Premature Look at 2013 Schedule

After taking a very premature look at the offensive and defensive depth charts, we decided to take a ridiculously early look at next year's schedule, and where UCLA could project...

Now that we've gone through the premature depth chart for 2013, factoring in the incoming freshmen we expect to enroll (along with one that is a bit more of a longshot in Eddie Vanderdoes), what else could we do besides engage in some real silliness and take an extremely premature look at next year's schedule?

Much has been made so far of the difficulty of UCLA's schedule next year, and there's certainly something to be said for that school of thought, especially in comparison with this year's schedule. UCLA will have Nebraska, Stanford, and Oregon on the road, all of which project to be at least top 20 teams to start the 2013 season. The Bruins will also have to face USC in the Coliseum, an improved Utah team on the road, and Arizona in year two of Rich Rodriguez. Compare that to this year, when UCLA had its most difficult games at home, and a fairly easy slate on the road, and it's probably justified to say the schedule is much tougher.

However, we went through the premature depth chart last week for a reason; this past year, UCLA was actually fairly talented, but the influx of talent the Bruins should be expected to get in February could take the team to a new level. One of the main issues this year was quality depth, especially on the offensive line and at defensive back, both of which are areas that, even with the surprise decommitment of Jermaine Kelly, should be massively improved in 2013. What it adds up to is this: UCLA should be a better team next year, with the increase of talent in year two of the offensive and defensive schemes, and that should bode well regardless of schedule difficulties.

A few caveats before we go through this. First, we're going to base these projections on where things stand as of now. Obviously injuries, surprise commitments, and various other acts of nonsense will cause some tumult. Second, UCLA is a known quantity in that it has a returning coaching staff and a returning quarterback, with most of the starters returned as well. A few teams on the schedule (Cal, Arizona, Colorado) lose either an entire coaching staff or key starters. That makes their projections a bit more volatile. Lastly, we don't know the order of the schedule yet, so we'll just project, generally, off of how it went this year.

New Mexico State

Dewayne Walker is rumored to be in line for the California defensive coordinator position, and, based on how spectacularly bad New Mexico St. has been over the last three years, there's a good chance he'd ditch the head coaching position there for a coordinator slot somewhere else. New Mexico St. went 1-11 last year, allowing over 38 points per game while scoring just 18. They actually should be mildly improved next year, with returning starters at quarterback and running back, and their leading, 1200 yard receiver back in junior-to-be Austin Franklin. On defense, the Aggies also return their top five players.

Of course, if the Bruins are who we think they are, this should be a four touchdown victory. Returning a bunch of starters on a spectacularly bad team doesn't make it a good team, or even a mediocre one. Let's call this a win. 1-0

@ Nebraska

This season, UCLA beat Nebraska at home 36-30, and, based on the complexion of that game, it probably shouldn't have been that close. Aside from a couple of missed tackles on Taylor Martinez runs, the Bruins were fairly dominant, and offensively, Nebraska had no answers for UCLA. Nebraska was without Rex Burkhead in the game, but he won't be around next year anyway.

Nebraska's offense, the strong point in this year's game, should be even stronger next year after losing just two starters, including Burkhead. The real issue is that Nebraska will lose seven defensive starters from a defense that already was a bit suspect, and that just got shelled by Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. We don't think UCLA's offense will be firing on all cylinders at this point, while working in a new offensive lineman, a new running back, and a couple of new receivers, but the defense should be much improved over where it was at the same time in 2012. Also, UCLA has a history of doing well in these marquee non-conference away games. We'll call this a win as well. 2-0.

Nevada

The Wolfpack went 7-5 this year, and had another fairly good year offensively running the pistol. Quarterback Cody Fajardo is just a sophomore, and figures to be another in a long line of dual threat Nevada quarterbacks—Fajardo passed for 2530 yards this year and rushed for nearly 1000. However, Nevada does lose three starters on the offensive line, and two of its top three receivers, including huge tight end Zach Sudfeld. On defense, Nevada was suspect this year, allowing 32 points per game, and the team will lose seven starters from the defense, including all three starting linebackers and three of the four defensive back starters.

This actually could be a tough game for UCLA, considering how much of dual threat Fajardo is. A week after dealing with Taylor Martinez, though, we suspect the Bruins should be able to contain Fajardo. We'll call this a win. 3-0.

@ Oregon

Whether Chip Kelly leaves or not, this would be a very tough game for UCLA to win. Marcus Mariota will be in his second year of starting after having a great freshman year, and Oregon will be in year three of De'Anthony Thomas. Of course, the Ducks will have to replace Kenjon Barner's production, but if we've learned nothing from Oregon's run over the last four or five years, it's that the Ducks are able to plug plenty of running backs into that system with great success. Defensively, Oregon has to replace a good portion of its front seven, but there's enough talent backing up there that there shouldn't that big of a drop off.

We're excited to see UCLA's 3-4 matchup up against Oregon's spread because, in a lot of ways, that's what the 3-4 was designed to go up against. However, going up to Autzen and beating Oregon is probably a tall order for Mora's second year. 3-1.

Colorado

Colorado is really bad, and one year of a new coach, no matter how good, isn't going to change that. In fact, it could look about as ugly next year as Mike Macintyre works to install the pistol offense with personnel not suited to playing that style. 4-1.

California

The big bugaboo of this last season was the Cal game, where UCLA inexplicably lost 43-17 behind four interceptions from Brett Hundley. If that game was a win, UCLA probably would have had an outside shot at the national title game going into the final regular season matchup with Stanford—which is just a crazy thought. At that point in the season, the coaching staff still didn't seem to have a firm grasp of their personnel, choosing to blitz too much against Zach Maynard with players who couldn't blitz effectively. If UCLA had played a bit more of its nickel package and blitzed much, much less, it might have been an entirely different game.

Next year, obviously, Cal will break in a new quarterback in (likely) Zach Kline and an entirely new coaching staff led by Sonny Dykes. The odds are good that the Bears will have a decent enough offense, but they will have to replace the production of Keenan Allen with some combination of Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs. Brendan Bigelow was probably a better running back than C.J. Anderson and Isi Sofele this year, so look for him to step up big next year. In any case, with all the changes, and with Cal playing at the Rose Bowl, we'll chalk it up to a win for UCLA. 5-1.

@Utah

The Utes had a lot of things go wrong this year, including starting quarterback Jordan Wynn having to retire from football early in the season. It's shocking, too, because Utah was expected to be the runner up to USC in the south, and, instead, the Utes ended up in fifth place. Next year, Utah should be improved, if only because Kyle Whittingham is a good coach and Travis Wilson showed signs of his potential once he got going in the latter half of the season.

The Utes do lose Star Lotulelei up front, which is a huge blow. Lotulelei was able to command double and triple teams on almost every snap, and his loss changes the dynamics of Utah's defense. Defensive end/linebacker Trevor Reilly returns, though, and he will likely have to take up some of the slack.

This is the kind of game UCLA has lost in the past, where it's favored and facing off against a dull opponent in an away game, and you could see it happening again, especially if this game comes late in the year when it's cold. Our guess is, though, that next year's UCLA team could be the sort of team that doesn't have those kinds of missteps. 6-1.

Arizona State

UCLA and ASU had a back and forth game in Tempe this year, and both return their young starting quarterbacks. Taylor Kelly should be improved with a year of starting under his belt. Arizona State actually doesn't lose much from this past year, returning most of its front seven (unless Will Sutton opts for the draft), and all but a few skill guys on offense.

This looks to be the most likely home loss for UCLA. ASU should be improved with another year under Todd Graham, and this year's game was one of the more even matchups for UCLA all year. This is one game that you could see going either way, but given that the game is at home, we'll say UCLA pulls it out. 7-1.

@Arizona

A year after laying a 66-10 beatdown on Arizona in the Rose Bowl, it's difficult to expect UCLA to do the same to them in Tucson, even with Matt Scott graduating. Without Scott, though, Arizona loses the dynamic quarterback threat that Rich Rodriguez's offense tends to require. B.J. Denker, who backed up Scott this year, looked OK in limited time, but likely won't provide much of a running threat. There are some younger quarterback options on the team as well, but it's truly going to be an open competition in the spring.

Having to replace Scott is probably going to be too much to overcome for Arizona, and so UCLA will likely take this one in the desert. 8-1.

@Stanford

UCLA just ended the regular season losing twice to Stanford, although in the Pac-12 Championship game, if the Bruins had corrected a few mistakes, they could have won the game by a decent margin. Pac-12 analysts have been predicting the demise of Stanford for four years now, ever since Toby Gerhart left, and each year Stanford rolls on. Next year, the Cardinal loses much of its vaunted defense, along with Stepfan Taylor, but will have another year of Kevin Hogan developing in David Shaw's offense.

We all just saw UCLA outplay Stanford on its home field for very high stakes, yet lose the game late. This game really could be the difference between a historic season and merely a successful one. In the interest of not going any crazier than we have to with this, we'll call it a loss, simply because Stanford doesn't beat itself, and UCLA had a worrying tendency this year to have a lot of penalty issues. 8-2.

Washington

This will be the first time UCLA has played Washington since 2010 thanks to the unbalanced Pac-12 schedule. Quarterback Keith Price had a disappointing year for the Huskies, who were expecting him to break out into stardom this year. He wasn't helped by an offensive line that allowed 34 sacks, but the offense sputtered without him performing at his 2011 level, scoring just 23 points per game.

Washington's defense also allowed just 23 points per game, and Shaq Thompson, who just had a fantastic freshman year playing some linebacker along with safety, should break out in a huge way next year. Again, though, UCLA should be able to handle much of what Washington does, and at home, this shouldn't be too difficult of a game. 9-2.

@USC

This could be, effectively, the rubber match for UCLA. USC will lose Matt Barkley, and potentially some other offensive pieces next year, including Robert Woods. The Trojans will also be breaking in a new defensive coordinator, and Lane Kiffin could find himself on an early hot seat if things go south to start the year. However, USC will experience a huge influx of talent with this year's recruiting class, especially at the skill positions, and those guys could go a long way toward making Maxes Wittek or Browne look pretty good. Defensively, if Eddie Vanderdoes sticks, he'll give the Trojans an instant impact player on the defensive line.

The Bruins beat USC 38-28 at the Rose Bowl this past year, and didn't need to do anything too tricky to do it. A huge factor to consider is that unless the schedule gets even crazier than this past year, UCLA will play USC in November or December, which will likely mean that the Trojans have suffered some injuries that they can't easily replace. This game likely could go either way, so we'll end by saying UCLA should be either 10-2 or 9-3 at this point.

Obviously, so much of this is dependent on UCLA not slipping up like they did against Cal. But look at the schedule this way—UCLA replaces Oregon St. (which the Bruins lost to) with Oregon (which we figure UCLA will lose to). The Bruins replace Washington State (a team they beat) with Washington (a team they should be projected to beat). UCLA plays Stanford on the road, yes, but the Bruins lost at home to them this year, so a loss up there isn't a drop off. The key thing that must happen to ensure that UCLA navigates the slightly tougher schedule is not to lose very winnable games on the road. UCLA will likely be favored by at least a touchdown against both Utah and Arizona, and losing either would greatly diminish the luster of what could be a special season.

If there is a big difference between 2013 and this past year, it's that UCLA will likely need a 7-2 conference record to take the South next year, since both ASU and USC have pretty easy conference schedules. This year, UCLA had the easy schedule and was able to take advantage of that to steal the South—next year, the Bruins will have to defend it with a tougher schedule.

Obviously, this is an exercise in silliness, considering we are a full nine months away from the start of the season, but taking a look at the schedule, if you project some decent improvement in the team and talent level, and a continued culture change that diminishes the chances of losing dreary road games, then a similar 9-3 record is eminently doable, and 10-2 isn't out of the realm of possibility.

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