the Alamo Bowl gave the program its second straight 10-win season.

Offensive starters returning: 9

Offensive starters lost: 2

Defensive starters returning: 8

Defensive starters lost: 3

Key losses: QB Brett Hundley, OL Malcolm Bunche, DL Owamagbe Odighizuwa, LB Eric Kendricks, DB Anthony Jefferson

Top returnees: RB Paul Perkins, WR Jordan Payton, WR Thomas Duarte, WR Eldridge Massington, OL Alex Redmond, OL Jake Brendel, OL Scott Quessenberry, OL Caleb Benenoch, DL Kenny Clark, DL Eddie Vanderdoes, LB Myles Jack, LB Deon Hollins, DB Fabian Moreau, DB Tahaan Goodman, DB Ishmael Adams

Strengths: UCLA was second in the Pac-12 in rushing offense (209.5 yards per game) thanks to a strong season by Paul Perkins. The junior rushed for a league-leading 1,575 yards and nine touchdowns in 2014 and will once again be counted on to carry the weight of the offense – at least early on – as the Bruins adjust to a new quarterback leading the offense.

Jordan Payton, who led the team in receptions (67), receiving yards (954) and receiving touchdowns (7), anchors a solid pass catching unit.

Former longtime Penn State assistant Tom Bradley joined the UCLA coaching staff in the offseason as the program’s new defensive coordinator. He takes over a Bruins unit that allowed 393 yards per game last season. Linebacker Myles Jack, who led the team with 88 tackles, moves to the middle of the defense to provide some balance along with linebacker Deon Hollins (31 tackles, 9 sacks). Junior Ishmael Adams electrified fans with his ability not only as a corner, but as a punt and kicker returner. Twice he took interceptions to the house, including a 95-yard return against Arizona State early in the year. He’ll work with several returning starters in the secondary, including Fabian Moreau (53 tackles) and safety Jaleel Wadood.

Weaknesses: For the first time since 2011, UCLA will open the season without Brett Hundley at quarterback. The former Bruin started 40 straight games for the program before leaving for the NFL in the offseason, taking with him a wealth of experience. His replacement was yet to be determined entering preseason camp, with backup Jerry Neuheisel battling highly-touted freshman Josh Rosen. Neuheisel attempted just 39 passes in 2014, but he threw two touchdown passes while leading UCLA to a come-from-behind win over Texas last season. Rosen, an early enrollee, was the nation’s top high school quarterback recruit and has been impressive so far.

The UCLA offensive line allowed a league-worst 41 sacks last season and will be counted on to improve with a relatively new quarterback in the backfield.

Outlook: UCLA continues its impressive run under Mora. The Bruins have won at least nine games each of past three seasons – a first for the program. With 18 returning starters, there is little doubt this year’s team can’t compete for the Pac-12 South title, but finding a reliable quarterback will be crucial.

2015 SCHEDULE

Sept. 5 Virginia

Sept. 12 at UNLV

Sept. 19 BYU

Sept. 26 at Arizona

Oct. 3 Arizona State

Oct. 15 at Stanford

Oct. 22 California

Oct. 31 Colorado

Nov. 7 at Oregon State

Nov. 14 Washington State

Nov. 21 Utah

Nov. 28 at USC

Vincent Rizzo

College Football / College Basketball Handicapper. 2011 won 74%, 2012 won 72% 2015 SPECIAL. CALL, 877.WIN.ATS9 EMAIL,V@VincentRizzoSports.com

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