The UCLA football outlook for 2016 season. The Jim Mora Jr. era has been good, but it needs to become great very, very soon.
UCLA is beginning to get a little antsy for a title.
Under Jim Mora and his assistants, the Bruins are doing a lot of things right, particularly in the all-important area of talent acquisition. This program is light years ahead of where it was with Karl Dorrell and Rick Neuheisel, winning 37 games and catching up to rival USC over the past four seasons.
Next on the must-do list? Capture a Pac-12 crown for the first time since 1998, a fitting exclamation point to the culture shift that’s been initiated by Mora.
The Bruins came close to winning the South Division in 2014, but were trampled by Stanford in the decisive regular-season finale. And last season, they went 8-5, Mora’s worst mark in Westwood, hamstrung in part by a spate of tough injuries. But a new year brings fresh legs, another dynamite recruiting class and a handful of changes designed to get the program over the top.
UCLA will have a fresh coat of paint everywhere in 2016. Even the special teams unit will have a new kicker and punter now that Ka’imi Fairbairn and Matt Mengel, respectively, have graduated. On offense, second-year quarterback Josh Rosen is the undisputed attraction, though the inclusion of a fullback and a tight end is a clear signal the staff wants to run the ball with more oomph in the fall.
Even without all-star Paul Perkins, the team is well-stocked in the backfield with the returns of Soso Jamabo, Nate Starks and Bolu Olorunfunmi. The receivers and the interior of the line? Slightly bigger concerns.
Not unlike the offense, the defense is getting tweaked in an effort to address some of last year’s shortcomings. Above all else, the Bruins need to do better job against the run, which also plays into the quest for more physicality. The line, which will likely begin the year underrated, gets a huge boost from the healthy return of Eddie Vanderdoes. And the secondary has so much depth and experience that former All-Pac-12 CB Ishmael Adams was able to move to wide receiver in the spring.
Mora has engineered an impressive uptick in talent at UCLA, headlined by one of the game’s premier young quarterbacks. The coach has clearly exceeded expectations in his first college gig since coming over from the NFL. However, his work with the Bruins will be incomplete until he starts winning rings. And since the franchise, Rosen, will likely be in L.A. for only two more years, Mora realizes the importance of capitalizing in 2016 and 2017.