Johnathan Franklin has 1,700 yards rushing this season. (Thearon W. Henderson / Getty…)
UCLA opens the 2013 season against Nevada at the Rose Bowl. There will be two noticeable holes in the Bruins' roster — running back Johnathan Franklin and punter Jeff Locke.
UCLA has 18 seniors who must be replaced. Franklin and Locke present the biggest challenges.
"You can't replace a Johnathan Franklin and Jeff Locke, both their production and the influence they have on the players around them," Coach Jim Mora said.
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Franklin gathers UCLA running backs at the gate at Spaulding Field before practice. Their brief meeting ends with a Franklin-led "work hard" chant. Locke often leads kickers through "Karate Kid"-styled training exercises.
But, Mora said, "every year, someone sort of emerges."
No one is likely to match their production.
Franklin has 1,700 yards rushing, a UCLA single-season record, heading into the Bruins' game against Baylor in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl on Dec. 27. He also has the UCLA career record with 4,369 yards rushing.
"Jeez, let me get one last game with him," offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said when asked how he would replace Franklin. "It will be like Cindy Crawford divorcing you. How are you going to replace her?"
Sophomore Jordon James, and freshmen Steven Manfro and Paul Perkins are candidates. James has 212 yards rushing this season. Manfro has mostly played Y-back. Perkins sat out as a redshirt.
Damien Thigpen, who appeared to be the next in line, suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and had surgery over the weekend. He is not expected back until August at the earliest.
"It's going to be more running back by committee next season," Mazzone said.
Locke has averaged 44.6 yards per punt during his four seasons, the second-best career average in UCLA history. He also effectively handles kickoffs.
The Bruins' next punter isn't even on campus. Sean Covington, a senior at St. Petersburg (Fla.) High School, is considered one of the top kickers in the nation.
Covington has given UCLA an oral commitment.
The Bruins are not only losing key players, but they are also losing one of the best roommate combinations in school history.
Locke, senior long snapper Kevin McDermott and senior quarterback Kevin Prince have lived together for three years, producing many made-for-sitcom moments. That includes Locke's sleeping habits.
"His ability to sleep anywhere is amazing," Prince said. "We have a complete album full of upwards 50-60 pictures of him knocked out. We took a trip to Tennessee to Kevin McDermott's house. Every car ride, every time we watched a movie, he fell asleep. He said it is 'maximizing his nap time.' I say he's lazy."
UCLA 34, Baylor 26 … Bruins fans can only hope that EA Sports' simulation of the Holiday Bowl plays out in real life. Quarterback Brett Hundley threw for 453 yards and three touchdowns.
Realistic? Well, Baylor does rank 119th out of 120 teams nationally in total defense.
Mora, when asked what he has seen on tape, jumped to the Bears' defense.
"They have played a bunch of explosive teams," Mora said. "They're capable … very capable."
Still, Hundley needs only 60 passing yards to break Cade McNown's school record of 3,470, set in 1998.
UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr has more sacks than Baylor's defense. Barr has 13.5. The Bears have 13. … Justin Moreno, UCLA's backup kicker, left practice on crutches Monday with an ankle injury. … Guard Greg Capella, out the last two months with a concussion, made an appearance at practice — in shorts and a T-shirt. He said he was on track to return for spring practice.