Sept. 5, The Rose Bowl
2014 Record: 5-7
2014 Recap: UCLA fans surely remember the general state of panic after the Bruins scraped by Virginia in the home opener last season. The Cavaliers started out the year looking remarkably frisky, using a stout defense to go 4-2 through the opening stretch of the season, with one of those losses a very close call for UCLA in Charlottesville. Luck started to fail them in the back half of the season though, as Virginia went 1-5 over the last six games. Still, the only blowout they suffered in that stretch came against Georgia Tech, and in those six games, they played Florida State, Duke, North Carolina, and Virginia Tech all pretty close.
Returning Starters: 10 (4 defense, 6 offense)
Notable Recruits: MLB Jahvoni Simmons , OLB C.J. Stalker ,
CB T.J. Griffin , OLB Dominic Sheppard
2015 Projection: 2014 was thought to be a make-or-break season for embattled head coach Mike London, but the season was just mediocre enough to save him for another year. He enters 2015 firmly planted on the hot seat, and the general thinking is that unless this year's team makes it to a bowl game, he's almost assuredly gone after this year.
He's going to have a harder time of it this year, though, as much of that vaunted defense that carried Virginia through most of last year is now gone. The Cavaliers have to replace basically their entire starting linebacker corps after losing the starting group to graduation last year. Luckily, Virginia did sign some talent in Simmons, Stalker, and Sheppard, but it's probably a little much to expect them to make a big impact in year one.
Even with Johns as the starting quarterback, Virginia has committed to running the ball more this upcoming season, and Taquan Mizzell, the former four-star recruit, figures to get the majority of the carries. Virginia's offensive production may simply come down to whether the offensive line is improved enough over last year's version to support a pounding, power-running style of football, and that's something we simply won't know until we see them perform in an actual game.
In short, Virginia will likely be marginally improved on the offensive side of the ball, but could take a step back on the defensive side with the wholesale replacement of its linebacker corps. The combination could leave the Cavaliers with a record similar to their 2014 campaign, and a potential end to London's run at Virginia.
Outlook for UCLA: The Bruins had a tough time against Virginia last year, but there were some mitigating factors. The offensive line, which wasn't good to start the year anyway, was without center Jake Brendel, and that seemed to cause some additional issues. True freshman Najee Toran also got his first and only start of the year in that game at guard, and looked completely out of place.
Getting this game at home, in what will likely be Josh Rosen's first start as a Bruin, will be key. Virginia doesn't project as a particularly tough opponent, but starting a true freshman quarterback 3000 miles from home in his first game would have been...less than ideal, especially considering that Virginia was 5-2 at home last year. As it stands, Virginia should be a little less stout on defense, and will probably pressure even less than it did last year as it learns to trust its new linebacker corps. That should bode well for Rosen in his first start as he gets his feet under him.
As it stands, this game projects as one that will only be especially significant if the Bruins struggle. Virginia probably doesn't project as tough enough for a substantial victory (at home) to mean all that much from a broad perspective. The Cavaliers' defense could be good enough that we'll get to see how Rosen does under a little bit of pressure, but with Virginia's losses on defense, even that doesn't seem like it'll be the stiffest test Rosen gets in the early season. UCLA fans will probably have to wait until week three against BYU to get a really firm idea of what kind of team they have this year.
Next up: UNLV...