Over the next few weeks I will be previewing every team on Utah's upcoming football schedule. Not only will this give me something to do while I wait for the season to get here, but it will also give me the opportunity to get a better understanding of Utah's opponents, especially the out of conference ones.
Today we're going to preview the team that's been living in the shadow of college football's giant, USC.
If there's a forgettable team in the nation, it's UCLA. Forgettable because they often go unnoticed as one of the most storied programs in college football history. Forgettable because for the past few years they've been good, but never good enough to dominate their way outside of USC's shadow.
Last season UCLA sweated its way to an 8-0 start. And when I say sweated, I truly mean it because that's exactly what they did. The Bruins won 5 conference games by 10 points or less, squeaking out wins against the likes of Washington and Washington State (a combined record of 6-16) and got blindsided by an Arizona team that finished with only 3 wins last year.
To say UCLA's 10 win season was fairly hollowed is probably an understatement. The season wrapped up with an embarrassing loss to rival USC and a tough fought win against a mediocre Northwestern team in the Sun Bowl. This season the Bruins will look to capitalize on their 10 win season, but it won't be easy, as the Bruins lose a lot of key players from last year.
The Bruins bring back only 5 returning starters on offense this season and most notably they replace starting quarterback Drew Olson. Ben Olson will take over the reigns of the Bruins' offense and should have a pretty plentiful core of receivers to throw to. Joe Cowan, who incongruously has a mustache that rivals Adam Morrison, should be the Bruins best receiver this year. Last season Cowan had 35 catches for 469 yards and scored 3 touchdowns, making him the returning leader for the Bruins receiving core.
The power of the stache will save the Bruins this season
Cowan will be joined by Junior Taylor, who went down only three games into last season. Taylor had 6 catches last year for 109 yards and scored 2 touchdowns for the Bruins. When healthy, Taylor is a deep threat for a Bruins offense that makes more passes than Charlie Sheen at a cocktail party.
The Bruins also have a lightning-quick freshman in Terrence Austin, who shouldn't be taken lightly by any team.
The Bruins running game looks to be tailored around junior Chris Markey, who last season was named the Sun Bowl MVP. Markey ran for 561 yards last season, averaging 5 yards per carry. He also made 17 catches and scored 3 touchdowns for an offense that mostly was built around Drew Olson's arm. He'll be joined in the backfield by sophomore Kahlil Bell and junior Michael Pitre. Bell ran for 310 yards last season, an average of 6 yards per carry and scored 6 touchdowns. Pitre, an all-conference back last season, is a solid blocker and should help the Bruins running game.
One of the Bruins' biggest losses on offense outside of Drew Olson is the loss of Marcedes Lewis. Lewis, a solid TE for UCLA over the past few years, had 58 catches for 741 yards last season and will be hard to replace. The Bruins will look to Ryan Moya to fill Lewis' shoes as a starter this season. Moya had 10 catches last season for 153 yards and scored 2 touchdowns for the Bruins. Moya should be joined by J.J. Hair, who only played in one game for the Bruins last season. This is, along with the offensive line, probably UCLA's most vulnerable positions on offense this season.
UCLA's offense was surprisingly good last season and it should be decent again this year. However expecting a repeat of last year might be too much to ask, especially with replacing Drew Olson, Marcedes Lewis, Mike McCloskey and Maurice Drew. The success of the Bruins' offense this year will fall on the shoulders of Ben Olson and the offensive line. If Olson can live up to the hype (he was rated as the nation's top high school quarterback in 2001) and the o-line can do their job under new coach Jim Colletto, the Bruins should be solid offensively.
UCLA's defense was anything but spectacular last season. Thankfully, for them anyway, they had an offense that could out-shoot the competition. Last season the Bruins gave up 34 PPG, near the bottom in the country. This year, with a young offense led by a new quarterback, they will not have the luxury of allowing teams to score on them at will.
The Bruins looked to fix this by hiring DeWayne Walker as their new defensive coordinator and his top priority should be UCLA's secondary. Last season, the Bruins gave up 235 yards a game through the air and that's definitely something that will need to change heading into this season.
FS Dennis Keyes will replace Jarrad Page and should be the leader along with Aaron Ware, a redshirt freshman. Corner Trey Brown will make up the remaining part of this relatively inexperienced secondary.
UCLA's defensive line's success may rest in Kevin Brown's ability to stay healthy. Brown, a defensive tackle, missed all of last season, however put up impressive numbers in 2004. The defensive line last season got burned when it came to the run and that will be inexcusable this season. Justin Hickman is the only returning starter here, but may struggle defending against the run. It's imperative that DeWayne Walker improves the defensive line because with a possible weak secondary, a completely helpless defensive line could spell trouble for an already mediocre Bruins defense.
The Bruins will also need their linebackers to step up as well. Last season the Bruins gave up, on average, 5.4 yards per carry. They will need to improve on this stat and do it all even with losing one of their best defensive players in Spencer Havner. Eric McNeal will move to the safety position, while the Bruins will also look to fill the void of two other starters that left last season.
Defensively, the Bruins could struggle. Couple that with a possible young and inexperienced offense and the Bruins may be looking at another 6-6 season.
Karl Dorrell has yet to prove he's a capable coach that has the ability to sustain success and is worthy of praise. Last season UCLA played fairly well, though there were some troubling signs. This year, without the benefit of Drew Olson's arm and Marcedes Lewis' abilities, the Bruins might have a harder time winning those close games, especially if they turn into shootouts.
The Utes need to take advantage of a possible weak secondary and an average defensive line. I also expect Whittingham to pressure Ben Olson, forcing him into making those annoying rookie mistakes. With all that UCLA loses and the fact that their defense could still struggle, there is no reason the Utes can't beat the Bruins to start the season.