College Football Countdown: No. 73 UCLA

The Orlando Sentinel has ranked all 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 120 to our projected No. 1 team. We will not be including the four teams the NCAA lists as still reclassifying to the Football Bowl Subdivision level.

Today at No. 73: UCLA

Coach: Jim Mora Jr. (0-0, first season)

2011 record: 6-8 (5-4 inPac-12 conference, first in South Division)

Look back: Even from the start, you never really felt as if Rick Neuheisel fit in at UCLA. It wasn’t for a lack of trying but the program always seemed to be just a bit off every season. Case in point, last season, the Bruins won six games and basically backed into the South Division title thanks to USC’s postseason ban. Neuheisel was fired before the Pac-12 Championship but was allowed to coach the game and the team needed a waiver from the NCAA to even be able to participate in a postseason bowl game – which it lost. The school went out and hired Jim Mora Jr., a coach that had virtually no college coaching experience.

Offensive starters lost/returning: 4/7

Defensive starters lost/returning: 3/8

Key losses: WR Nelson Rosario, DT Justin Edison, LB Glenn Love, LB Sean Westgate

Top returnees: QB Kevin Prince, RB Johnathan Franklin, WR Shaq Evans, DE Datone Jones, LB Patrick Larimore, DB Andrew Abbott

Strengths: UCLA had one of top ground attacks in the Pac-12 last season. Running back Johnathan Franklin rushed for 976 yards and five touchdowns last season and the Bruins averaged close to 180 yards per game on the ground. With three starters back on the offensive line, picking up where they left off last season will be a goal for this squad. … The Bruins finished the season with the third best passing defense in the Pac-12 thanks in part to CBs Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price. Both combined for 107 tackles and both will be called up to continue that trend in 2012. … Datone Jones will anchor the defensive line for the Bruins. Jones had 41 tackles including 6.5 tackles for a loss.

Weaknesses: So many questions revolve around the quarterback position. Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut are expected to compete for the starting job but don’t count out freshman Brett Hundley. Prince threw for more than 1,800 yards last season but has never truly made the position his own, in part because of injuries and consistency issues.

Outlook: The biggest hurdle that Jim Mora Jr. will face this season will be getting consistency out of this team. Developing a quarterback will be key whether its Prince, Brehaut or Hundley. The defense should benefit from Mora’s NFL experience. UCLA plays three of its first four games at the Rose Bowl, which could be huge for his team. As always, if Mora and the Bruins can beat cross-town rival USC – something it hasn’t done since 2006 – that could go a long way to easing the growing pains of a first-year coach.

2012 Schedule

Aug. 30 at Rice

Sept. 8 Nebraska

Sept. 15 Houston

Sept. 22 Oregon State

Sept. 29 at Colorado

Oct. 6 at California

Oct. 13 Utah

Oct. 27 at Arizona State

Nov. 3 Arizona

Nov. 10 at Washington State

Nov. 17 USC

Nov. 24 Stanford

Rest of the countdown:
No. 75 FIU
No. 76 San Jose State
No. 77 North Texas
No. 78 Iowa State

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