The UCLA Bruins (10-3, 6-3 Pac 12 in 2014) football program has been renewed since the arrival of head coach Jim Mora Jr., but the team hasn’t taken the step to the top ranks just yet. The Bruins will open the season hosting an intriguing Virginia Cavaliers (5-7, 3-5 ACC in 2014) programs that enter this game as more than a two touchdowns underdogs, on Saturday, September 5 at the Rose Bowl, in Pasadena (3:30 PM Eastern).
The Bruins will have 17 of their 22 players back in 2015, giving them a huge edge of the over the rest of the Pac-12 Conference. UCLA’s main issue is to find a replacement for QB Brent Huntley as he’s now a member of the Green Bay Packers in the NFL. With Huntley in the pros, Mora Jr. has a pretty solid backup in nation’s top quarterback recruit, Josh Rosen, who has been running a similar offense throughout his high school career.
“We all know he can throw,” offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said to the LA Times. “We all know he has the tangible things, the physical things. But for a young guy, he has such great composure of what’s going on around him and great understanding about all the moving parts and how they work.”
UCLA was the 43rd best passing offense in 2014, but had problems when Huntley didn’t find his first target open. The team scored 33.5 points per game last season, something that could improve once Rosen take the job. Even if Rosen’s freshman mistakes come across more often than not, the kid has all the intangibles to be one of the best in the nation sooner than later.
The University of Virginia will play three potential top-25 teams in three of their first four games, taking on Notre Dame after playing UCLA, with Boise State scheduled for Week 4. It’s important for UVA to show something in Week 1, otherwise the season will be quickly lost.
UVA had the 58th passing offense last season, scoring only 25.8 points per game in 2014. Head coach Mike London is 23-38 in five years on the job and will start the 2015 campaign on the hot seat after his Cavaliers have had losing seasons four of the past five years.
“I understand this is a business, and you have to win games, but I’m at peace with who I am, and what I do and how I do it,” London explained to ESPN. “I want to be at Virginia for a long time. I believe I can help Virginia win football games and bring the football program back.”
London is likely to go with junior Matt Johns under center; he threw for 1109 yards, eight touchdowns and five interceptions last season, but was always behind Greyson Lambert as the backup quarterback in a troubled offense.
These two teams met last season with UCLA pulling out a 28-20 win in Virginia. The Bruins failed to cover the spread as 18 points favorites on the road, but this time, playing again as favorites now by 17 points, I expect UCLA to take UVA by at least three touchdowns.
Remember, Jim Mora Jr has 17 starters coming back, a well-run program and should be able to challenge the powerhouses inside the Pac-12 this year.
Pick: UCLA (-17).
(Photo Credit: Neon Tommy [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)