With the season opener just days away, here is Daily Bruin Sports’ projection for UCLA football’s offensive and defensive starting lineups.
QB: Wilton Speight
Despite the quarterback competition being a complete mystery, it seems like Speight may be in line to earn the starting gig out of fall camp. Chip Kelly has emphasized experience in his talks about the position this offseason and Speight has more of that than anybody as a graduate transfer from Michigan. Don’t count anyone out yet, but the signs are pointing towards the former Wolverine as the week-one starter.
HB: Bolu Olorunfunmi
The Bruins’ run game has been nonexistent the past few seasons, but Olorunfunmi has shown flashes. He led the team with 565 rushing yards last season and made a handful of electrifying plays, including the jaw-dropping hurdle against Oregon. With an up-tempo scheme and a talented offensive line in place, Olorunfunmi may have the ingredients for a big season.
WR1: Theo Howard
Howard is far and away the most proven receiver on the Bruins’ roster this season after former UCLA receivers Jordan Lasley and Darren Andrews graduated. Howard finished third on the team in receiving yards with 594 last season and made 10 starts. Expect him to lead the team in most receiving categories this season.
WR2: Christian Pabico
Pabico broke out last season after spending multiple years on the scout team waiting for an opportunity. The redshirt senior appeared in all 13 games and made a handful of plays that opened up a lot of eyes at UCLA. His reliability and work ethic will earn him a starting gig to open the season.
WR3: Chase Cota
Cota, a 6-foot-4 freshman, was one of Chip Kelly’s first big recruits after being hired in November of last year. Cota made three receptions in UCLA’s spring game back in March and hauled in one touchdown. Redshirt sophomore Demetric Felton is another player to watch at this position.
TE: Caleb Wilson
Wilson is arguably the most talented player on UCLA’s roster and has the tight end spot locked up. He is also back at full strength following a season-ending foot injury in 2017. Expect him to be a force in Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offense that is known for putting numbers on the board in bunches.
LT: Andre James
Of all the positions on the offensive line, left tackle might be the one with the least uncertainty. James started 13 games at right tackle last season, but with the departure of former Bruin Kolton Miller, UCLA needs a reliable starter at left tackle to protect the blind side. Expect James to fill that role.
LG: Chris Murray
Murray, a four-star recruit, is the wildcard that could determine how the offensive line shakes out. If the talent was apparent enough in camp, do not expect Chip Kelly to hold him out of action. The incoming freshman’s emergence would allow Michael Alves to slide over to center, but this position remains very much undecided.
C: Michael Alves
Alves, a former four-star recruit, made 13 starts last season at guard for the Bruins. However, due to the exit of former UCLA center Scott Quessenberry, it might be in the team’s best interest to move Alves to center this season. Word from fall camp is that the Bruins have struggled with snapping the ball, and getting someone as solid as Alves to handle the job could pay big dividends.
RG: Justin Murphy
Murphy has not played in a collegiate game since 2016 due to a knee injury that forced a yearlong medical retirement, but he has more experience than anybody else on the UCLA offensive line. The graduate transfer from Texas Tech played tackle earlier in his career, but said he has been playing mostly at right guard during fall camp.
RT: Jake Burton
Burton only saw game action five times last season, but early indications from camp suggest that he might be in line to start at right tackle week one. Justin Murphy has been playing inside at right guard, opening the door for someone like Burton to step in and take a hold of the position.
DT: Chigozie Nnoruka
Nnoruka is coming off an impressive season in which he finished second on the team with 8.5 tackles for loss, and eighth on the team in total tackles with 49. He will have an even better opportunity to rack up tackles this season playing as the defensive tackle in the heart of Tom Bradley’s 3-4 defense.
DE: Rick Wade
Wade appeared in 23 games for UCLA the past two seasons, but he has only started in five of them. The redshirt junior recorded 33 total tackles last season and racked up a season-high seven tackles on the road against Stanford, proving he has the tools to step in and make an impact off the edge.
DE: Osa Odighizuwa
Odighizuwa appeared in all 13 games for UCLA as redshirt freshman last season, posting 15 total tackles, 5.5 of them for a loss, and one sack. His breakout moment of 2017 was a 51-yard fumble return for a touchdown against Washington on the road.
OLB: Jaelan Phillips
Phillips was the No. 3 recruit in the nation coming out of high school, but injuries cost him half of his freshman season in 2017. Despite the injuries, Phillips managed to post 3.5 sacks in seven contests, good for second on the team. The sophomore is set to transition from defensive end to outside linebacker due to the new 3-4 defensive scheme.
OLB: Keisean Lucier-South
Lucier-South, a former five-star recruit, showed glimpses of his potential last season while making eight starts and finishing fifth on the team with 53 tackles. This year, he will start opposite of Phillips at outside linebacker with a chance to wreak serious havoc on opposing quarterbacks in the new 3-4 defense.
MLB1: Krys Barnes
The loss of Josh Woods is a huge one for the Bruins, and finding a replacement for him will be a tough task for defensive coordinator Tom Bradley. Barnes would have started at MLB2, but now he’ll have to step up and lead UCLA in the middle of the field. Last year, Barnes started in eight games and had a 12-tackle game against Arizona State and Hawai’i, so he does have the skill.
MLB2: Tyree Thompson
Thompson would not have gotten as much playing time before Josh Woods went down, but now the junior transfer and former janitor from LA Valley College will have to fill a much more important role. He came to Westwood with the expectations of being a depth piece, but he has shown off enough raw talent and speed in practice to earn a starting gig.
CB1: Nate Meadors
Meadors was a starter in all 13 games for UCLA last season, with his season being highlighted by a pick-six against Arizona State in November. He should be able to hold down the No. 1 corner spot in his final season after the Bruins lost significant depth at the position.
CB2: Darnay Holmes
Holmes had high expectations when he stepped on campus as a five-star freshman last year, and he lived up to them with a team-high three interceptions and 11 starts. This year, he should take the next step in his development and become a consistent contributor on defense, while also making an impact on special teams.
FS: Adarius Pickett
Pickett has been a Bruin for three years, and he is yet to miss a game. He was second on the team in tackles last year with 85, while also tallying five tackles for loss and his first career interception. Pickett is a leader on the defensive side of the ball, and he should be the most impactful defensive back for defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro in 2018.
SS: Quentin Lake
Lake had a relatively quiet freshman season, playing in just nine games and only picking up eight tackles. But with Jaleel Wadood graduating, Lake has impressed in camps enough to step up and earn himself the starting job at strong safety.