UCLA Football: Final Game-by-Game Schedule Predictions for 2014
With the start of the season a mere two weeks away, it seems prudent to make a few prognostications as to how Jim Mora and the UCLA football team will fare in 2014.
The Bruins' schedule is one of the more difficult ones in the entire country. Per the first AP Top 25 Preseason Poll, UCLA will face five ranked teams (Oregon, Stanford, Southern Cal, Arizona State, Washington).
Additionally, the No. 7 Bruins face a tough non-conference tilt against the Texas Longhorns in the Lone Star state. The season opener on the opposite side of the country, against an upstart Virginia squad, isn't an easy task, either.
This piece predicts how the Bruins will ultimately perform in 2014, on a game-by-game basis. Obviously, every single team on this list will suffer injuries throughout the season (to varying degrees), but predictions have been made under the assumption both teams are fully healthy.
August 30: At Virginia
UCLA has a clear advantage in athleticism, depth and overall talent when compared to Virginia.
Under Mike London a season ago, the Cavaliers finished a paltry 2-10. Inexperience hurt the team considerably in 2013.
I'd expect London's group to be improved. The offense will rely upon quarterback Greyson Lambert and talented tailback Kevin Parks. Parks tallied more 1,000 yards rushing to go with his 11 touchdowns on the ground last year. Safety Anthony Harris is arguably Virginia's best player. Harris is very confident in his defense heading into this contest.
The elements could bother UCLA to an extent. Kickoff is slated for noon ET, so Mora and the team will have to perform against a three-hour time difference after making the arduous trek to the opposite side of the country.
Nevertheless, I expect UCLA to win the game going away. Envision a 38-17 scoreline.
Result: Win (1-0)
September 6: Memphis
Memphis will bring a somewhat experienced offense to Pasadena for UCLA's home opener.
The Tigers and head coach Justin Fuente return four of their top five receivers from a year ago, sixth-year tailback Brandon Hayes and quarterback Paxton Lynch.
Fuente also returns nine starters on defense from 2013.
Memphis' 3-9 record is actually an improvement from the previous few years. The team went 5-31 from 2009 to 2011. Fuente is building the program back up, but the disparity in talent between the two teams is far too great for Memphis to entertain thoughts of an upset.
Result: Win (2-0)
September 13: Texas (in Arlington, Texas)
In many ways, the current Texas program is reminiscent of when Mora took over in Westwood.
New head coach Charlie Strong is effectively cleaning house. He's dismissed multiple players from the program and is making a strong push to change the culture in Austin.
There are health questions at quarterback with David Ash. His play will likely determine how good Texas will be. As a result, the Longhorns will rely upon a strong rushing attack led by Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray. The secondary also appears to be a major strength, featuring standout Quandre Diggs.
This is also the first real test for quarterback Brett Hundley and the team. The game will be played at AT&T Stadium—one of the grandest sporting venues in the entire country. UCLA will want to perform well against a marquee program on the national stage.
I see this being a close contest. Strong will have his defense ready to play. However, the best player on the field—Hundley—will be the difference.
Result: Win (3-0)
September 25: At Arizona State
Revenge will be on Bruin minds when the team heads into Tempe to take on Pac-12 South Division foe Arizona State.
The Sun Devils defeated UCLA 38-33 last year, effectively ending any chance the Bruins had at repeating as division champions. Taylor Kelly was lethal with both his legs and arm—combining for 324 yards on the ground and in the air.
The schools seemingly have an inherent rivalry. A good chunk of ASU's roster comes from the state of California (mostly Southern California), whereas UCLA's quarterback and potential starting tailback (Paul Perkins) hail from Arizona.
In the past three years, every contest between the schools has been decided by five points or fewer.
I'd expect nothing different this year. Arizona State's offense will be incredibly explosive. The atmosphere in Sun Devil Stadium will likely be frenetic and crazy. However, Todd Graham's team did lose nine starters on the defensive side of the ball from a season ago. This can't be overstated enough.
Experience, or lack thereof, will be the ultimate difference in the affair. UCLA will atone for last year's loss at home and win by a slim margin.
Result: Win (4-0)
October 4: Utah
UCLA has narrowly defeated Utah both times the programs have faced off in the Mora era.
The Utes are a well-coached, tough, mature football team. Rarely do they make mistakes, and physicality is often the name of the game for head coach Kyle Whittingham's squad.
Utah has question marks at the quarterback position and has yet to name a starter. Returning starter Travis Wilson is recovering from concussion issues, while Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson has been making a considerable push for the job.
If Utah gets its signal-caller position settled, it could be a dangerous team. The linebacker corps is solid across the board, and the secondary is buoyed by stud safety-turned-corner Eric Rowe. Utah also boasts one of the best receivers in the Pac-12 in Dres Anderson.
Much like the ASU game, this matchup will be close. With both teams possessing above-average defenses, it likely will be a relatively low-scoring affair.
UCLA will try to get its athletes out in space. Utah is a compact unit, but the team can struggle laterally in space.
Result: Win (5-0)
October 11: Oregon
This is arguably the biggest game on UCLA's schedule in 2014.
It's also a litmus test to some degree. Under Mora, UCLA has not been able to beat the Pac-12 powers (Stanford and Oregon). Assuming both squads enter this game undefeated, it could be a battle of two top-five teams.
Oregon's biggest bugaboo has been going up against stout defensive lines. Disrupting the timing of the Ducks' vaunted offense can cause it big problems. The success of Oregon's offensive line is also predicated upon athleticism and quickness. A bigger, physical front helps combat their respective strengths.
The loss of left tackle Tyler Johnstone is also massive. He's easily Oregon's best lineman.
The showdown between Hundley and Marcus Mariota will be fantastic to watch. UCLA will want to prove itself at home against top competition, and Oregon will look to remain atop the Pac-12 totem pole.
UCLA's defensive line is a huge strength. It boasts four potential NFL players within its rotation. The group led by Oregon native Owa Odighizuwa, Eddie Vanderdoes and Kenny Clark could ask some questions of Oregon's offensive line.
This should be a close, highly entertaining game. UCLA will shake the proverbial monkey off its back and upset Oregon at home.
Result: Win (6-0)
October 18: At Cal
This game could go one of two ways.
If UCLA beats Oregon, an emotional hangover could come into play against a young Cal team. A loss versus Oregon could equal a group of angry Bruins, ready to take out their frustration on their rival to the north.
UCLA hasn't beaten Cal in Berkeley since 1998. It's an incredibly fascinating statistic, and one Mora will surely want to end.
Sonny Dykes is in scramble mode. Yes, his team was beset by an inordinate amount of injuries in 2013. Heading into this year, he's replaced multiple members of the coaching staff and has infused his roster with plenty of junior college transfers.
Simply put, UCLA is the more talented team. The Bruins will exorcise the proverbial demons and come out with a victory in Strawberry Canyon.
Result: Win (7-0)
October 25: At Colorado
Colorado is a well-coached team. Mike MacIntyre already has this program on the road to respectability and will continue to improve it with added depth and talent.
The Buffaloes will not be a pushover in 2014. It wouldn't surprise me in the least to see Colorado pull a big upset (especially if the game is in Boulder).
However, this scenario will not happen to UCLA.
Result: Win (8-0)
November 1: Arizona
Arizona is a very interesting team.
In year three of the Rich Rodriguez experience, the coach is starting to build the roster around his own recruits. Looking at the roster, it's reminiscent of his old West Virginia teams. Although undersized, the Wildcats are fast and athletic. The wide receiver corps, in particular, could be not only one of the best in the conference, but also the nation as well.
The biggest difference between this team and the Pat White-led West Virginia team is the quarterback position. At this point, we don't know which signal-caller will take the reins of Arizona's offense.
I expect UCLA to pound the ball against Arizona's smallish defensive line. The secondary should be ready, however. Without Ka'Deem Carey, look for the Wildcats to air it out to targets such as Austin Hill, Cayleb Jones and DaVonte' Neal.
Considering the Wildcats' uncertainty and inexperience at quarterback, UCLA will be too much for Arizona. Jordon James and the rush attack will have a big day on the ground.
Result: Win (9-0)
November 8: At Washington
The contest versus Washington will be UCLA's first hiccup in the 2014 season.
A November night in Seattle will likely consist of rain, wind and cold temperatures. This weather isn't exactly conducive to UCLA's roster. Washington is more likely to succeed in such conditions.
Washington also made a coaching upgrade with Chris Petersen. To be fair to Steve Sarkisian, he did leave Petersen with a pretty talented roster.
Despite having to replace Keith Price, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Bishop Sankey, John Ross and Jaydon Mickens are very dynamic. Quarterback Cyler Miles also has the potential to be a good one. Shaq Thompson and Danny Shelton lead what should be a very solid defense.
I see this being the ultimate trap game. The crowd is one of the better ones in the Pac-12, and you can bet Petersen will reach into his bag of tricks and pull out something abstract, yet brilliant.
Result: Loss (9-1)
November 22: Southern California
This game will ultimately determine the winner of the Pac-12 South.
USC has elite talent at the top of its roster in Nelson Agholor and Leonard Williams. With Sarkisian in the fold, the Trojans will attempt to operate with more of a fast-paced offense.
From a depth perspective, it's another story. The Trojans are still feeling the effects of scholarship sanctions. The starting 22 is very good, but there's a considerable drop-off after that. Any combination of injuries could prove to be very detrimental.
I expect a closer game than the 35-14 UCLA victory last year at the Coliseum. The overall depth of UCLA will propel the program to a Pac-12 South Division Championship.
Result: Win (10-1)
November 28: Stanford
If one team has proven to be a thorn in Mora's side, it's Stanford.
UCLA's coach is 0-3 versus David Shaw's squad since 2012. Physically, Stanford has overwhelmed UCLA with power, size and even maturity.
Heading into this year, Stanford will be replacing a good chunk of its offensive line and multiple starters on defense. On paper, UCLA will likely be favored to win the game.
However, Shaw has recruited at an extremely high level. The offensive line will undoubtedly be very good (led by All-American candidate Andrus Peat). Quarterback Kevin Hogan returns to the fold, as does elite wide receiver Ty Montgomery.
A veteran defense led by seniors A.J. Tarpley, Henry Anderson and Jordan Richards figures to be quite stingy.
Until UCLA can defeat Stanford, this psychological advantage enjoyed by the Cardinal will continue.
Result: Loss (10-2)
Final Record: 10-2
UCLA has a bear of a schedule in 2014. Five ranked teams appear at the start of the season, and Texas could very well be ranked by the time the Bruins take on the Longhorns.
If the predictions in this article hold true, UCLA will play in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Should the Bruins win the hypothetical game (against Oregon or Stanford, most likely), an 11-2 record might not be good enough to get UCLA a berth into the inaugural College Football Playoff.
Regardless, Mora has turned a once-average program into a perennial Pac-12 power. The groundwork has been laid for this program to sustain success for the foreseeable future.