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Nonconference primer: UCLA

7/25/2014

We continue with our series looking at each Pac-12 team's nonconference opponents in 2014.

UCLA Bruins

At Virginia Cavaliers, Saturday, Aug. 30

  • Coach: Mike London (18-31), fifth year

  • 2013 record: 2-10, 0-8, ACC

  • Returning starters: Seven offense, nine defense

  • Offensive headliner: Running back Kevin Parks became the first Cavalier player to rush for more than 1,000 yards in almost a decade, posting 1,031 yards and 11 touchdowns. He ranked second in the conference with 85.9 yards per game on the ground.

  • Defensive headliner: Middle linebacker Henry Coley led Virginia with 91 stops last year, including 8.5 tackles for a loss and a sack. He ranked eighth in the ACC with 7.6 tackles per game.

  • The skinny: Virginia is coming off its worst season under London, who has had a pair of 4-8 seasons with one winning season (2011, 8-5) in between. They are currently riding a nine-game losing streak and a 10-game losing streak against FBS teams (which started with a 59-10 loss last season to Oregon). After opening the year with a surprising win over BYU, it was all downhill, save for a win over VMI in between.

Memphis Tigers, Saturday, Sept. 6

  • Coach: Justin Fuente (7-17), third season

  • 2013 record: 3-9, 1-7 American

  • Returning starters: Nine offense, eight defense

  • Offensive headliner: Quarterback Paxton Lynch threw for 2,056 yards and nine touchdowns last year, while adding 127 yards and two scores on the ground. It was just the 10th 2,000-yard passing season in school history and he was just the second freshman in school history to break the 2K passing mark.

  • Defensive headliner: Defensive lineman Martin Ifedi has been getting a lot of preseason love, landing on the Bednarik, Bronko Nagurski and Rotary Lombardi watch lists. He has 20 career sacks, one shy of matching the school record.

  • The skinny: Though there were a lot of losses last season, the Tigers were still pretty competitive in games against Duke, Louisville and BCS darlings UCF. But they ended the year on a low note with blowout losses to Temple and Connecticut. Lynch returns with some experience and a pretty good receiving corps, headlined by fourth-year player Keiwone Malone. The defense should be steady with a good line and a trio of returning linebackers.

Texas Longhorns (in Arlington, Texas), Saturday, Sept. 13

  • Coach: Charlie Strong, first year

  • 2013 record: 8-5, 7-2 Big 12

  • Returning starters: Five offense, seven defense

  • Offensive headliner: Running back Malcom Brown rushed for 904 yards and nine touchdowns. He posted five 100-yard rushing performances last year, including 120 yards in the Red River Rivalry win over Oklahoma.

  • Defensive headliner: Defensive end Cedric Reed was third on the team last season with 79 tackles. He also led the team with five forced fumbles and is on the All-Big 12 preseason team and several watch lists.

  • The skinny: The Longhorns are starting anew with the Charlie Strong era. The last time we saw them, the Ducks were escorting Mack Brown into retirement following a 30-7 win in the Alamo Bowl. Texas has some rebuilding to do on the offensive line, with three starters departed. The quarterback spot is also, well, shaky. They also lose their top two tacklers from last season. But there is enough talent at the skill spots and across the defensive line to make this a potentially dangerous game.

Thoughts: For the Bruins to get to where Jim Mora wants them, anything less than 3-0 won't do. Memphis and Virginia are struggling FBS teams -- but FBS teams nonetheless, which will help the Bruins resume. But the Texas game is the one that could bring some national attention to Westwood. A lot of eyes will be on Texas to see what Strong can do with the brand-name program in his first year. A lot of eyes will also be on the Bruins, who will likely be a top 10 team to start the season with Heisman hopeful Brett Hundley at the helm. Things only get tougher for the Bruins, as they leave their nonconference schedule and jump right into a showdown at Arizona State. Then home dates with Oregon, USC and Stanford loom. The Bruins have the DNA to be one of the top teams in the country and possibly advance to the College Football Playoff. A 3-0 nonconference mark puts them on the right path. Anything less knocks them off that path.