Watching the UCLA Bruins is like being Bill Murray in "Groundhog Day". Every year we ask ourselves if this is finally the season in which the Bruins break out and realize the potential they always seem to have. And every year they find a way to sabotage their success and fall short of where they should be. Injuries, bad plays, questionable coaching - they have had it all. It must be just exhausting being a fan of the Bruins.
So, now here I am asking the same question I ask every year, and yet deep down inside I already know the answer. Is this the year that the Bruins finally put it all together and realize their potential?
The good news - and it's a good sign that there clearly is good news - is that the team seems to have the edge in their division and against their hated crosstown rivals, USC. I'm not sure that you can say that they have better talent than the Trojans do, but they certainly have an easier schedule. The rest of the division isn't exactly dominant, so at this early stage you would have to give the Bruins the edge. Uh oh, here we go, setting high expectations for the Bruins again. That never goes well in the end.
Key Additions and Departures
The team returns just 12 starters - eight on defense - so there is a lot of change the team has to deal with. They return Josh Rosen at QB, though, and he should be poised for a big sophomore leap, so that is a solid foundation to build on. He will be playing behind an offensive line with three new starters, but the depth is solid, none of the departing players were truly elite, and strong left tackle Connor McDermott is still in town, so that's not as much of a concern as it could be. Paul Perkins will be missed at running back, but they are deep there as well, so the running game should still be effective as long as the line isn't a disaster. It's the receiving situation that is quite scary, though, after the team lost four of their top five pass catchers from last year. Rosen will have to quickly build chemistry with the replacements, which will likely include at least one true freshman, if he wants to keep this program on track.
The defense suffered some huge losses - Stud DT Kenny Clark and linebacker Myles Jack were both gone in the first 36 picks of the draft, and linebacker Aaron Wallace was better than he often got credit for as well. They do get a good boost, though, as DE Eddie Vanderdoes returns to the team after missing much of last season due to injury. That return is crucial because the team was just horrible against the run last year. Fabian Moreau is another guy - like Jack and Vanderdoes - who returns after a serious injury cost him real time last year. There are new guys to like here - freshman linebacker Mique Juarez is, for example, getting a whole lot of hype.
UCLA Bruins Schedule Analysis
It could be worse. The nonconference schedule isn't as tough as it could be. They open at Texas A&M - a team not nearly as challenging to play as they were a couple of years back. Then they get an easy one against UNLV and a tough-but-winnable one at BYU. As we look at the conference schedule it is clear that the Bruins owe the schedule makers a giant gift - they don't have to play either Oregon or Washington as part of their divisional crossover schedule. They open at home against Stanford in a game that will be defining for both teams in terms of their viability as potential conference winners. From there the schedule is mostly tough but manageable, with the toughest tests coming at the end - they finish by hosting USC and then travelling to play Cal.
2016-17 UCLA Betting Odds and Trends
Bovada has UCLA at +5000 to win the national title, which has them tied with Washington and others as the 18th choice. They are the second choice at +350 to win the Pac-12, behind only Stanford at +300, and are the +140 favorite to win the Pac-12 South, ahead of USC at +175. BetOnline sets the season win total at nine, with the "under" solidly favored at -140.
This team won only eight games last year, and they were not a good team to bet on - they were 5-7-1 ATS. They were, however, a strong bet on the total - they went under eight times in 13 games, with one push.
2016-17 UCLA Predictions and College Football Picks
As I said before, I know how this is going to turn out - lots to like, but not enough to believe that they can overcome coaching I don't like and the inevitable realities of being the Bruins. They have six games they will win and six that they definitely could. Best-case scenario, though, I expect them to split those six games and limp to yet another middling record. Sorry Bruins fans - though you really bring it upon yourselves by being Bruins fans.
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