Newcomer to watch: Now that the NCAA has signed off on his Irish exodus, five-star defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes might be able to jump in immediately and help restore some depth to UCLA’s defensive front, which has suffered some attrition through injury and graduation.
Biggest games in 2013: There are plenty of them, as the Bruins' schedule figures to be tougher than last season. At Nebraska (Sept. 14) highlights the nonconference slate and the back-to-back games at Stanford (Oct. 19) and at Oregon (Oct. 26) is a vicious two-week stretch. They close with ASU (Nov. 23) and at USC (Nov. 30) in a span that will likely decide the South Division.
Biggest question mark heading into 2013: There are more than most fans would prefer to see -- like a youthful secondary that’s without Tevin McDonald (dismissed from team) and Dietrich Riley (medical retirement) and gaps across the defensive front. But replacing Franklin -- or at least replicating most of his production through a committee -- has to be a top priority. The Doak Walker finalist departs as the school’s all-time leading rusher and was a comforting and stabilizing presence for Hundley in his first season as a starter. Jordon James, Paul Perkins, Craig Lee, Malcolm Jones and Steven Manfro make up the crowded committee – which will get even more crowded when Damien Thigpen returns from injury sometime in October.
Forecast: Picked by the media to take the Pac-12 South for the third straight year, the Bruins aren’t going to sneak up on anybody this season. Mora had a fantastic first season as a collegiate head coach and Hundley proved to be as advertised -- if not better. But he loses his favorite red zone target in Fauria, the aforementioned Franklin, and there are still holes on the offensive line that need to be sorted out.
The defense, as noted above, also has holes, but there are some exciting young players in the secondary eager to make a name for themselves. And, of course, Anthony Barr returns as one of the nation’s premier defensive players and a probable first-round draft pick -- possibly even top 10.
The schedule ramps up significantly in 2013. The Bruins go to Stanford for a rematch of the 2012 Pac-12 title game and also face Oregon for the first time in the Mora era. Almost all of their toughest games are on the road, including Nebraska, Stanford, Oregon and USC. With some of the previously mentioned offensive stars gone, Hundley will be asked to do more with the offense than he did last year -- which includes better decision-making and command of the offense.
Yet despite all of their success in 2012, the blowout loss to Baylor in the Holiday Bowl lingers. As does the fact that the Bruins were the most-penalized team in the country last year and they gave up an unhealthy amount of sacks. Mora is making sure his players know they haven’t arrived yet.
The Bruins are a fascinating balancing act of proven playmakers and untested youth. If their youth matures quickly, it wouldn’t be shocking to see them in the title game for the third straight year.