2011 Record: (6-8, 5-4 in Pac-12)
Head Coach: Jim L Mora (first time college head coach, 31-33 in NFL)
Last Bowl Game: 2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: lost to Illinois 20-14
Must Win: 9/22 vs Oregon St, 9/29 at Colorado
Stat to Cheer: not really a stat but they have a new coach and that's a good thing
Stats to Fear: gave up 222 plays of 10 yards or more in 2011 (11th in Pac-12, 118th in Nation); allowed opponents to convert 47.52% of third downs (11th in Pac-12, 105th in Nation); only had 14 sacks in 2011 (11th in Pac-12, 108th in Nation); converted just 75.44% of trips to red zone (last in Pac-12, 101st in Nation)
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: (Offense: 7; Defense: 9; Specialists: 2)
Key Defensive Returnees: LB Patrick Larimore (81 tackles), LB Eric Kendricks (76 tackles), CB Aaron Hester (57 tackles), LB Jordan Zumwalt (60 tackles), DE Datone Jones (41 tackles, 3 sacks)
Key Offensive Returnees: QB Kevin Prince (12 TD, 8 INT), RB Johnathan Franklin (976 yds rush, 5 TD), TE Joseph Fauria (39 rec, 6 TD), OT Xavier Su'a-Filo
Inside Scoop with The Trojan-Haters Club:
CFBZ: The Jim Mora hire was a bit of a surprise based on his lack of college coaching experience. Now that he's been on the job for a few months, what are you impressions of him.
The Trojan-Haters Club: Mora has made all the right moves so far during this off-season. He has instilled a new sense of urgency and toughness, he has shown the willingness to cut dead weight, he has hired an impressive coaching staff, and his recruiting -- for this year and next -- has been commendable.
CFBZ: UCLA is changing offensive schemes as they have brought in Noel Mazzone to run the offense. Which current players do you think will be a good fit for his offense?
The Trojan-Haters Club: Based on the spring practices and scrimmages, running back Steven Manfro fits into Noel Mazzone's new offense as good as or better than anyone else. The new scheme revolves around quick passes towards the sidelines. Manfro has a knack for catching these balls, faking out the first defender, turning the corner, finding open field, and speeding down the sidelines.
CFBZ: Over the last two years, UCLA has given up over 30 points per game. What are the biggest things UCLA needs to improve on defense to be successful in 2012?
The Trojan-Haters Club: UCLA needs to put more pressure on the opposing quarterback. More Sacks and more hurry-ups are mandatory, because the defensive backfield is not strong enough in coverage when the QB has an abundance of time to find his receivers. In addition, basic TACKLING has to get better. Last year, there were WAY too many missed tackles.
CFBZ: What is your gut feeling on the final record for 2012 and what makes the season successful in your eyes?
The Trojan-Haters Club: I predict a 7-5 regular season. That's based on going 3-2 on the road, and 4-3 at home. That probably means losing one road game in which they are expected to win. It also means reaching a Bowl game, despite losing the last two games, both at home. With all the raised expectations brought about by Mora's hiring and promising early tenure, anything less than 8-4 (or 7-5 with an upset of southern cal) would have to be considered somewhat of a disappointment.
As an Atlanta Falcons fan I was a bit shocked and bewildered by the UCLA Bruins hiring Mora out of left field. That being said, so far so good for Jimmy. Maybe Mora is more of a fit to be a college coach than he was a pro coach. Only time will tell and it will be very interesting to see what happens when things don't go his way and how he deals with those issues as that was a big part of his downfall in Atlanta. He dealt with adversity very poorly as a Falcons coach and if he's done some growing up since then, this could end up being a very solid hire by the Bruins.
Under Rick Neuheisel, the Bruins never found their stride. He recruited relatively well over his tenure but never saw the results on the field. Mora inherits some talent, so if he can just straighten that out then he could get off to a good start. Another positive factor for Mora is that the rest of the division, outside of USC, are all struggling to find their identity or still adjusting to the conference.
One thing that could be feast of famine for the Bruins is the fact that they are changing schemes on both offense and defense. On defense they are switching from the 4-3 to the 3-4 under new DC Lou Spanos. A concern on the move to the 3-4 is if they have the right guy to play the nose tackle position and stuff the run. Typically speaking, the transition to 3-4 takes a while and results are not immediate as players have to adjust to their new roles and assignments and the team has to have the right players to make the scheme work.
I think we will see flashes out of this UCLA team in 2012. Flashes of being a really good team and flashes of not being ready for prime-time. Mora has come in and he is changing a culture and also philosophies on both sides of the football. Generally speaking, that's not going to result in a huge immediate impact but if he does it the right way it could work very well over time. Look for UCLA to be competitive with the rest of the Pac-12 South, other than USC, this year and expect them to get to some type of bowl. I would also expect Mora to get snippy with more than one sideline reporter. UCLA will be an intriguing watch this year for more than one reason.
2012 Prediction: 7-5
Previous 2012 Previews: