Cleat Geeks

2016 Pac 12 Preview: UCLA Bruins

For the first time in nearly a decade, the South division looks to crown the Pac-12 champion – and this very well could be the year that they do so. The favorite within the division looks to be the Trojans of USC. Despite moving onto their third head coach in five years, the Trojans enter the season with arguably the highest expectations of any team in the conference, and deservedly so. They have all the pieces to make a legit run at a conference championship, but can Clay Helton lead them to glory in his first full season as the headman in LA? The UCLA pose the biggest threat to USC as they return promising sophomore QB Josh Rosen, a QB with #1 pick potential. His talent alone could lead the Bruins to a conference championship. One of the most underrated teams in the country, the Arizona Wildcats are a sleeper to take the conference this season, but will they be able to overcome the likes of USC and UCLA? Kyle Whittingham leads a strong Utah unit year after year, but will their depleted offense be able to keep up with other high-powered offenses in the country? Arizona State has one of the best RB tandem in the country, but their defense still poses as a liability to giving up the big play; they may be a year or two away as Manny Wilkins needs experience under center. Colorado went 1-8 in conference play last season, but they return 16 starters, and experience goes a long way in the college game.Pac12IntroPhoto

Take a look as we dig deep into the Pac-12 South division. Comment with some predictions of your own for the UCLA Bruins and if you think Josh Rosen is the real deal and is ready to lead the Bruins to a Pac-12 championship. Follow @JonValencia_WiB for more Pac-12 updates throughout the offseason as we gear up for opening week.

2 – UCLA Bruins (9-3, 6-3 – SOUTH)

Players to Watch: QB Josh Rosen, RB Soso Jamabo, OT Conor McDermott, DE Takkarist McKinley, DE Deon Hollins, DT Eddie Vanderdoes, LB Jayon Brown
Key Departures: RB Paul Perkins, WR Thomas Duarte, WR Devin Fuller, WR Jordan Payton, OT Caleb Benenoch, G Alex Redmond, C Jake Brendel, DT Kenny Clark, LB Myles Jack

Since being named head coach at UCLA in 2012, Jim Mora immediately helped the Bruins become relevant again in the Pac-12. In only his 2nd season he guided the team to their first double-digit win season since 2005. He now has a stud behind center in sophomore Josh Rosen, a QB with #1 pick potential. The duo of Mora and Rosen could be the best QB-HC tandem in the conference, but will they be enough to bring UCLA their first conference championship since 1998?

Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

It all starts with Josh Rosen. The well-polished QB showed tremendous flashes and potential as a true freshman, he is bound to continue to take steps forward and solidify himself as the best gunslinger in the conference, but he’ll have to do so with a fairly new supporting cast as top weapons: Jordan Payton, Devin Fuller and Thomas Duarte all found themselves getting drafted, along with star tailback Paul Perkins. The Bruins have a lot of star power to replace, but Rosen is the type of QB who could make it work from the get-go. True freshman Theo Howard gives the Bruins a weapon they haven’t had in a long time. He has burner type speed and can make plays happen on short routes. Redshirt junior Darren Andrews is the returning leading receiver, hauling 43 catches and 443 receiving yards last season – he should serve as the most reliable weapon for Rosen. Senior Ishmael Adams is a converted cornerback and brings an intriguing skillset, he could make a lot of big plays.

Forced to replace almost the entire WR corps, the Bruins are forced to do so in the backfield as well. UCLA and new offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu will implement a three-headed monster, which may even be more effective rather than leaning on a guy like Perkins throughout the entire season. Sophomore Soso Jamabo is expected to emerge as the leader of the pack. A former five star recruit, Jamabo has great size and an even better skillset. As a freshman he was 2nd on the team with 403 yards on the ground with 4 TDs and 6.1 yards per carry. Junior Nate Starks is next in line. Starks averaged a team-high 6.4 yards per carry last season and added 5 TDs as well. The duo of Jamabo and Starks will lead the charge. Expect contributions from Bolo Olorunfunmi as well.

Like the skill positions, the Bruins have some reloading to do on the offensive line as well. They return All-Pac 12 left tackle Conor McDermott along with Kenny Lacy on the left side of the line. They are the only returning starters. Junior Scott Quessenberry returns after redshirting last season due to injury, he does have starting experience and brings a good presence to the interior. With all the reloading UCLA is forced to do in 2016, the departure of Noel Mazzone has flew under the radar. Kenneth Polamalu has big shoes to fill.NCAA FOOTBALL: NOV 23 Arizona State at UCLA

The Bruins look solid on defense despite the losses of Kenny Clark and Myles Jack in the front 7. A lot was made of Jack’s absence last season after a devastating knee injury, but the absence of Eddie Vanderdoes was just as bad. He returns healthy this season and is a huge interior force and quite possibly the best defensive linemen in the conference. The duo of Takkarist McKinley and Deon Hollins flank Vanderdoes and provide a great pass rushing tandem off the edge – both great athletes who should see career-high production as seniors. After losing linebackers such as Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks and Jack in consecutive years, the Bruins are desperate for Jayon Brown to step up to the plate in 2016. UCLA has high hopes for the senior LB who replaced Jack and went to lead the team in tackles. Back in the secondary the Bruins field an experienced unit headlined by senior Randall Goforth. Seniors Marcus Rios and Fabian Moreau return to start on the outside at the corner positions.

Even with all the production UCLA lost on offense, they’ll sustain their offensive success as Rosen is poised to take another step forward which is bad news for fellow Pac-12 foes. His supporting cast is mostly inexperienced, but very talented. On defense they have a lot of athleticsm and playmakers led by Eddie Vanderdoes up front, a 1st round lock if he can stay healthy. The Bruins look like the only competitor for USC in the South division. Mora faces a fairly tough non-conference schedule with road games against Texas A&M and BYU.

9/3: @ Texas A&M WUCLA+flag+football+helmet_mid
9/10: vs UNLV W
9/17: @ BYU W
9/24: vs Stanford W
10/1: vs Arizona L
10/8: @ Arizona State W
10/15: @ Washington State W
10/22: vs Utah L
11/3: @ Colorado W
11/12: vs Oregon State W
11/19: vs USC W
11/26: @ California L

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