For the third straight year, UCLA will open its season in a southwest setting. The Bruins however will be hoping that this one ends with one in the win column. With good reason, there's some optimism surrounding this game. Rice is as cupcake as a game can get for UCLA. The Owls lose 11 starters from a team that went 4-8 last year with the four wins coming over Purdue, Memphis, UTEP, and Tulane; teams that finished a combined 16-34
Of course, UCLA is not one to talk. The team has not started 1-0 since 2009, and a good performance here would do wonders for the teams confidence with Nebraska coming to town the following week. Taking fall camp to San Bernadino should help the squad deal with the Texas weather, however the current reports show a 50% chance of rain. The Bruins have been awful in bad weather conditions in recent times; throw in the fact that Brett Hundley will be making his first career start, and UCLA had better be careful. A loss at Rice wouldn't decimate the season, but it would come pretty close as the schedule only gets harder from there.
Why to be excited?
Its the beginning of the Jim Mora Jr. era, the beginning of the Brett Hundley era, and the beginning of a new chapter in UCLA football.
UCLA across the board is bigger, faster, and stronger than these Rice Owls. The Rice defense returns just five starters from the 88th ranked run defense in the country. UCLA should have little problems riding Johnathan Franklin for the evening and calling it a day if they should please. Add in another running threat in Brett Hundley, who should be able to ease his way in with his feet, and it should be a long night for Rice.
Of course the disadvantages don't end there. Rice doesn't play much offense either, finishing 83rd in the country in points per game. A newly loaded UCLA defense led by Mora Jr. and Lou Spanos must take advantage and bury any hopes of an upset early and often.
Why to be grouchy?
Believe it or not, UCLA finished worse nationally in both run defense and points per game. Of course, that is the product of much much better competition, but until proven otherwise, UCLA should never breath easy.
With a new redshirt freshman quarterback, Rice could take advantage via sophomore cornerback Bryce Callahan, who had 6 interceptions as a redshirt freshman. The Owls also employ a nickel like 4-2-5 defense primed on playing fast and forcing turnovers. Rice forced a total of 27 turnovers last season, finishing T-17th in turnover margin per game. UCLA finished on the other end of the spectrum, for while they forced 21 turnovers they gave the ball away a comical 26 times, finishing 85th in turnover margin.
Rice also has a couple of players who could steal some of the spotlight. Michigan transfer Sam McGuffie showed a lot of promise his freshman year in Ann Arbor, while senior TE Luke Wilson is a 6-5 250 lb target that could present some match-up problems for the defense.
What to watch for:
Brett Hundley. For Rice to have a chance in this game, they will likely have to rattle Hundley and force multiple turnovers in good field position. Of course, UCLA fans are hoping that they can start catching glimpses of future greatness from their hopeful savior. Still a young quarterback, Hundley could use some confidence in game action with a solid performance to launch his career.
Another thing to watch will be the play of the lines, especially on defense. UCLA has struggled in recent years largely because they have consistently lost the battle at the line of scrimmage. Bruin fans have been waiting for the likes of Datone Jones and company to finally wake up, and this could be the stage to start the fire.
The Bruins will start fast, scoring on their first drive and take a double digit lead. Afterwards the offense will begin to sputter, keeping the game a little closer than Bruin fans would like. Hundley will have a solid performance, while Franklin will have his usual 100+ yards. The Bruin defense will give up one big play that will show but a glimmer of hope to the Rice faithful, and then will get a big turnover to seal the deal.
UCLA 30, Rice 17