Well, we've made it.
After months of debate, speculation, rumors, and analysis, we've finally made it to the College Football Season, and for UCLA, this could be one of the best years in program history. The Bruins come into 2014 loaded with talent, with 17 returning starters like Brett Hundley, Myles Jack, Eric Kendricks and others back in the fold this year. All it could take is a win over Oregon and/or Stanford and UCLA could punch their ticket to the Pac-12 Championship game, and put themselves in a prime position for a spot in the annual CFB Playoff.
Their journey to a championship starts with a trip out to the East coast to take on the Virginia Cavilers, who are looking to bounce back from a 2-10 finish last season. Here's a preview on how the Cavaliers will fare against Brett Hundley and the UCLA Bruins:
Greyson Lambert. This one is actually in order, because at least for me, I am REALLY STOKED for this. The quarterback that saw minimal playing time last season, leading everyone to wonder just how bad he was given the 2-10 record, has shown tremendous growth over the past year and is ready to take over the reins and bring UVA's football program back to respectability.
Kevin Parks. It will be interesting to see what Parks does for an encore after becoming the first UVA back to rush for 1000 yards in nearly a decade.
Keeon Johnson. True freshman became the most dangerous receiver on the field the moment he stepped onto it. What might he do with a real QB and another year of experience?
Defense! Defense! Virginia returns nine starters on defense, and if the offense can give them just a little bit of resting time, they should be in a great position to protect the Hoos' endzone.
Eli Harold. 8.5 sacks despite being the only real threat on the DL once Brent Urban was hurt.
All-American Ant Harris. Reminiscent of former UVA great Ronde Barber, Harris let the nation with eight interceptions last year. He's on a million preseason watch lists, so keep an eye out for great things to come this season!
Quarterbacks: The Bruins biggest offensive weapon is under center in Brett Hundley. The dual-threat Heisman candidate threw for 3,000-plus yards and rushed for 700 more on the ground in 2013, and could've gone pro after his sophomore year, but chose to stay in Westwood for 2014. Hundley will be one of the best quarterbacks not only in the Pac-12, but in the entire country this season. On the other side of the field, Virginia has been through their fair share of QB troubles in recent years, but may have found luck with sophomore Greyson Lambert. Hundley will still be the most experienced and talented on the field come this Saturday. Advantage: UCLA
Running Backs: Kevin Parks became UVA's first 1,000-yard rusher since Alvin Pearman in 2004, and for his efforts was named to the second-team All-ACC squad for 2013. Along with Parks, all six of the top rushers from last year return this year, making this one of the deepest RB groups UVA has had in a while. UCLA's RB corp is just as experienced/deep, but they lack a true number one guy out of the backfield. Hundley was the leading rusher, and while the RB by-committee approach has worked so far, injuries could force someone to step up out of the back. Both groups are deep this year and will have significant impact on both offenses. Advantage: Push
Wide Receivers: Despite the loss of #1 WR Shaquille Evans, the top three returnees combined for 1,250 yards last year for UCLA, but will a true #1 target emerge this year? Virginia loses their two top receivers from 2013 in Jake McGee and Tim Smith, most of the unit from last year returns in tact and should improve off their numbers. Neither group is particularly dominant over the other here. Advantage: Push
Offensive Line: The Cavilers O-line returns some experience this year (49 career starts), but have dealt with injuries and have been scrambling lineman around all spring. The 'Hoos will need to solidify their line if they want to achieve success in 2014. At UCLA, the Bruins return 89 career starts and add Miami(FL) transfer Malcolm Bunche into the fold this year. While the Bruins were hampered by injuries up front a few times last year, (see Stanford/Oregon), they return a strong front that will improve the Bruins rush game and keep Hundley off the turf more often than not. I give the nod to UCLA here. Advantage: UCLA
Defensive Line: The Bruins lose Cassius Marsh and Keenan Graham, who combined for 12 sacks on the front line, but return a solid front three including Senior Owamagbe Odighizuwa (missed all of 2013), who racked up 44 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 2012. Also up front are Nose Tackle Josh Clark and Defensive End Vanderdoes. Virginia may have one of the most underrated front four in the ACC, anchoring by the returning David Dean and Eli Harold, who combined for 12.5 sacks, 100 tackles, and 10 tackles for loss. We'll also get a first look at #5 overall recruit Andrew Brown, the best defensive tackle prospect in the nation. Both front lines will be among the best in their respective conferences. Advantage: Push
Linebackers: UVA's linebacker group returns fully intact in 2014, with the entire three-deep group back this year, including #1 and #2 tacklers Henry Coley and and Daquan Romero. UCLA loses two big names at LB with Anthony Barr and Jordan Zumwalt gone for the NFL, but they return their #1 tackler Eric Kendricks, and of course, two-way star Myles Jack. Those two will shine in 2014 and will anchor the front seven of the Bruins defense. I give the slight advantage to UCLA here. Advantage: UCLA
Secondary: This is definitely the group you're going to want to watch very closely on both teams. One of the pleasant surprises on the UCLA defense was the secondary, which returned just one starter in 2013, and would end up finishing third in pass defense in the conference last year. The back front returns all four starters from last season that combined for 17 pass breakups and 9 interceptions. The Bruins could have their very own no-fly zone in the secondary this year, making it very difficult for opposing quarterbacks and receivers all year long. Virginia returns the entire secondary intact, headlined by All-American and returning interception leader Anthony Harris, who picked off eight passes and broke up six others in 2014. It's too close to call between these two groups. Advantage: Push
Special Teams: Virginia lost their kicker Ian Frye to an injury four games into last year and were forced to move Punter Alec Vozenilek to kicker for the time being. He would be very good in relief, hitting 12-15 (long of 40) to end the year. Frye's back at 100% and will be the starter for UVA this year. The Bruins return two All-Pac 12 specialists in Kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn and Punter Sean Covington, and punt/kick returner Ishmael Adams, who lead the conference with 35.0 yards per return last year. UCLA's unit is more effective is the special teams department this year. Advantage: UCLA
Prediction: UCLA 41, Virginia 20