Coach Rick Neuheisel wanted to get the Bruins back into a bowl last season. He did. Barely. UCLA, at 6-6, was the last team into the postseason when Army failed to qualify on the last day of the regular season.
This season, Neuheisel is talking about getting up to eight victories in the regular season.
Is it doable?
No doubt, Neuheisel is getting the raw materials from which to craft a Top 25 team. His latest recruiting class was ranked eighth nationally by Rivals.com. The class before that was 14th. His first class was ranked No. 13.
"I think it is clear to anybody paying attention that there are two options in this town," Neuheisel was quoted as saying in the Los Angeles Times, referring to recruiting. "It's important to us to become a championship-caliber team, so the option becomes even more obvious."
But this group of Bruins might still be a bit in-between, perhaps another season away from being championship-caliber. UCLA continues to grow on offense and find playmakers, while the defense loses three first-team All-Pac-10 players in DT Brian Price (the league's Defensive Player of the Year), LB Reggie Carter and CB Alterraun Verner.
"Defensively, we lost some important contributors but we are excited about our returning nucleus of starters," Neuheisel said.NOTES, QUOTES
SPRING OBJECTIVES: UCLA is looking for more big plays on offense, and the Bruins hope that last year's experience, plus three years in coordinator Norm Chow's system, yields those results. Kevin Prince will be entering his second season as the starting quarterback, and 6-5 wideout Nelson Rosario came on late in the season, posting 30 catches for 526 yards in the final six games. He and WR Taylor Embree (45 catches for 408 yards) need to continue to develop.
It would be big if CB Aaron Hester, a starter who missed almost all the season because of a leg injury, could reclaim a starting spot in the wake of Alterraun Verner's departure. Hester and Sheldon Price would give UCLA a pair of sophomore starting cornerbacks who are each at least 6-foot-1.
The big issue on defense is at the interior of the defensive line, which lacks experience. Senior David Carter and junior Nate Chandler enter spring atop the depth chart at the tackle positions.
BUILDING BLOCKS: UCLA's kicking game is the envy of everyone. All-American PK Kai Forbath combines uncanny accuracy with distance from more than 50 yards. He was 28 of 31 as a junior, with a long of 51 and all of his misses coming from 50-plus yards. He was 25 of 25 from inside 50. Punter Jeff Locke averaged 43.6 yards last season. LB Akeem Ayers, a junior, could be a full-fledged star this season. He had 75 tackles, including 14.5 for loss and six sacks last season, also intercepting four passes. Look for FS Rahim Moore to be a preseason All-American after leading the nation with 10 interceptions.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I've always wanted to be four but never could because it was retired at Crespi (High School) and Terrence Austin had it my first two years here. Brett Favre is my favorite quarterback, but more than that, I want people to see me as a guy who plays for the love of the game like he does. Sort of a new identity." -- QB Kevin Prince, in the L.A. Daily News, on switching his jersey to No. 4.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: UCLA is building toward a big payoff, based on coach Rick Neuheisel's first three recruiting classes (and the departure of cross-town rival coach Pete Carroll from USC can't hurt). UCLA, which returns 12 starters, including seven on offense, is trying to improve upon last season's 6-6 regular season and EagleBank Bowl victory over Temple. If offensive playmakers continue to emerge, that's possible. One possible deterrent to a winning season could be the schedule. UCLA plays at Kansas State and Texas in the nonconference, also playing host to high-scoring Houston. League road games are at Cal, Oregon, Washington and Arizona State.
DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa -- His decision was great news on signing day for UCLA, which gets a Parade All-American who was rated the eighth-best player in the country by Rivals.com. He had 10 sacks as a senior and was credited with 22 as a junior.
DT Cassius Marsh -- UCLA needs to restock its interior line, which makes this such a good recruiting get. Marsh is ranked No. 33 overall by Rivals.com, and he had 16 sacks as a senior.
RB Malcolm Jones -- A USA Today second-team All-American, he rushed 236 times for 2,477 yards and 45 touchdowns for Oaks Christian High as a senior. Had 6,280 rushing yards in his four-year prep career with 113 touchdowns. He and Jordon James will get plenty of chance to crack a so-so running back rotation.
--LT Xavier Su'a-Filo, who became the first UCLA true freshman to start a season-opener on offense, said he will leave school to begin a two-year church mission. He started every game at left tackle and earned honorable mention all-conference honors. He said that intends to return to UCLA following his mission.
--OL Stanley Hasiak, who battled injuries and other issues during 2009 as a freshman, was suspended from the team in the offseason but was reinstated before the beginning of spring practice in late March.
--Starting sophomore C Kai Maiava and backup freshman TE Morrell Presley were academically ineligible for the EagleBank Bowl.
--RG Eddie Williams started the first six games last season but then was lost for the rest of the season with an ankle injury.
Previous Report: 03/25/2010