The UCLA Bruins entered this season at BR-9. They missed out on a repeat trip to the Pac-12 title game after a tight loss to Arizona State, but finished their season with a huge 42-14 Sun Bowl victory over Virginia Tech.
They lost a couple key players this offseason, including Morris Trophy-winning guard Xavier Su’a-Filo from the offense, and a pair of devastating edge-rushers in Cassius Marsh and Anthony Barr. Marsh was the fourth-round selection of the Seattle Seahawks, while Barr, All-American and Ronnie Lott award winner, went ninth overall to the Minnesota Vikings. Otherwise, the Bruins brought back 16 of 22 starters from the offense and defense, including junior quarterback Brett Hundley.
Hundley was projected to be a first round pick, had he chosen to declare for the draft after his sophomore season. He was one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the Pac-12. His 66.8 completion percentage was the best in the conference.
This season was supposed to be Hundley’s coronation — the year he would bring the Bruins back to the Pac-12 title game, the year he would challenge Oregon’s Marcus Mariota for the “Best Pac-12 QB”mantle (and maybe the Heisman), and the year he would solidify his draft resume, become the first consensus number one overall pick since Andrew Luck, and make Jerry Jones finally declare the Romo-era a failure (yes, this is me calling the Cowboys the worst team in the NFL).
Three weeks into the season though, Hundley would probably settle for, “The year he stayed healthy and didn’t fall out of the first round of the draft.”
The Bruins opened their season with the least-convincing 28-20 win of all time at Virginia. Hundley took five sacks and was pushed off his spot all day long; the only points the offense put up on the day were a result of a Hundley run. It was easy to tell they were without starters at tackle and center. It was hard to tell whether the Virginia d-line was that good, or the UCLA offense was that bad. Felt like a little of both. If UCLA’s defense hadn’t scored three times in the third quarter, the Bruins almost certainly would have lost.
Last weekend against Memphis, Hundley threw his first touchdown of the season, and his second, and his third, but also threw a careless, game-tying pick-six when the Bruins needed only to run the clock in the fourth quarter. The Bruins again squeaked out a one-touchdown win over a supposedly weaker opponent.
UCLA welcomed Texas to the Rose Bowl this Saturday, and needed a comeback from backup QB Jerry Neuheisel after Hundley went down with a left elbow injury in the first quarter. Texas registered 3 sacks and 12 tackles for a loss in the three-point UCLA win.
So after three games, UCLA is undefeated with an aggregate score of 90-72. Their “high-powered” offense is responsible for 69 of those points.
Brett Hundley, preseason Heisman favorite, is out with no timetable for return as of Sunday night.
The Bruins got the three non-conference wins they desperately needed, but were hardly convincing in the process. Virginia and Memphis were both ranked outside the BR top 100, and Texas was BR-24 at the time of their game. They’ve got five games against BR top 25 competition left on their schedule, starting with a road game against BR-20 Arizona State this weekend. Then an early-October date with BR-1 Oregon, and finish the season with a brutal three-game run at BR-25 Washington, against BR-19 USC, and against BR-11 Stanford.
If Hundley is out for any stretch, Neuheisel is going to have to play out of his mind to even keep the Bruins afloat. Playoffs are technically still on the table, as is the Pac-12 Championship, but if UCLA doesn’t figure out their offensive line issues they won’t be for long.