BangTheBook.com Preseason Top 25: #4 UCLA Bruins

The Preseason AP Top 25 poll won’t come out until next month, but here at BangTheBook.com, we’re giving you a Top 25 from a betting perspective. Using power ratings to determine the top 25 teams in college football, readers will have the opportunity to look at what the preseason Top 25 might look like if designed by a bettor. Each article will feature a preview of that team with a write-up for each position and an explanation of why the position group was rated that way and some further insight into the methodology of creating power ratings.

The Methodology: Each team is rated up to 100 with eight different position groups considered. Quarterbacks, offensive and defensive lines, and coaching are graded on a scale of 4 to 15, while running backs, wide receivers, linebackers, and defensive backs are graded on a scale of 4 to 10 in half-point increments.

Groups are rated on returning production, potential, previous performance, and a handful of other variables. Information was gathered from all corners of the college football world, including preseason magazines, websites dedicated to specific teams, national college football websites, and more.

uclaThe #4 team on the BangTheBook.com Preseason Top 25 is the UCLA Bruins.

Quarterbacks (15/15)

Brett Hundley could have left as a redshirt sophomore last season, but both he and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota decided to stay and it’s those two guys that are the headliners in the Pac-12 again this season. Hundley was the leading rusher for the Bruins with 748 net rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. He also completed over two-thirds of his passes for over 3,000 yards and 24 more touchdowns. The offensive losses from last season are minimal and Hundley is poised for a huge season. Behind him are redshirt freshman Asiantii Woulard and sophomore Jerry Neuheisel, son of Rick Neuheisel.

Running Backs (8.5/10)

The Bruins struggled to find a feature back last season to replace Johnathan Franklin, who went to the NFL in 2012 as the all-time leader in rushing yards. Jordon James averaged 5.3 yards per carry, but started only six games due to injury. This group may lack a bit of depth, which was evidenced by the use of linebacker Myles Jack at running back last season. Jack wound up with seven yards per carry over 38 rushes and chipped in seven touchdowns. If James stays healthy, he and Jack provide a strong “lightning and thunder” type backfield.

Wide Receivers (8/10)

Big play wide receiver Shaquelle Evans is gone, taking his team-leading 47 receptions, 709 yards, and nine touchdowns with him, but five of the top six pass catchers return and Hundley’s development as a passer should continue this season. Three juniors, Devin Fuller, Jordan Payton, and Devin Lucien, got a lot of experience as sophomores and that should lead to better numbers from this group. This unit took a blow when highly-touted incoming freshman Austin Roberts tore his ACL.

Offensive Line (14/15)

The Bruins were bit by a swarm of injury bugs on the offensive line last season and still managed 4.5 yards per carry. Like Florida State’s offensive line, which is arguably better than UCLA’s, the quarterback’s mobility also should help this group. It didn’t seem to help much last season with 36 sacks allowed, but nine came in one game against Arizona State. Four starters return, including 28 starts from true freshmen last season. Xavier Su’a-Filo left early for the NFL and was drafted in the second round, but there’s quality depth here thanks to Mora’s recruiting.

Defensive Line (13.5/15)

Losses to the NFL and graduation take away 22 of the Bruins’ 32 sacks from last season as Anthony Barr and Cassius Marsh were drafted and Keenan Graham graduated. People only focused on what the Bruins lost, including linebacker Jordan Zumwalt, may expect some regression from the Bruins. As far as the defensive line goes, that may not be the case. Eddie Vanderdoes, a freshman All-American, will man one defensive end spot while redshirt senior Owamagbe Odighizuwa returns from a lost season due to injury. Don’t sleep on this group just because of a big name loss like Barr.

Linebackers (10/10)

This group has elite potential and could easily be elevated to a perfect score early on in the season. Leading tackler Eric Kendricks is a senior now and has 332 tackles to his name, including the 2012 season in which he led the Pac-12 with 149 tackles. Myles Jack is a star in the making at linebacker, following a freshman campaign in which he recorded 11 pass breakups, two interceptions, 75 tackles, and the aforementioned success as a running back. True freshmen Zach Whitley and Kenny Young could see playing time and some highly-touted sophomores are also in this group.

Defensive Backs (8/10)

The UCLA secondary showed a lot of inconsistency last season. The team’s 16/14 TD/INT ratio on defense was quite good, but they allowed 61 percent of passes to be completed overall and nearly 64 percent during conference play. There’s certainly a lot of talent in this group and all four starters return, but there are also injury concerns as two of the four projected starters have missed significant time in their college careers. Size is a concern here as well because there are several players at 5’10” or less. But, the athleticism can play and this group should be well above average.

Coaching (14/15)

Jim Mora, Jr. has done some very good things in his two years with the program, leading the Bruins to a 19-8 mark after they won just 21 games in four years under Rick Neuheisel. The defense will have a new boss as Jeff Ulbrich, who was the assistant head coach and linebackers coach, moves into the coordinator position with the departure of Lou Spanos, who is now the linebackers coach of the Tennessee Titans. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone has 11 years of OC experience with Arizona State, Ole Miss, and Auburn. This is a solid group and Mora has done an outstanding job of recruiting.

Total: 91

The Bruins are the last of the second of three teams tied with a rating of 91. Like Oregon, they get the nod over the other team by virtue of having the lower of the two ratings in the “Coaching” category. The prospects of having a truly special season are in the Bruins’ favor with Oregon, USC, and Stanford all at home. This is a deeply-talented team that improved in the second year under Mora and returns a lot of production in key areas. A lot of freshmen got experience last season and those players were recruited by Mora to fit his systems.

It’s hard to find flaws with a team that went 10-3 and returns 17 starters. There’s talent and depth up and down the roster and Hundley should continue to improve as a decision maker. This is a team that has the ability to put up big offensive numbers and the defense has a plethora of playmakers. You probably won’t see the Bruins ranked this high in the AP or Coaches’ Poll, but this is a team that will get noticed very early on and has the talent to match up with almost everybody in the country.

They’re a top-five team based on talent. It may not shake out that way because of the schedule, but looking at this team before the games begin, bettors have to be aware of the ceiling that the Bruins have and it could end with a spot in the College Football Playoff when all is said and done.

Adam Burke

Adam Burke

Adam Burke is a freelance writer and amateur handicapper with a knack for finding value through matchup analysis and a deep understanding of the sports betting market. His main area of expertise is baseball, with a background in sabermetrics and advanced statistics. He is the host of The Gridiron Gambling Report and our college football and college basketball BangTheBook.com podcasts on the BlogTalkRadio Network.