Spring Football: UCLA Bruins eyeing bigger prize in Mora’s second season

First Practice: April 2
Spring Game: April 27

Jim Mora’s first season at UCLA was an unquestioned success as the Bruins finished 9-5 and won the Pac-12 South.

However, UCLA also fell in the conference championship game for a second consecutive season. The Bruins also struggled in a bowl loss to Baylor.

Optimism prevails, though, for the Bruins who finally found a quarterback and like what they have in new faces from this past year’s recruiting class.

Stability Factor (1=chaos, 5=rock solid): 3.0

Going from Rick Neuheisel to Mora was a real upgrade and his first real recruiting class was considered the best in the Pac-12 with six players ranked among the Top 100.

It also looks like the Bruins might be set up to take over the LA market from USC, who has been hampered by scholarship reductions and the uncertainty of Lane Kiffin.

UCLA also has its man at quarterback with Brett Hundley, who threw for 3,740 yards and 29 touchdowns in 2012.

Last year closed poorly, though. After knocking off the Trojans 38-28, UCLA lost to Stanford twice (35-17 and 27-24) and to Baylor (49-26) in the Holiday Bowl.

hundley-brettUnder the Microscope: Brett Hundley, QB

Hundley had a breakout season, but he needs to improve in Noel Mazzone’s air attack offense. His system requires the quarterback to make some fast reads and last year Hundley missed some open receivers.

Mazzone is looking for Hundley to make his reads quicker this spring and be even more productive by the time fall rolls around.

When you consider the strides Hundley made last year — as well as the whole offense — in the first year with Mazzone, imagine how much more he can accomplish this season?

It’s actually scary.

Locked and Loaded: Offensive Line

The Bruins must find a replacement for All-Pac-12 right guard Jeff Baca, but after that the unit has experience even if they are still young.

Junior Xavier Su’a-Filo is the elder statesman of the group and the 6-foot-4, 310-pounder should start at left guard.

The other starters last year were freshmen — 6-5, 295 Jake Brendel at center, 6-6, 296 Torian White at one tackle and 6-7, 324 Simon Goines at the other tackle.

Jockeying for Position: Special Teams

UCLA does return Ka’imi Fairbairn at placekicker, but even he has heard a few boos from the Bruins’ faithful.

Everything else is up for grabs, including punter, kick returner and punt returner.

Freshman Sean Covington could be the punter in the fall, while Shaquelle Evans and Devin Fuller are likely to fight it out for return duties.

Name to Know: Paul Perkins, RB

UCLA has to replace Johnathan Franklin’s 1,734 rushing yards from 2012, and the speedy Perkins could be just what the Bruins need.

The former 3-star recruit is believed to be a legitimate home-run threat — even if he’s not the No. 1 back.

The coaches are going to take a long look at Perkins this spring and see if he can supplant Jordon James as the favorite to take over for Franklin.

Spring Will Be a Success If …: UCLA solidifies its secondary.

The Bruins’ secondary does not have a starter returning now that safety Tevin McDonald was recently booted off the team by Mora. UCLA has also been hurt by injuries and will hope some of the newcomers in the fall build depth.

Safeties Randall Goforth and Stan McKay will be asked to do a lot this spring, as they are probably the most experienced returners.

Like most spring suspensions, though, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if McDonald is back on the roster in the fall.