UCLA vs. Virginia: How they match up

UCLA vs. Virginia: How they match up
Devin Lucien, hauling in a pass against Rice last season, gives the Bruins a deep threat at receiver. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

UCLA, opening its most-anticipated football season in more than a decade, starts Saturday at Virginia, which is coming off a 2-10 season. Chris Foster examines the story lines and matchups:

Spotlight dance


Brett Hundley can get off to a running, and passing, start toward winning the Heisman Trophy as UCLA opens in the East against an Atlantic Coast Conference team.

A year ago, Florida State's Jameis Winston got on the national radar with his production in the Seminoles' opener against Pittsburgh. He completed 25 of 27 passes for 356 yards and four touchdowns.

Winston might be the favorite to win again this season, but a lot of preseason leaders have fallen short in recent seasons. Johnny Manziel was the reigning Heisman winner last season, and Stanford's Andrew Luck was the clear choice heading into the 2011 season. Baylor's Robert Griffin III won.

Football teams always preach team over individuals, but expect Hundley to be given every opportunity to shine.

Cavalier(s) defense

Virginia has safety Anthony Harris, who led the nation in interceptions last season with eight. Also back is defensive end Eli Harold, who had 15 tackles for a loss a year ago and finished the season with three sacks against Virginia Tech. Linebacker Max Valles is another top player.

The Cavaliers have nine returning starters on defense, which sounds nice. The problem is, last season's defense gave up 59 points against Oregon. And while the Ducks can do that to a team, the Cavaliers also allowed Ball State to score 48.

Virginia allowed an average of 33.2 points per game, with five teams scoring 40 or more — and that's in a season it was able to miss Florida State on the ACC schedule.

A year's experience should help, but how much?

The Cavaliers may be without freshman defensive lineman Andrew Brown, who battled turf toe during training camp and then suffered a shoulder injury. Brown was the Gatorade national player of the year at Chesapeake (Va.) Smith High last year.

Here's the catch

Hundley does not lack for receivers, the Bruins' deepest position. UCLA has size (Thomas Duarte, Eldridge Massington), speed (Devin Fuller, Kenneth Walker) and elusiveness (Jordan Payton, Devin Lucien, Mossi Johnson).

That group will be working against the strength of the Virginia defense. Besides Harris, the Cavaliers' secondary returns cornerbacks DreQuan Hoskey and Maurice Canady and safety Brandon Phelps. All have started more than 20 games. Cornerback Demetrious Nicholson, who has 112 starts, is questionable as he tries to return after undergoing toe surgery in May.

Bruin brutes

UCLA lost linebacker Anthony Barr, defensive end Cassius Marsh and linebacker Jordan Zumwalt, all impact players who are now in the NFL. Yet, there should be no drop-off.

Myles Jack and Eric Kendricks return. Both are among the Pac-12 Conference's best linebackers. Kenny Young, a freshman, may be considered elite before the season is over. The entire secondary returns and the defensive line has experience and depth.

Virginia counters with an offense that … Well, the headlines have included phrases such as "encouraged by unproven wide receivers" and "rebuilding the offensive line."

Greyson Lambert, who completed 44% of his passes off the bench last season, has leapfrogged 2013 starter David Watford as the Cavaliers' starting quarterback.

The one known commodity is running back Kevin Parks, who has had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons rushing.

Travel log

This is only the eighth time in 40 years UCLA has played a game in the Eastern time zone. The last time was a 30-21 victory over Temple in the 2009 EagleBank Bowl.

The Bruins have a 2-5 record in the seven Eastern games before that.

Twitter: @cfosterlatimes