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Pac-12 preview: UCLA picked to win the South

Published: Sunday, July 27 2014 8:15 p.m. MDT

Updated: Saturday, Aug. 2 2014 11:20 p.m. MDT

UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley, left, runs in for a touchdown as he escapes a tackle by Southern California linebacker Devon Kennard during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, in Los Angeles. UCLA won 35-14. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Mark J. Terrill, AP

Editor's note: This is the first in a series previewing the Pac-12 football season.

HOLLYWOOD, California — UCLA coach Jim Mora insists that any outside lofty expectations for the Bruins are just that — from the outside.

“None of that matters,” he said. “What matters are our expectations for ourselves.”

The Bruins, who were picked to win the South Division in the Pac-12 media poll, are determined to stay focused despite all the extra hype.

“Every day our goal is to be the best we can be that day and come back the next day and be a little better,” Mora said. “That is the approach you have to take.”

UCLA has become a consistent winner in two seasons under Mora. After back-to-back 6-3 records in Pac-12 play, the Bruins may be primed to take the next step.

Just don’t get Mora to play along with the big picture.

“For us, it’s always about narrowing the focus down to what we can control and what matters,” he said. “And that’s what we’re doing that day.”

OFFENSE: Junior quarterback Brett Hundley is a double-threat guy who threw for 3,071 yards and ran for 748 more last season.

Even so, Mora made it clear that Hundley is a passer first.

“He’s not a running quarterback,” Mora said. “He’s a quarterback who has great running ability.”

As a passer, Hundley spread things out well in 2013 — connecting with a school-record 26 receivers.

Protection shouldn’t be a problem with veterans like junior Jake Brendel and Simon Goines manning the trenches.

Senior Jordon James (534 yards) could be the starting tailback, while junior Devin Fuller (471 yards) may end up being the top receiver.

DEFENSE: Headliner Myles Jack, a sophomore linebacker, tops a talented cast for the Bruins. The reigning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year broke up 11 passes last season. He also showed his versatility by seeing a little action at running back. Senior Eric Kendricks is another ‘backer to watch. He led the team with 105 tackles last season.

Up front, sophomore defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes (6-4, 310) is a sizeable force, as is junior defensive end Ellis McCarthy (6-5, 330). The starting secondary returns with senior safety Anthony Jefferson (89 tackles) and junior cornerback Ishmael Adams (four interceptions) among the returnees.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Junior kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn finished fourth in the Pac-12 with 101 points last season. Fairbairn was 59 of 60 on PATs, but just 14 of 21 on field goal attempts. ... Sophomore punter Sean Covington averaged 42.6 yards per punt, ranking fourth in the conference. ... Junior Steven Manfro averaged 24.8 yards on 18 kickoff returns.

Email: dirk@desnews.com

Twitter: @DirkFacer

UCLA coach Jim Mora at Pac-12 media days

UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley and linebacker Eric Kendricks at Pac-12 media days

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