September 01, 2015

Another season of high expectations for UCLA begins with its share of uncertainty as well.

For the first time in their storied history, the 13th-ranked Bruins will open with a true freshman quarterback when Josh Rosen stands under center for Saturday's game against Virginia.

After showing a good command of coordinator Noel Mazzone's spread offense during fall camp to displace junior Jerry Neuheisel atop the depth chart, Rosen - a five-star recruit and the consensus No. 1 quarterback of the 2015 class - will be the Bruins' first true freshman at the position since Drew Olson in 2002.

''He's very professional,'' senior linebacker Aaron Wallace said. ''You don't see a lot of that in freshmen. But he has come in and treated every day like he was going to be the starter.''

UCLA was in a far different position a year ago, when Brett Hundley entered his third season as a starter and guided the team to a second consecutive 10-3 campaign. The Bruins were in line to win the Pac-12 South before being stunned 31-10 at home by Stanford in the regular season finale.

Hundley's departure to the NFL hasn't lowered the bar for a program that's gone 29-11 in coach Jim Mora's three seasons and 18-9 in the competitive Pac-12. Paul Perkins should help ease Rosen's burden after rushing for 1,575 yards in 2014, while Mora brought in longtime Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley to help a talented defense become more opportunistic after ranking ninth in the conference in takeaways.

"What's encouraging about our team is that we can run the football, we can play good defense, we've got good receivers that have some size," Mora said. "Whoever was going to step into that starting position at quarterback wasn't going to be asked to bear too much of the burden offensively. It's a little bit of a different situation than when Brett Hundley took over."

The defense had a much bigger impact than Hundley in the Bruins' only meeting with Virginia, a 28-20 road win in the 2014 opener fueled by three defensive touchdowns in the first half and preserved by a late goal-line stand.

Ishmael Adams scored the first on an interception and had a punt return touchdown called back by a penalty, but the playmaking cornerback won't be available for the rematch. A redshirt junior who has started every game in the past two seasons, Adams has been suspended indefinitely following his arrest Sunday on suspicion of felony robbery for allegedly taking a phone from an Uber driver.

Last year's matchup saw Matt Johns throw two touchdown passes in relief of Greyson Lambert to nearly bring the Cavaliers back from a 21-3 deficit, and he beat out Lambert to seize the No. 1 job this spring.

"That was a game that Matt kind of showed that he had a little bit of stuff in him, and that he could eventually be a good player here," coach Mike London told the school's official website. "And now it's his chance. It's his chance to go out to their place and hopefully play a game that will allow us to be victorious."

With Lambert transferring to Georgia, Johns is being counted on to improve an offense that ranked 85th in the FBS in scoring and 87th in total yards. The junior started three games last season, throwing eight TD passes and five interceptions.

London, meanwhile, enters 2015 squarely on the hot seat after going 23-38 with one bowl appearance through five seasons in Charlottesville. The Cavs started 4-2 last year prior to losing five of six to miss out on the postseason.

The UCLA game was one of five Virginia lost by a single possession.

Virginia is 0-5 all-time against the Pac-12 and makes its second visit to California, having lost 17-14 to then-No. 16 USC in 2010.

The Bruins own an 18-13 all-time mark versus current ACC members.

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