Starting his second year of the UCLA Football reclamation project, Coach Rick Neuheisel is attempting to build on a 2008's marginal four-win campaign. Returning sixteen starters (nine on offensive, seven on defense), UCLA appears to have the makings of a solid nucleus.
UCLA's 2008 offense might well be summed up in one word: terrible. Is the return of nine starters good news or bad? The good news is nine starters return, but that might be the bad news too because the real problem is the offensive line. The group couldn't clear way for any running room and they also allowed nearly three sacks per game.
At quarterback Kevin Craft threw 20 interceptions and just seven touchdowns. Kenin Prince won the starting job this spring and brings little experience to the position. Receivers Terrence Austin and Taylor Embree have rarely gotten the opportunity to do much of anything and replacing the departed Kahlil Bell at TB isn't going to be easy. Sophomore Derrick Coleman had an OK frosh campaign, and Christian Ramirez won the starting job this past spring, but if the offensive line can't provide the running room both are going to have a long season being dumped behind the line of scrimmage. Chane Moline returns to FB. Keep an eye on Fr WR Randy Carroll who has the potential to develop into a big time play maker.
In 2008 the UCLA offensive line was 110th nationally in sacks allowed and paved the way for a ground game that averaged only 2.6 yards a carry. Help arrives in the form of Colorado transfer Kai Maiava who will be the starting center in 2009. At LT 6-4, 305-pound sophomore Jeff Baca who played out of neccesity last season returns for his second season. 6-5, 320-pound senior Micah Kia will line up at LG. 6-5, 295-pound junior Sean Sheller will probably start at RT after recovering from a torn ACL. 6-5, 308-pound senior Nick Ekbatani should win the RG position in fall camp.
The defense has a lot more potential than the offense. If UCLA ends up going anywhere in 2009 it will be because the defense was able to carry the offense. DT Brian Price earned all-conference first team honors. Price has the potetnial to be the best defensive lineman in the country before he graduates. Sr Jerzy Siewierski will line up next to Price. On the ends Korey Bosworth and Reginald Stokes have the potential to be solid. Datone Jones is another DE to keep an eye on. UCLA only averaged 1.75 sacks per game last season so they need to get better pressure in 2009 to have a succesful campaign.
DeWayne Walker who had been the UCLA DC for a number of years has departed to become the head coach at New Mexico State. He is succeeded by Chuck Bullough who was promoted from within.
The experts don't expect UCLA to go bowling this season. The Bruins will struggle to get the six wins required to do that. The lack of punch on offense should cancel out what has the potential to develop into a very good defense. Despite the lack of high expectations for 2009 Coach Neuheisel is building a winner in Westwood. Bruins fans need to be patient because Rick has recruited well and will continue to do so. UCLA is located in a hotbed of talent and with a charismatic guy like Rick around you can expect top ten recruiting classes every year.
The problem in 2009 is the bulk of the teams future is young and needs this season to mature. Add a third consecutive strong recruiting class in 2010 and the Bruins will be back in the first division competing for titles once again.
UCLA was terrible last year and Washington certainly would have beaten them if Jake Locker was in the lineup. When UCLA did roll into town he faced a Husky team led by a lame duck coach and missing its biggest playmaker. Even with all that going on the Huskies had ther chances in 2008 against these guys.
Fast forwarding to 2009 the Huskies play the Bruins late in the season on the road in the Rose Bowl. The UCLA series in the Rose Bowl has not been kind to the Huskies. Despite that I have to give the early nod to Washington because if the Huskies are going to be playing in the .500 neighborhood this is one the squads you have to pencil in to beat. I preface it with the usual discaimer and that is if Jake Locker is healthy Washington will beat UCLA and be only a win or two away from bowl qualification in 2009 at this stage of the season.