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2015 Pac-12 grades: UCLA Bruins

Before Jim Mora arrived at UCLA, an 8-5 record would have registered as a pretty good season. But after winning 29 games over the last three years, the bar was raised. AP Photo/Rick Scuteri

The 2015 season is officially over for the Pac-12. We continue our season review by handing out some grades for each team.

UCLA Bruins

Offense: The Bruins lost a three-year starting quarterback (Brett Hundley) early to the NFL, replaced him with a true freshman (Josh Rosen) and there wasn’t much of a difference in terms of the offense’s overall production. Scoring was down 1.1 points per game (33.9 to 32.8), yards per game dropped by fewer than two (467.8 to 465.9) and yards per play increased from 6.13 to 6.25. Granted, there was a lot of returning talent, but those are respectable numbers -- especially when factoring in historical expectations for an offense with a true freshman quarterback. In conference play, UCLA ranked fifth in yards per game, fourth in yards per play and fifth in scoring. Rosen finished the year as a freshman All-American, running back Paul Perkins was third in the conference with 1,343 yards rushing and receiver Jordan Payton, one of the nation’s most under-appreciated receivers, caught 78 passes for 1,106 yards. Many UCLA fans grew impatient with now-departed offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, but the Bruins averaged 33.1 points per game over the past four seasons (No. 24 in the country and No. 4 in the Pac-12). The year before he arrived, UCLA scored just 23.1 points per game. Grade: B

Defense: If you go through UCLA’s five losses, one-by-one, and ask which unit was more at fault -- offense or defense -– the answer is defense at least four times and probably all five. That’s why, despite some compelling statistics that say otherwise, it’ll go down as a largely disappointing season for the UCLA defense. Of course, considering the team lost NFL-caliber players from each phase of the defense early in the season, that might not seem fair. In conference play, UCLA ranked No. 5 in total defense (416 yards per game), but was No. 1 in yards per play allowed (5.06). Playing the what-if game doesn’t accomplish much, and every team deals with injuries to a certain degree, but we’ll all be left to wonder how things would have been different with linebacker Myles Jack, defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes and cornerback Fabian Moreau. Grade: B-minus

Special teams: Senior kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn finished as the Pac-12’s all-time leading scorer and won the Lou Groza Award as the nation’s best kicker, while senior punter Matt Mengel ranked No. 10 in the Pac-12 with an average of 40.1 yards per punt. As a team, UCLA averaged 10.9 yards per punt return (compared with 6.7 for opponents) and Devin Fuller ranked No. 6 in the Pac-12, averaging 24.2 yards per kickoff return. Grande: B.

Overall: Evaluating a team after the season is always about perspective. Before Jim Mora arrived, 8-5 would have registered as a pretty good season for the several seasons that predated him. In the 13 years before he took over in 2012, the Bruins reached eight wins just twice and only once exceeded it. But after winning 29 games over the last three years -- never fewer than nine in a season -- the bar was raised. It continued to rise early in the year when after a 4-0 start the College Football Playoff seemed like a possibility. It was too early to really expect it, but the conversation was fair game. In the end, the season was really defined by the final two games. The Bruins, for the second year in a row, had a chance to punch their ticket for the Pac-12 title game with a win in the final regular-season game only to suffer a lopsided defeat. This one stung particularly bad considering it came against USC, and then to get bullied around by a 5-7 team in a bowl game made for a forgettable ending. Grade: C-plus