Coach: Karl Dorrell (3rd season, 12–13) 2004 record: 6-6 (Lost to Wyoming in Las Vegas Bowl) Pac-10 finish: 4-4 (t-5th) 2004 I-A offensive rankings: Rushing: 27th (184.9 ypg) Passing: 48th (225.1 ypg) 2004 I-A defensive rankings: Rushing: 105th (210.1 ypg) Passing: 69th (222.8 ypg)
at San Diego State
at Washington State
Depth Chart: Offense
7 returning starters in red
Depth Chart: Defense
8 returning starters in red
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With archrival and city neighbor USC winning back-to-back national championships and primed for another run, UCLA fans' patience is running short. Factor in bowl losses to Fresno State and Wyoming in coach Karl Dorrell's first two seasons in Westwood, and it's understandable why this season is so crucial to the direction of the program.
Inconsistent efforts kept the Bruins from a breakout 2004 season. With seven starters returning on offense and nine on defense, UCLA is poised to make a run at the top of the Pac-10.
"I'm going to have to do my job and try to be a vocal leader now, and pick people up and not let them slide anymore and get everybody ready to play," said junior tailback Maurice Drew. "You know what? I hate losing."
In a topsy-turvy second season, Dorrell saw his Bruins shut out Stanford, but inexplicably lose at home to Washington State the next week. UCLA also took USC down to the final minute before losing, then gave a disheartening effort in losing to Wyoming in the Las Vegas Bowl.
To an extent, those peaks and valleys were tolerated as Dorrell put a young lineup on the field. No longer will that be the case. The talent is there to win, but the effort must follow.
Ben Olson is the quarterback of the future, but how much UCLA can count on him immediately is undetermined. He has not played in a game since his senior year of high school, which was 2001. He redshirted a season at BYU, then spent two years on a Mormon Mission before enrolling at UCLA in January.
The health of incumbent Drew Olson (no relation) could determine how soon Ben Olson plays. Drew Olson had reconstructive knee surgery in January and is expected to be medically cleared for fall practice. The job is his to lose if he is healthy, especially since David Koral and Ben Olson were inconsistent in the spring.
Drew gives the Bruins a hard runner with breakaway speed. Chris Markey and Derrick Williams provide depth to allow a three-back rotation.
Receiver Junior Taylor wants to shed his inconsistent label and will get the chance to show off his speed. Marcus Everett is strong enough to go over the middle and catch the ball, and 6-foot-4 junior Joe Cowan has the size to create mismatches against cornerbacks.
Tight end Marcedes Lewis should be more involved this season. At 6-6, 255 pounds, the athletic Lewis has improved his blocking and can line up in the slot, wide, or at the natural tight end spot.
Senior center Mike McCloskey and senior weak-side tackle Ed Blanton anchor the offensive line, but there could be growing pains on the strong side as sophomore tackle Brian Abraham moves into a starting role.
The defensive line should be the most improved unit from last season, simply because of experience. Junior tackle Kevin Brown, who is quick and strong, could be ready to dominate inside, and sophomore Brigham Harwell, who moved from end, is a natural fit at tackle.
Defensive end Justin Hickman improved greatly as last season progressed and he became comfortable with his move from the junior college ranks. His mixture of speed and strength should be an asset.
Spencer Havner and Justin London are both high-energy players who give the Bruins two of the top linebackers in the conference. A key will be how well Bruce Davis makes the transition from defensive end to outside linebacker.
The secondary is UCLA's deepest unit. Strong safety Jarrad Page was named to the Thorpe Award watch list in June. There will be competition galore at the free-safety spot between hard-hitting Chris Horton and Dennis Keyes.
Rodney Van and Trey Brown, who started five games last season, will contend for one corner position while Michael Norris and Byron Velega battle for the other corner spot.
Placekicker Justin Medlock returns after being named All-Pac-10 as a sophomore. He converted 15-of-20 field goals last season, with two of the misses coming from 50-plus yards.
Dorrell did a good job cleaning up the program, but for all the progress made in rebuilding the infrastructure, bowl losses to Fresno State and Wyoming do not sit well. Such losses must be avoided.
This could be a make-or-break season for Dorrell. A favorable schedule includes only one difficult road game, the Dec. 3 season finale at USC. Eight wins is the expectation.