One would think that if UCLA is ever going to catch, much less pass, USC in the Los Angeles football sports landscape, that is almost has to happen in 2011. Why? The fallout from the Reggie Bush mess should be over for USC after this season, their second in a row where the Trojans can’t play in a bowl or be eligible to compete for a conference title (or, thus, play in the first Pac-12 Championship Game). But after a 4-8 record last season (2-7 in the Pac-10), the Bruins still seem miles behind their private school neighbors.
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There may be no coach more on the hot season this season than UCLA’s Rick Neuheisel, a former Bruins quarterback. In three seasons at his alma mater, Neuheisel has only 15 wins (0-3 vs. USC), he's never finished higher than eighth in the conference, and his only bowl appearance took place – yawn – against Temple in the 2009 EagleBank Bowl.
Athletic Director Dan Guerrero has already put Neuheisel on notice that he has only one more shot to turn things around. So this offseason, Neuheisel fired one-time celebrated offensive coordinator Norm Chow, even though it cost the university a $500,000 buyout. And he fired defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough even though he had been with the program since before Neuheisel arrived. Chow, by the way, landed with new Pac-12 rival Utah, where he will coach against UCLA on Nov. 12. Mike Johnson is now UCLA’s offensive coordinator -- he was in the same position with the San Francisco 49ers last season after Jimmy Raye was fired following a Week 3 loss. Jim Tresey is the new defensive coordinator. He coached at South Florida in 2009 and Cincinnati in 2007-08. Last year, he was the defensive backs coach for the Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League. One of the reasons Neuheisel dispatched Bullough was a desire to switch to a 3-4 scheme and Tresey is a 4-3 guy.
Possibly no BCS conference team has had worse play at quarterback the past few years than UCLA. Last year the Bruins ranked 116th out of 120 Division I teams in passing (141.1 yards per game) and 104th in scoring (20.2 points per game) despite a pretty solid running game (175.6 ypg).
If healthy, Kevin Prince is the leader to start again. In 2009 he was sidelined for several weeks with a broken jaw, and he also had a concussion and separated a shoulder. Last year a knee injury shelved him after UCLA’s sixth game and forced him from taking snaps during live drills during this spring. Before going down, Prince was 42-of-94 for 384 yards, three touchdowns and five picks, adding 110 yards and three scores on the ground. Richard Brehaut replaced him and was 119-for-212 for 1,296 yards, six scores and seven picks. Many Bruins fans were hoping that true freshman Brett Hundley would win the job this spring, but that didn’t happen. And it’s unlikely Neuheisel turns the reins over to a freshman in a win-or-you’re-fired season. Prince and Brehaut will battle it out in camp.
The running game should be good again with Johnathan Franklin, who rushed for 1,127 yards last season, returning. Neuheisel brought in long-time Nevada assistant Jim Mastro as running game coordinator to help work with the “Pistol” offense. No team runs that better than Nevada. All of the top receivers are back, and there were expected to be four starters back on the offensive line, but injuries ravaged that unit in the spring so it struggled. If all the injury problems are solved, seven starters are expected back overall on the offense.
Eight starters are expected back on this side of the ball, although the Bruins’ best two 2010 defenders, end/outside linebacker Akeem Ayers and safety Rahim Moore, are both gone. The line should be a strength with the return of end Datone Jones, who missed all of last season due to a broken foot. He had 45 tackles, 11 stops for loss, and four sacks in 2009. At linebacker, Jordan Zumwalt is the man challenged with replacing Ayers at outside linebacker. He’ll join a unit that includes Patrick Larimore, who started seven games last year before hurting his shoulder, and Sean Westgate, who made 90 tackles last year (11 for loss) and had four sacks.
The secondary will miss Moore, but brings back four players with starting experience. The leader will be Tony Dye. He had a team-high 96 tackles and nine passes defended as the strong safety in 2010.
2011 UCLA Bruins Football Schedule Analysis
Neuheisel probably needs at least a 7-5 record and a bowl win to save his job, but I can’t see this team getting to seven wins. The Bruins are unlikely to be favored in any road game: at Houston, Oregon State, Stanford, Arizona, Utah and Southern Cal. They should be favored in every home game other than when Texas visits – and the Horns will be wanting some revenge for being shockingly stomped by UCLA in Austin last year – and maybe against Arizona State.
2011 UCLA Bruins College BCS and Pac-12 Futures Odds
UCLA is +600 on WagerWeb to win the Pac-12 South, which is ahead of only Colorado in that division (remember that USC doesn’t get odds because it is ineligible). The Bruins are +1600 to win the conference title game, which is ahead of only Washington State and Colorado (tied with California). UCLA is 150/1 on Bodog to win the national title (yeah right).
2011 UCLA Bruins Football Predictions
Let’s just say UCLA wins its home games vs. San Jose State, Washington State, California and Colorado. Yeah, I don’t see the Bruins beating Texas and they probably will lose to ASU as well. At best, UCLA wins two of its road games, in my opinion. So this looks like a 6-6 team as an optimist but probably a 5-7 club, one that will be the among the first to be scouring the nation for a new head coach next winter.
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