The UCLA Bruins - A Team To Watch
Josh Rosen is as hyped of a young quarterback as there is in college football. The UCLA sophomore was a five-star recruit and while his freshman campaign of 2015 had its rocky moments, you could see the promise. He completed 60 percent of his passes, averaged a solid 7.5 yards per attempt and finished with a TD-INT ratio of 23-11. Now, can he lift the Bruins to the next level - to their first conference championship since 1998 and into the College Football Playoff?
Rosen's true believers will undoubtedly be tempted by the 50-1 price on UCLA to win the national title. We'll dismiss that as wasted money on this fact alone - in the whole of UCLA's football history they have not only never won a national championship, they've only finished in the top four nationally - the minimum necessary to make the Playoff - three times. And the most recent was 1965. We like Rosen too, but even 50-1 isn't enough to buck that kind of history.
Particularly not when UCLA has to find three new starters on the offensive line, replace 1,300-yard rusher Paul Perkins and is working with a new offensive coordinator and a new system. The circumstances just aren't ripe for the Bruins to truly be an elite team.
But that doesn't mean they can't be pretty good and there more realistic goals out there and better opportunities on the Vegas board. One of them is on the Over/Under for wins, where UCLA is 8.5. And you get (+100) to take the Over.
The track record of the program under head coach Jim Mora Jr. makes this prop attractive. Even though Mora only won eight games last year, he won 10 in the each of the previous two years and nine in his first year of 2012. If the Bruins simply play to their average under Mora, they'll go Over 8.5.
And there's reasons to think this UCLA team will be better than last year. Mora's 2013 recruiting class - this year's seniors - ranked in the national Top 10. Eleven of those seniors are projected to start in what will be a veteran lineup. The defense returns eight starters from last year. This was a unit that only ranked 54th in the nation in points allowed, so there's room for improvement.
One of the "non-returning" starters is really a returnee. Defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes comes back from a knee injury. His loss in 2015 left UCLA vulnerable to the run and they finished a woeful 97th in the country in stopping the rush game. That was most apparent in a 56-30 loss to physical Stanford. UCLA has a good defensive coordinator in Tom Bradley and the D should make good strides this year.
The schedule isn't easy But there's still a non-conference home date with UNLV, two very likely home wins against rebuilding Utah and Oregon State, along with highly probable road wins at Colorado and Cal.
That gets the Bruins to five wins and then the rest of the schedule shapes up as follows - Road games with Texas A&M and BYU, along with Arizona State and Washington State. And the remaining home games against Stanford, Arizona and USC.
Can UCLA go 4-3 in those games? If the answer is yes, then they're a nine-win team. Even 3-4 still gets an opportunity to get the ninth win in a bowl game.
A talented young quarterback and a veteran defense might not be enough to talk national championship, but they're enough for UCLA to win at least nine games - and maybe make the 9-2 price on winning a wide-open Pac-12 worth taking a look at as well .
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