Over the summer, UCLA was favored to win the Pac-12 South division and play in the conference title game in December.
With four games to play, the Bruins (3-5, 1-4 Pac-12) are trying to avoid the South basement, while staring at the real possibility of missing out on a bowl game for the first time since 2010.
BuffZone.com caught up with Thuc Nhi Nguyen, who covers UCLA for the Southern California News Group, to get her thoughts on the Bruins as they head into Thursday's game against Colorado.
BuffZone: Do you expect backup Mike Fafaul to start at quarterback on Thursday against the Buffs? If so, what can we expect out of him, in terms of his strengths and weaknesses?
TNN: With the reports Tuesday that Josh Rosen is still suffering from a nerve issue that will likely keep him out for the rest of the year, I expect Mike Fafaul to be the guy going forward. Offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu loves to try the deep ball, but Fafaul will not be able to stretch the field that way as he does not have Rosen's arm strength. However, with two starts under his belt, Fafaul is finding his groove in the offense with short and intermediate passes. He's found comfort with tight end Nate Iese and receivers Jordan Lasley and Darren Andrews, so look for them to get the ball often. Although not overly athletic, Fafaul has had some success rolling out of the pocket and hitting receivers on the run.
BuffZone: The Bruins are normally really good at running the ball, but this year, they are last in the country. Why have they struggled so much to get the ground game going?
TNN: Lack of offensive line depth combined (or maybe caused) by the loss of two early entrants into the NFL draft has really troubled the running game. The Bruins lost three starters on the offensive line, including Caleb Benenoch and Alex Redmond, who both declared for the draft early. They graduated four-year starter Jake Brendal at center. UCLA tried to change offenses, going toward a more pro-style look, but didn't have the offensive line personnel to do it. One of the team's two best offensive linemen, right tackle Kolton Miller, injured his ankle against Arizona when his own running back rolled up on it. He's still out. That's a glimpse into the type of season UCLA is putting together in the running game. Besides the losses on the offensive line, UCLA also had to replace a back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher in Paul Perkins. There were three worthy options in Soso Jamabo, Nate Starks and Bolu Olorunfunmi, but no one really stepped up.
BuffZone: Statistically, UCLA's pass defense has been very good, but Colorado could be the best passing offense the Bruins have faced. How legit is the UCLA secondary, and are they good enough to slow down CU's passing attack?
TNN: Although it was in bad weather, UCLA kept Luke Falk without a touchdown pass, so the Bruins secondary is up to any passing challenge. The secondary is surely the strongest unit on a pretty strong UCLA defense (the Utah game not withstanding). Fifth-year senior Fabian Moreau is a lockdown corner and redshirt sophomore Adarius Pickett is an aggressive, hard-hitting safety. I expect that UCLA will hold its own against Colorado's passing attack, but if the Buffaloes can get the run going, then they can really put the secondary is a compromising position. Safeties Jaleel Wadood and Randall Goforth, while good in coverage, aren't necessarily as effective against the run.
BuffZone: How did last week's bye benefit UCLA as it comes into this game on a three-game losing streak?
TNN: Jim Mora mentioned that the bye week was a time to heal both physically and emotionally from the season. There were a few nagging injuries that got some time to heal a little (obviously the biggest one — Rosen — didn't), but the extra week also gave the players time to step away momentarily from what has been a disappointing season, breathe and get refocused with a 1-0 mentality to finish well.
BuffZone: UCLA went from 10-3 in 2014 to 8-5 in 2015, and now 3-5 so far this year. Is coach Jim Mora's seat getting warm, or is he safe for the long-term?
TNN: It's getting a little warm, I would think, but he just signed a two-year contract extension this summer and has a reported buyout nearing $15 million, so he should be safe for at least another season. If next season, which is what many presume will be the last of the Rosen era, is another step backwards, then the temperature definitely gets turned up significantly.
Brian Howell: firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.