Today at No. 46: UCLA
Coach: Jim Mora (41-24, entering sixth season; 41-24 overall)
2016 record: 4-8, 2-7 in Pac-12 Conference, tied for fourth in South Division
Look back: If UCLA was hoping to bounce back from a somewhat disappointing eight-win season in 2015, those hopes were dashed after a devastating injury to starting QB Josh Rosen. Inconsistent play on both sides of the football saw the Bruins tumble to their worst record under Jim Mora and the worst season since 2010.
Offensive starters returning: 8
Offensive starters lost: 3
Defensive starters returning: 6
Defensive starters lost: 5
Key losses: DL Eddie Vanderdoes, LB Jayon Brown, DB Fabian Moreau, DB Randall Goforth, DL Takkarist McKinley, OL Conor McDermott, WR Kenneth Walker
Top returnees: QB Josh Rosen, OL Scott Quessenberry, RB Soso Jamabo, WR Darren Andrews, LB Kenny Young, DB Jaleel Wadood, DL Jacob Tuloti-Mariner
Strengths: It’s not an exaggeration to say losing Rosen midway through the season was a devastating blow for this team. UCLA was 3-3 when the talented sophomore quarterback went down with a shoulder injury, with the Bruins averaging around 30 points and 400 yards per game. After his injury, the team struggled with backup Mike Fafaul behind center and finished 1-5 the rest of the way. Mora shook up the staff, replacing Kennedy Polamalu with former Michigan offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. Rosen’s return coupled with other key playmakers means good things for the offense.
The Bruins are led up front by first team all-conference selection Scott Quessenberry, who anchors an offensive line that features three full-time starters back from last season.
Weaknesses: Tom Bradley’s first season as defensive coordinator was somewhat of a success, with the Bruins finishing middle of the pack in the Pac-12 in total defense. The defense produced three all-conference selections in Tak McKinley, Jayon Brown and Kenny Young. Two of them went were selected in this year’s NFL draft, with Young serving as the team’s leading returning tackler (90). The defensive front is young and needs to develop quickly. The middle of the group is anchored by Young, but it has some fresh faces in Josh Woods and Krys Barnes as well.
After back-to-back seasons with 1,000-yard rusher Paul Perkins in 2014 and 2015, UCLA struggled to find a suitable replacement in 2016. Sophomore Soso Jamabo wound up as the team’s top rusher with just 321 yards. The Bruins earned 84 yards per game on the ground last season, the program’s lowest average since 2008.
Outlook: The offensive coordinator position has been a bit unstable, with the Bruins adjusting to their third offensive coordinator in as many years. Rosen arrived with a lot of buzz in 2015, but the shoulder injury last season was a setback. His return is good news for the offense, which should be much improved. The defense, however, is another story. The group lost a lot of talent and will be tested early and often.