The first USA Today coaches' poll for 2013 came out this morning. As expected, Alabama and Ohio State were ranked as the top two teams heading into the season.
The Pac-12 had five teams making appearances in the initial poll. Oregon and Stanford were 3rd and 4th, respectively. UCLA was ranked 21st, and Southern Cal was rated as the No. 24 team in the country. Oregon State rounded out the poll as the last team in the top 25.
As for the Bruins, was the No. 21 ranking justified?
Yes, Jim Mora's bunch was ranked right about where they should be at this point.
It won't be easy replacing integral cogs from last year's team. Johnathan Franklin, Datone Jones, Jeff Locke, Joe Fauria and others have all left for the NFL. Mora will be relying upon a litany of younger, inexperienced players to fill those holes on the roster.
With that said, the Bruins do return Brett Hundley, Xavier Su'a-Filo and Anthony Barr. The team also brings in the third best recruiting class in 2013, according to Scout.com. Of the group, expect Eddie Vanderdoes, Myles Jack, Thomas Duarte, Caleb Benenoch, Sean Covington, Alex Redmond, Priest Willis and Tahaan Goodman to contribute early.
There's a few question marks, namely in the secondary, that didn't allow for a higher poll ranking. The Bruins will have to replace its entire starting secondary from a season ago. It is feasible to believe that UCLA could conceivably start up to three true freshmen on the back end. That isn't ideal by any stretch, but it could become a reality.
Now, can the Bruins make a run at a BCS bowl game in 2013?
The ranking isn't terrible, but it isn't great by any stretch. However, UCLA's very tough schedule will help the Bruins in rising up the poll (should the team have a successful season).
Looking at UCLA's schedule for this upcoming year, Mora's bunch will face four squads currently ranked (Nebraska, Stanford, Oregon, Southern Cal). Those numbers might not appear to signal a difficult slate. When taking a closer look, those numbers are a bit deceiving.
The Bruins will also take on unranked foes Arizona State, Washington and Arizona. All three teams were ranked at a point last season. In terms of this year, the Sun Devils and Huskies could have easily been ranked in the top 25.
In all actuality, Arizona State is probably a better football team than Oregon State is. Todd Graham's team was picked to finish ahead of Southern Cal in the Pac-12 South media poll, and should boast one of the top defensive lines in the conference. It would be shocking to not see Arizona State ranked when the Bruins face off with the Sun Devils in the regular season.
The road schedule for the Bruins is one of the toughest in the entire country (and yes, that includes all of the SEC teams).
After opening at home versus Nevada, UCLA will have to take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers in Lincoln. On game day in Lincoln, Memorial Stadium holds more people than the third-biggest city in the entire state of Nebraska. The atmosphere is raucous, and the sea of red drive opponents to delirium.
This game signals a big opportunity for the Bruins. Nebraska was ranked 18th in the opening coaches' poll. A win on the road against a high profile, ranked opponent will truly help UCLA's BCS resume. Considering that UCLA beat Nebraska last season, Mora's team has got a good shot at winning the contest.
Now, UCLA might have the toughest two game stretch of any team in the country. During the sixth week of the season, the Bruins will have to go up to Palo Alto and face Stanford. The following week, the team will travel to Eugene to take on the Oregon Ducks. Back-to-back road contests against two top five teams is utterly ridiculous.
Much like with the Nebraska contest, the Bruins have a big opportunity. A split of the two games could go a long way in determining how the season will go. Fortunately for UCLA, both Oregon and Stanford are in the Pac-12 North division. Even in the event of losing both games, it will not impact UCLA's overall chances at advancing to the Pac-12 Championship game.
Should UCLA win both games, it will truly propel the program. By that time, the Bruins could be ranked in the top 10. There's no guarantee that the Bruins will win one, let alone two games in this stretch. Oregon's offense is as explosive as anyone's in the world. Playing in Autzen stadium with an inexperienced secondary doesn't sound like much fun.
In terms of personnel, the Bruins probably match up better with Stanford. Remember, UCLA came very close to knocking off the Cardinal in the Pac-12 Championship game from a season ago. Winning both games is going to be very difficult. Winning one of the contests would vastly help the Bruins' BCS aspirations.
The road schedule doesn't get any easier with games in Tucson, Salt Lake City and against the Trojans in the Coliseum. Barring a collapse, the crosstown showdown between the Bruins and Trojans should be a bout with both teams ranked.
Rich Rodriguez' team doesn't have a super daunting schedule. It's realistic that by the time the Bruins come to town, the Wildcats will be ranked. Arizona will want to atone for UCLA blasting the Wildcats last season by a score of 66-10. It also won't be a picnic for the Bruins to play in front of the vaunted "ZonaZoo" student section.
What does all of this mean?
Well, it means that the Bruins have ample opportunities to build a solid BCS resume.
Should UCLA represent the South division in the conference title game, it'll likely mean that the team will be facing Oregon or Stanford.
With a win, the Bruins will head to the Rose Bowl. Even in the event of a loss, it'll depend upon the record of the eventual title winner. If Oregon or Stanford run the table and go undefeated, there's a good shot that one of those two teams can play in the BCS Championship game (depending on how Alabama and Ohio State fare). If that scenario does come to fruition, the Bruins could be in line for an at-large bid.
Of course, this piece stems from pure speculation. No one truly knows as to how the conference play will transpire. It's always fun to be theoretical, especially with the season less than a month away.
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