Recruiting Analyst Dishes on UCLA

Beat writers know the teams that they cover. But another point of view comes from the guys who cover their recruiting. caught up with Brandon Huffman, National Recruiting Analyst, someone who's covered West Coast recruiting for the past several years and has a tight grasp of what the UCLA roster looks like. Rick Neuheisel has a reputation as a strong recruiter. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Brandon Huffman: "I think the talent level of the UCLA classes, with 2011 notwithstanding, is as good as it's been there. It ranks up there with the early Bob Toledo days, and the Cade McNown teams.

In 2008, he inherited a good number of recruits, a lot of guys who are starters now, who were committed to Karl Dorrell. He kept Dewayne Walker as defensive coordinator, and he was the main recruiter of the Dorrell staff.

The next year, Dorrell went to New Mexico State and UCLA went 4-8, but they were able to sell the 'we're building for the future angle' and did well. Then the next year, they went 7-6 and beat Tennessee and went to a bowl game. That was probably the high point. They went dead even with USC in terms of who each team offered and who each team got. They each landed 10 guys with an offer from the other school.

Of course with the season they had last year, it fell off. Outside of (quarterback) Brett Hundley, it wasn't nearly as strong. Last year's class wasn't very good, and this year's group is just OK. But Neuheisel's does have a good reputation as a recruiter, and it's earned."

LD: Is this a program capable of out-recruiting USC on a regular basis?

BH: I think so. They used to out-recruit USC when Bob Toledo was there, but Pete Carroll totally changed the atmosphere there. And you look at what we talked about earlier, when they each grabbed 10 guys with offers from the other schools. You look at that and I think you can see that, especially in the next few years as USC is dealing with scholarship reductions and sanctions, it's an area where UCLA can come on a bit. It certainly has been done before.

LD: Is there any specific position that he's been able to recruit or evaluate well?

BH: "The top two running backs were guys that he inherited; they were initially Dorrell recruits. Two of the four starters in the secondary are Neuheisel guys, and he's done well there. There are actually a number of glaring weaknesses on this team, but I'm not sure it's due to recruiting. There are several positions where they have players who just haven't been utilized correctly. But I think he's done a nice job with the backfield. They have some younger guys they like there as well. Running back has been the best, especially with the dearth of good running backs we've had in this region.

LD: On the flip side of that, are there any positions that he's recruited or evaluated poorly?

BH: I don't know that they've really recruited or evaluated poorly. You look at the offensive line, and it's a position that they've recruited and evaluated well, but they've just had bad luck there. They landed Xavier Su'a-Filo, and then he decides to go on a (Latter Day Saints) mission. Nik Abele was a guy that they had a lot of excitement about, and they thought he was going to be their right tackle of the future, and he has to retire because he gets a neck injury. But more than anything, I think it's just a case where they haven't used their personnel well, especially when you look at their wide receivers. A lot of that was the previous receivers coach … but now they've become so ground-dependent. Their linebacker recruiting has been just OK, but they've had hard luck on the offensive line.

LD: You could include quarterback in that group, couldn't you?

BH: Absolutely. Kevin Prince has been hurt each of the three years he's been a starter, and he's been injured the last five years he's suited up, dating back to high school. And it's usually some sort of freak injury, like when he's running out of the end zone to try and avoid the safety and he breaks his jaw. Now, Brett Hundley comes in and he's supposed to be the savior, and he gets injured and misses two weeks of camp so he's never really able to compete for the job.

LD: With all of that, would you say UCLA is a team where the talent and production just don't match up?

BH: I don't think there's any question. There's been a lot of banter on message boards about the new head coach — if Neuheisel is fired — walking into an awesome situation. And you see that a lot of times, where you have a guy who's a good recruiter but doesn't get his X's and O's right. A lot of those coaches have been able to take a team to a BCS game by year two. You saw that at Auburn last year. Pete Carroll rebounded quickly at USC, and Oklahoma won a national championship with Bob Stoops. I'm not saying that UCLA is going to win a title in 2013. But I don't think there's any doubt that the talent that Neuheisel is leaving behind is pretty considerable, and really way above what Neuheisel inherited.

LD: But the Bruins still have the talent to be dangerous?

BH: That's actually kind of been the UCLA staple. Two years ago, they beat a pretty decent Tennessee team, then went to play Kansas State, who wasn't very good, and struggled to put them away. When they play a big-time opponent, they can go toe-to-toe with them, and potentially even beat them, but when it's not a marquee game and maybe the crowd isn't big, they're capable of having a pretty big meltdown. You saw that again last year, when they beat Texas handily in Austin and went on to struggle to win against a two-win Washington State team.

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