- Peter Yoon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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The preseason positional reviews are in and camp is set to begin, so with a little time to kill, how about a prediction on UCLA's upcoming season?
Preseason predictions by nature are pretty silly because nobody knows how a season is going to unfold, what players are going to emerge as stars and which won’t live up to their preseason accolades. Everyone loves a prediction, however, so predict we must.
But how about taking the silliness factor up a notch and not only project who will win each of UCLA’s games, but how? That’s right, fictional game recaps before the games happen. As if giving you just a score wasn’t enough of an inane endeavor, we present the following dreamed-up version of how UCLA's season might go:
UCLA 41, at Rice 13
Brett Hundley gets a pretty nice draw for his UCLA debut, facing a defense that ranked No. 115 in the nation against the pass last season. He takes advantage and passes for 242 yards and three touchdowns and rushes for another 54 yards and a score as the Bruins give coach Jim Mora his first collegiate victory. Receivers Shaq Evans and Jerry Johnson each catch touchdown passes and Johnathan Franklin gets over the 100-yard mark but doesn’t play the fourth quarter in the rout. UCLA’s defense holds Rice without a touchdown until a late score against the second- and third-stringers.
Nebraska 34, at UCLA 20
UCLA’s passing attack struggles as the offensive line has a hard time controlling the Nebraska pass rush and Hundley is sacked four times. The freshman quarterback is able to make some plays with his legs and finds Joseph Fauria for a couple of touchdowns, but throws a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions as the Bruins try to make a late rally. The UCLA defense, still adjusting to assignments in the new 3-4, have a tough time containing dual-threat quarterback Taylor Martinez and running back Rex Burkhead, a 1,300-yard rusher last season. The Cornhuskers rush for 200 yards against UCLA.
at UCLA 37, Houston 16
It’s a rematch of last season’s opener, but Houston is a very different team without record-setting quarterback Case Keenum and with a new coaching staff in place. Gone is the up-tempo pass offense as the Cougars begin to rely on running back Charles Sims, an all-Conference USA selection last year. UCLA’s defense, battle tested from Nebraska’s running game, is ready and shuts down the Cougars by forcing four turnovers. Steven Manfro has a breakout game with 169 total yards and two touchdowns. Kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn kicks field goals of 37, 41 and 44 yards.
at UCLA 38, Oregon State 24
The Bruins get a couple of early big plays by Jordon James and Franklin, but the defense nearly gets caught napping at home against the inferior Beavers, who are within four points at halftime. The defense stiffens in the second half as linebackers Patrick Larimore and Eric Kendricks take control. UCLA puts together some clock-eating drives as everyone breathes a little easier. It’s another big game for Fauria, who has two touchdowns, and Malcolm Jones shows his effectiveness in the power running game with 81 yards and a touchdown.
UCLA 27, at Colorado 24
UCLA nearly gets caught looking past Colorado, which is thought to be among the weakest teams in the conference. Playing on the road for the first time in a month doesn’t help matters as Colorado receiver Paul Richardson eats up the UCLA secondary and the UCLA receivers fall into old habits and drop several key passes. Hundley and Franklin refuse to let the Bruins lose, however, and combine for 96 yards rushing in the fourth quarter. Franklin breaks off a 24-yard run late in the game to set up a 36-yard game-winning field goal by Fairbairn with less than a minute to play.
at California 34, UCLA 24
In the first of back-to-back games that will make or break UCLA’s season, the Bruins fall flat. The Golden Bears come up with a defensive scheme that slows the UCLA offense just enough and forces three crucial turnovers as Cal, which hasn’t lost to UCLA in Berkeley since 1998, tacks another win on to that streak. James has a big game with 80 yards rushing and another 80 receiving as UCLA tries to figure out a way to get the ball moving, but it’s one of those games where the Bruins can’t seem to get a break and the turnovers are too much to overcome.
at UCLA 38, Utah 17
After a week of tough practices, the Bruins show their character and play their most complete game of the season in the most important game of the season to date. Hundley firmly establishes himself as a team leader with his first 300-yard passing game and the UCLA offense piles up 400 yards in total offense as one of the top defense in the conference comes out flat after facing USC in its previous game. Defensively, Ellis McCarthy starts to live up to his preseason hype and gets three sacks among his five tackles for a loss. Andrew Abbott returns an interception for a touchdown.
UCLA 48, at Arizona State 10
Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone and running backs coach Steve Broussard get two weeks to prepare for their former team because UCLA has a bye week after Utah. It turns into a free-for-all for the Bruins' offense as Franklin, James and Manfro all tear the Sun Devils' defense to shreds with an array of open-field wizardry. The Bruins gain 400 yards for the second consecutive game and the UCLA defense dominates an Arizona State squad that is reeling after getting pummeled at Oregon a week earlier. The Bruins get four turnovers, including interceptions by Sheldon Price and Dalton Hilliard.
at UCLA 41, Arizona 38
It’s a wild west shootout at the Rose Bowl with Wildcats coach Rich Rodriguez and Mazzone matching spread offenses tit for tat. Rodriguez has his team focused after a blowout loss to USC a week earlier and this game goes back and forth as Hundley and Arizona quarterback Matt Scott put on an awesome display of athleticism. Arizona grabs the lead late and is driving for the knockout blow when Datone Jones forces a fumble with less than five minutes to go. Hundley completes a deep pass to freshman Jordan Payton to set up Franklin’s winning touchdown with less than a minute to play.
UCLA 21, at Washington State 17
The dreaded trip to Pullman, in a November chill and a week before facing crosstown rival USC adds up to a bad scenario for the Bruins, but a team that has shown character throughout the season does it again in tough circumstances. In a snowy mess, the Cougars, who rely on Mike Leach’s pass-happy offense and receiver Marquess Wilson, are neutralized by the weather and Tevin McDonald gets two first-half interceptions. The Washington State defense, weak against the run, is vulnerable when UCLA goes to the ground attack because of the conditions and Franklin and Jones each rush for over 100 yards.
USC 33, at UCLA 24
Manfro returns the opening kickoff for a touchdown, the first of what figures to be several in his career, and the Bruins have huge momentum as they take a 14-0 lead after the first quarter. They can't sustain it, however, as USC runs a balanced attack with quarterback Matt Barkley and Penn State transfer running back Silas Redd keeping the Bruins defense guessing the rest of the game. UCLA gets a few key stops, but USC hits on a couple of big plays in the third and fourth quarters to seal the victory. Franklin breaks a long run late to go over the 1,000-yard mark for the season, but it’s not enough in a disappointing loss.
Stanford 31, at UCLA 24
It’s a letdown week for both teams, which are both coming off losses that knocked them out of contention for a spot in the Pac-12 title game. Stanford, which lost to Oregon the week before, and the Bruins also can’t get seem to get motivated because they are playing each other instead of their traditional final-week rivals. As a result, it’s a sloppy game for both teams featuring turnovers and missed assignments. Hundley passes the 3,000-yard passing mark for the season, but Stanford slows UCLA’s running game with its linebackers and the Bruins come up short on a fourth-quarter drive.
Final regular-season record: 8-4. Bruins are selected to play in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego.
So what do you think, Bruins fans, would you take this?