It may only be July, but it’s never too early to talk college football. Get your daily fix with our countdown of the preseason Top 25, the consensus picks of the American-Statesman sports staff:
No. 21 UCLA
THE BRUINS WILL CONTEND IF … quarterback Brett Hundley has the same impact he had last season, throwing for more than 3,700 yards, without the safety blanket of running back Johnathan Franklin, now with the Green Bay Packers.
Coach: Jim Mora (2nd year, 9-5)
2012 record: 9-5, 6-3 Pac-12 (Pac-12 South champion)
2012 bowl: Lost 49-26 to Baylor in the Holiday Bowl
Returning starters: 7 offense, 7 defense
New coach, new program: NFL lifer Jim Mora was hired before last season, and the coach has already made the Bruins more successful and relevant than they had been in the previous five years. In his first year, the Bruins won the Pac-12 South and beat rival USC for the first time since 2006.
Dual threat: Mora installed a new offense with a new quarterback, and for the first time in years, the Bruins had a capable quarterback of the present and future. Hundley’s first play of his career was a 72-yard touchdown against Rice in the 2012 opener. The redshirt sophomore rushed for nine touchdowns on the season and gave defenses headaches because of his ability to turn any play into a long gain.
A show of hands: The deepest position is the wide receiver corps, which returns two starters and another from injury. Shaquelle Evans, a Notre Dame transfer, led the team in receiving with 877 yards. UCLA lost Jerry Johnson and tight end Joseph Fauria, who combined for 13 touchdowns, making room for sophomore Devin Lucien, who averaged 18.8 yards per catch in five games before suffering a season-ending broken clavicle against Colorado.
Defensive Barr-ometer: If the offense is unable to move the ball, UCLA can rely on its defense, which ranked in the top 100 in total defense, rush defense and pass defense, and was No. 8 with 45 sacks. Converted linebacker Anthony Barr has a lot to do with that. In high school and through his first two seasons of college, Barr was a 6-4, 245-pound running back who rushed for a total of 54 yards with one score. Then he switched to linebacker, and last season he racked up 13.5 sacks, best in the Pac-12 and second in the nation.
Did you know?:
• The Rose Bowl — the Bruins’ home stadium — not only plays host to the annual Rose Bowl Game on Jan. 1, but also has hosted five Super Bowls and two Summer Olympics.
• UCLA football has looked more like a Hollywood team in recent years — Jerry Rice Jr., the son of NFL Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, played for the Bruins. So did Justin Combs, the son of Sean “Diddy” Combs.
• As a school, UCLA has won the most national championships for all sports, with 109. Texas ranks eighth, with 42.
THE PAST FIVE YEARS
2012: 9-5, L Holiday Bowl
2011: 6-8, L Las Vegas Bowl
2010: 4-8, no bowl
2009: 7-6, W EagleBank Bowl
2008: 4-8, no bowl
Total: 30-35, 1-2 in bowls
Passing: Brett Hundley, 318-478-3,740 yards, 29/11
Rushing: Hundley, 160-355-9 TDs
Receiving: Shaquelle Evans, 60-877-3 TDs
Tackles: OLB Anthony Barr, 83
Sacks: Barr, 13.5
RETURNING ALL PAC-12
OL: Xavier Su’a-Filo (1st team)
LB: Anthony Barr (1st team)
C Jake Brendel (Plano East)
OT Simon Goines (Keller)
WR Eldridge Massington (West Mesquite)
QB T.J. Millweard (Fort Worth All Saints)
Sept. 14;at Nebraska
Sept. 21;New Mexico State
Oct. 3;at Utah*
Oct. 19;at Stanford*
Oct. 26;at Oregon*
Nov. 9;at Arizona*
Nov. 23;Arizona State*
Nov. 30;at USC*
* Pac-12 game
TOP 25, BY CONFERENCES
(So far …)
3: Big 10 (No. 22 Nebraska, No. 24 Wisconsin, No. 25 Northwestern)
1: Big 12 (No. 23 Kansas State); Pac-12 (No. 21 UCLA)
OUR TOP 25 (SO FAR)
No. 25 Northwestern
No. 24 Wisconsin
No. 23 Kansas State
No. 22 Nebraska
No. 21 UCLA
No. 20: Coming Tuesday. Want a hint? This is one of five Texas opponents that’s in our top 25 poll, and it’s also the last of those five teams that will face Texas this season. Consult your Longhorns schedule to make your guess.