We continue our team-by-team review of the Pac-12 with UCLA.
Offense: In 2013, the UCLA offense scored more points per game, averaged more yards per play, was more efficient passing the ball and even averaged more rushing yards despite the graduation of Johnathan Franklin, compared to a season ago. Sacks were a huge problem in 2012, with the Bruins yielding an eye-popping 52. While yielding 36 sacks wasn't Stanford-like, it was still a significant improvement. In 2012, the Bruins had 25 turnovers. They had 16 in 2013. So, there's no question the offense improved in the second season with coordinator Noel Mazzone and quarterback Brett Hundley. All that happened despite starting three true freshmen on the offensive line much of the season. The only real hiccup for the offense came in back-to-back road games against Stanford and Oregon, when the Bruins scored 10 and 14 points, respectively. In the Sun Bowl, the Bruins rolled up 42 points against a rugged Virginia Tech defense. Grade: B+
Defense: The Bruins ranked fifth in the Pac-12 in scoring defense, allowing 23.2 points per game, 4.4 fewer than in 2012. They also allowed 0.5 fewer yards per play and moved up from eighth to fifth in pass efficiency defense. The sack numbers were way down -- 32 in 2013 vs. 47 in 2012 -- but that probably was because of coordinator Lou Spanos not believing he needed to blitz as often to stop opponents. It's notable that the Bruins yielded just 16 touchdown passes with two new cornerbacks after yielding 27 in 2012. What's more, the defense was consistent. It had a bad fourth quarter at Oregon and a bad first half against Arizona State, but that was about it. Grade: B+
Special teams: UCLA was solid on special teams, though the field goal kicking -- 14 of 21 -- wasn't terribly reliable. The Bruins ranked second in the conference in net punting, second in kick returns and fifth in punt returns. They also blocked four kicks/punts, which was second-most in the conference. Grade: B
Overall: Mora's first season in Westwood in 2012 was impressive. UCLA finished 9-5, winning the Pac-12 South Division and showed dramatic improvement on both sides of the ball. But the season concluded with three consecutive defeats, including a blowout loss to Baylor in the Holiday Bowl. This year's 10-3 record -- though the 6-3 conference record is the same and Arizona State won the division -- feels like a significant step forward. The Bruins won five of their final six games, including a second consecutive win over USC, and turned in a strong bowl performance, a 42-12 domination of the Hokies. The final No. 16 ranking shows that UCLA, which was 21st in the preseason polls, is on the move in a positive direction. The 2014 preseason ranking, spurred on by Hundley's decision to return instead of entering the NFL draft, should reflect that. Grade: B+