Q: Two out of the three guys on ESPN College GameDay picked the Bruins to win the national title today. How realistic do you think this is? If we get past Oregon, would you agree to road to a NT becomes significantly more realistic?
A: Over the last three months or so, UCLA has gone from a consensus top-ten team to an increasingly popular pick for the College Football Playoff. And nothing about the Bruins have really changed in that span. You can argue either that opinions have either skewed too high on UCLA, or that they’ve merely corrected themselves to reflect the team’s true value.
Winning the Pac-12 is clearly a reasonable prediction, and doing so would likely result in a playoff berth. But jumping from there to taking home the whole damn trophy is a significant jump.
Q: If the Bruins somehow make it to the final four after just three years under Jim Mora (as some experts have predicted), wouldn’t you consider that one of the greatest turnarounds in college football history?
A: Auburn made the BCS Championship Game last season in its first season under Gus Malzahn, a year after it went 3-9 (0-8 SEC) under Gene Chizik. Bob Stoops took Oklahoma through a 13-0 title run in his second season, and that was after taking over a program that went 12-22 under his predecessor John Blake. Lou Holtz engineered quick turnarounds with both Notre Dame (5-6 to 12-0 over his first three seasons) and South Carolina (0-11 to 8-4 in his second).
Mora’s fast, but he’s a bit short of all-time fast.
Q: Will a two-loss Pac-12 champion be given a berth in the four-team playoff?
A: If the other four major conferences each have one-loss, it could get dicey for the Pac-12. But if the losses are close and against reputable opponents, I think the case is still strong.
Q: What’s your personal opinion on just how far the Bruins can go this year?
A: I think Oregon edges them out in a tight Pac-12 title game, but I’m usually very conservative about these sorts of predictions.
Q: Has Brett Hundley’s long ball gotten better?
A: He’s better, but I don’t think Brett is a great practice quarterback in general. Though he’ll mix in some ‘wow’ plays, he doesn’t blow people away in practices day after day. I do think he finds a different groove in games.
Q: So who is the backup QB at this point? 1. Has Asiantii Woulard made any significant progress during the fall camp?
A: Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said he’ll announce one at some point, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that never ended up happening. Either way, the situation appears similar to last season: Jerry Neuheisel probably slides in if Hundley is out for a few reps, but Asiantii Woulard gets the nod if it’s an extended period.
Woulard hasn’t separated himself as significantly as most would have hoped a year ago this time.
Q: Has Jim Mora made any comment on him leaving? I seems to be a topic that keeps coming up in the national media, but I have not seen any statements from him to suggest that. What is your take on his long term tenure?
A: He last reiterated his desire to stay at UCLA during Pac-12 Media Days. I can see him wanting to scratch the NFL itch someday down the line, but not for at least a few more years and not until he does something substantial with the Bruins. But fans have absolutely no cause for concern right now.
Q: Kind of off topic but is UCLA planning to do anything for Jim Harrick and 20th anniversary of the basketball championship?
A: Not that I’ve heard, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the school at least invited the team back for a halftime appearance or something like that.
Q: Zach Vinci on the defensive line was being talked about my the media during spring. How was his San Bernardino camp? And will Eli Ankou get playing time this year?
A: Vinci was a lot less noticeable after making a surprise start in UCLA’s spring game, but both he and Ankou will probably rotate in defensive line to some degree.
Q: I’m not so concerned with Ka’imi Fairbairn and field goals, but I am quite concerned about the punting with the loss of Sean Covington. Who is looking better: JUCO transfer Matt Mengel, or redshirt freshman Adam Searl?
I think Mengel wins the job, but he doesn’t look as good as Covington did.
Q: Has anybody ever interviewed strength coach Sal Alosi? He seems to be an important part in the transformation of these players but you never read anything about him.
A: He has declined all interview requests since arriving at UCLA. I assume he initially did so to avoid questions about this, then just kept doing it out of convenience.
Q: What would be the most noticeable difference between the defense that Lou Spanos ran the last two years and what Jeff Ulbrich is installing for this season?
A: Ulbrich is much more willing to shift guys around depending on the scheme depending on which Bruins are in and what offenses they face. Linebacker Deon Hollins called it “amorphous.” UCLA used nickel formations a good amount last year, but you’ll probably see more this season due both to Ulbrich’s tendencies and the depth of the secondary.
Q: You can buy stock today for any one of the freshmen. Whose stock are you buying?
A: Linebacker Kenny Young, and it’s not all that close.
Q: Since Johnathan Franklin, we haven’t had a go-to running back. Jordon James, Paul Perkins, and Steven Manfro are solid, but not “the man”. Who do you think has the best chance too step into that role? Any chance Craig Lee or Adarius Pickett can jump to the top? Are we destined for another year of running back by committee? How will Myles Jack fit in?
A: No one’s going to be Johnathan Franklin, and a committee seems most likely for the second year in a row. Craig Lee still looks like a work in progress. Adarius Pickett isn’t going to jump to the top of the depth chart, but early returns show what could be a promising future at the position. Myles Jack will carry the ball in certain packages, but the Bruins need him on defense even more than they did last season.
Q: Do you think Nathan Starks will play this year? Is he going to have a redshirt year?
A: I think he’ll likely redshirt unless another running back gets injured.
Q: My favorite interviews are those with the offensive linemen (NaJee Toran, Caleb Benenoch, Alex Redmond). Who have been the best interviews for you?
A: Receiver Devin Lucien, always and forever.