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College Football

Top 25 team preview: No. 21 UCLA Bruins

Photo: Harry How/Getty Images

Brett Hundley set UCLA records for passing yards (3,745) and total yards (4,095) last season.

Can Alabama make a run at a third straight national title? Can Ohio State replicate last year's 12-0 campaign? Can Oregon maintain its standard of success under new leadership? With the college football season approaching, Sports Illustrated unveils its preseason Top 25.

For more college football preview content, check out SI's 2013 schedule guide, four teams that can beat Alabama package, preseason All-America Team, media roundtable and much more.

The case for

The Bruins have entrusted quarterback Brett Hundley with leading the team's no-huddle scheme. As a freshman last year he set school records for passing yards (3,745) and total yards (4,095). The 6-foot-3, 222-pound Hundley knows a lot of pressure will be on him to lead the attack, which averaged 466.5 yards last season but lost star running back Johnathan Franklin, who graduated. As good as Hundley is, the player coach Jim Mora is touting as a Heisman contender is 6-4, 245-pound senior linebacker Anthony Barr. A running back until 2012, Barr had 131⁄2 sacks and 211⁄2 tackles for loss last year, which ranked second and fourth in the nation, respectively. Having passed on the NFL (and a likely first-round signing bonus) last spring, Barr is back for one more year. And with Hundley possibly also going pro in 2014, this is UCLA's year to make a title run.

The case against

"Replacing a player who broke the school's single-season rushing record and the career rushing mark is not easy to do," Mora said of Franklin. "I think the whole team [needs] to fill that void." The onus is on Jordon James, Malcolm Jones and Paul Perkins to invigorate the ground game and take pressure off Hundley. If they can't, the offense will be a one-man show.

Schedule analysis

The Bruins will be tested on the road -- again and again and again. A Sept. 14 game at Nebraska will be followed by trips to Stanford (Oct. 19) and Oregon (Oct. 26). And on Nov. 30, UCLA will travel across town to try to do something no Bruins team has done since 1998: defeat USC for a second straight year.

Key stat

46.5: Running back Franklin and Y-back Joseph Fauria were responsible for 46.5 percent of UCLA's touchdowns last year. Now that both have graduated, the Bruins need new players to make up for those lost points.

Breakout player

WR Devin Lucien: Lucien had 10 catches for 188 yards before breaking his clavicle in late September. Now healthy, the 6-foot, 195-pound sophomore seems likely to earn a starting spot alongside No. 1 receiver Shaq Evans.

Freshman to watch

CB Priest Willis: Graduation and injuries took a toll on last year's mediocre secondary, but help will arrive in the form of Willis, a five-star cornerback from Tempe, Ariz. Willis recorded 55 tackles and two interceptions during his senior year, piquing college coaches' interests with his combination of size (he's 6-2) and speed (he posts a 4.42 40 time). Willis received offers from LSU, Florida, Notre Dame and every Pac-12 school but Stanford, so UCLA fans' expectations are high.

X-factor

Xavier Su'a-Filo: Franklin delivered an unforgettable 2012 senior season -- but he got plenty of help from offensive tackle Su'a-Filo. The 22-year-old lineman, who served a two-year Mormon mission, will have three important responsibilities this fall: protecting Brett Hundley, opening holes for the running backs and taking since-graduated Jeff Baca's mantle by becoming a leader on the offensive line. If Su'a-Filo can build on his first-team All-Pac-12 performance from last season, first-team All-America honors could await.

2013 stat projections (By RotoWire.com)

QB Brett Hundley: 3,525 passing yards, 25 TDs; 465 rushing yards, 9 TDs

RB Craig Lee: 560 rushing yards, 7 TDs; 115 receiving yards, 0 TDs

WR Devin Fuller: 500 receiving yards, 3 TDs; 120 rushing yards, 2 TDs

Coach speak: Jim Mora

SI: How has it been different to work with your players now that you've had a year to get to know them and they've had a year to play under you?

JM: [Last year] everything was new. This year they understand the expectations, they know how we like to practice, how we like to do things. But it's still important that we continue to push them. They understand the routine, but we can't allow anything to become routine.

SI: What impresses you most about quarterback Brett Hundley?

JM: You're not going to find a guy who is more committed to his team. He doesn't feel like a sophomore to me. He seems like a pro to me. He understands his mistakes, and he doesn't make them again.

SI: How happy were you when you heard that Anthony Barr was coming back for his senior year?

JM: I was happy because he's scratched only the surface of what he can be as a linebacker. He can have a tremendous impact nationally. He realized that he needed another year [with linebackers coach] Jeff Ulbrich. I commend him for that.

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