Don't be surprised if ... UCLA
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Ninth in a series of Pac-10 thoughts that might come from unusual angles.
Don't be surprised if ... UCLA's offense is much better in 2009.
OK, this one doesn't exactly come out of left field.
There is one obvious and overwhelming reason that this one is a near-certainty: UCLA's offense will be hard-pressed to be any worse than it was in 2008.
The Bruins ranked 109th or worse in the nation in five major statistical categories. The prime problems were turnovers (29) and poor offensive line play (83 yards per game rushing; 35 sacks surrendered).
The reason to project at least a modest turnaround are plentiful, though:
- No way a Norm Chow offense lays another egg like this one. In the quarter-century-plus he's been coaching offenses, he's never had one as bad as 2008.
- The offense welcomes back nine starters, though redshirt freshman Kevin Prince has unseated Kevin Craft at quarterback.
- Five players who would have started last year but were unavailable for various reasons -- injuries, suspension, transfer rules, etc. -- will be good to go in 2009: running back Christian Ramirez, tight end Logan Paulsen, center Kai Maiava, fullback Trevor Theriot and offensive tackle Sean Sheller.
- That beleaguered offensive line not only welcomes back Sheller, it also gets six guys back who started at least five games last fall. What's more, incoming freshmen Stan Hasiak and Xavier Su'a-filo, as well as JC transfer Eddie Williams, represent one of the nation's best recruiting hauls of O-linemen.
A modestly improved offense -- paired with an above-average defense -- should be good enough to get to 6-6 and bowl eligible. And if things fall into place ... well, at least one highly respected college football pundit projects a top-25 finish, which requires eight or nine wins.
The key for pushing into the top-half of the Pac-10 likely hinges on the Bruins producing a respectable running game. Chow would probably say "Deal!" on 150 yards per game.
That rushing threat not only would take the pressure off Prince, it would burn some clock and allow the Bruins' defense to rest (Chow did a commendable job of burning the clock and trying to shorten games last year, as the Bruins' average time of possession was 30:07 per game).
While it would be premature to project Chow's offense making a dramatic transformation, the entirely realistic goal of becoming merely mediocre probably will be enough to get the Bruins' win-loss ledger back into the black.