But, really, let's be candid: Whatever list we release now is pretty irrelevant. How UCLA does in recruiting on Signing Day 2012 is completely dependent on how UCLA does in its 2011 season. Whatever list of names we put out now is probably going to be drastically different than one next February 2012 – because either one of two scenarios will happen: 1) UCLA has an unsuccessful season, Rick Neuheisel probably loses his job and 2012 recruiting gets a boost from the new head coach, albeit very late in the recruiting season, or 2) Neuheisel has a successful 2011 season, recruits get inspired and jump on board and the list of names has changed almost entirely from what we released in February 2011.
If you want to look at it from an optimistic perspective, both are win-win recruiting scenarios, right? Even if scenario #1 might require a considerable process of pain during the season for Bruin fans, it still more than likely would result in an improved recruiting landscape for UCLA with the 2012 class than it is currently experiencing. And, of course, scenario #2 would be ideal (well, for most Bruin fans who want to see Neuheisel succeed) since, first and foremost, a successful 2011 season is the priority.
Last year at about this time, and throughout the spring, summer and fall, we asserted that 2011 recruits were in wait-and-see mode on UCLA, wanting to wait until the 2010 season to help them make their decision over the UCLA program. Well, we saw what an unsuccessful 2010 season did to the recruiting class. UCLA plainly lost a good amount of recruits you could easily assert it would have gotten had it been successful on the field in 2010. You could say, then, that 2012 recruits are in a very heightened level of wait-and-see mode with UCLA over the 2011 season.
As we've asserted before, if UCLA fans want to put a good spin on the unsuccessful 2010 season, here you go: If UCLA is going to be successful under Neuheisel, it was a season that had to happen, to lead to a purging of an offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator that to be candid (again), weren't going to help UCLA win over the long term. We certainly have no idea if the new offensive coordinator, Mike Johnson, or the new defensive coordinator (to be named later), will be an improvement, but we know that it was highly likely the last set wasn't going to get it done. We've said before that, if there was a time in terms of recruiting for this to happen, the 2011 class for UCLA was perhaps optimal. Neuheisel had sold recruits in the last few recruiting classes on the program's potential, and essentially loaded up with top ten national recruiting classes in doing it. The 2011 class was, then, always going to be a small one, without many rides to give, and if you look at UCLA's projected depth chart for the next couple of years, barring transfers, it looks pretty deep and talented.
So, before we release a highly premature list of 2012 UCLA recruiting targets, we thought we'd first analyze UCLA's depth chart needs for the class.
UCLA currently has 16 scholarships available to give to the 2012 class, and with natural attrition, you can expect probably 18-20.
Here's how the depth chart will look for the 2012 season, which is when the 2012 recruits will enroll.
2012 DEFENSIVE LINE DEPTH CHART
DE: Datone Jones, SR; Iuta Tepa, JR; Wesley Flowers, SO; Sam Tai, R-FR
DT: Cassius Marsh, JR; Sealii Epenesa, JR; Brandon Tuliaupupu, R-FR
DT: Brandon Willis, SO; Donovan Carter, SR; Kevin McReynolds, R-FR
DE: Owamagbe Odighizuwa, JR; Keenan Graham, JR: Damien Holmes, SR; Derrick Bryant, SO
Needed for 2012: 2 DEs, 2 DTs
Very rarely would any program not want to bring in as many good defensive tackles as they could get. Most of the time, if a program has more than 18 scholarships to give, at least two of those slots are earmarked for defensive tackles. It's simply the position that is hardest to fill in college football so you take any legitimate talent that has good academics when you can get it.
In UCLA's case it might have its best depth of talent on defensive line over the next two years than in any time during the last decade. None of the projected starters for 2011 are seniors, and the starting DL looks to have three U.S. Army All-Americans.
Even with that caliber of young talent, UCLA would still want to keep the pipeline flowing for 2012. Heck, in 2011, giving out just 16 scholarships, it still gave three of those to DLs. You can also naturally expect some of the names on this depth chart to not be on it by 2012 (injuries, transfers, etc.), So, expect UCLA to go after four DLs, probably 2 DE and 2 DT types, to keep the defensive line well stocked into the future.
What's especially tough to find are worthy nose tackle prospects. The three-technique types are easier, since you can always move over a converted DE to the three-technique. UCLA, though, looks like it has done pretty well in stockpiling nose tackles, with Epenesa and then McReynolds and Tuliaupupu projecting there.
This puts UCLA in a great spot in recruiting the D-line for 2012. It gives them the luxury to go after truly elite prospects, and not have to necessarily settle early.
The 2012 west coast DL class is good at defensive end, and not so great at defensive tackle, which isn't unusual. It's why UCLA successfully recruiting McReynolds, who was UCLA's highest ranked recruit not named Hundley in 2011, was a real coup.
2012 LINEBACKER DEPTH CHART
SSLB: Jordan Zumwalt, JR; Isaiah Bowens, JR; Aaron Wallace, R-FR; Mike Orloff, R-FR
MLB: Patrick Larimore, SR; Todd Golper, JR**
WSLB: Aramide Olaniyan, SO; Eric Kendricks, SO; Jared Koster, JR; Ryan Hofmeister, JR or SR
Needed for 2012: 3 You can see that UCLA definitely needed to bring in some linebackers with the 2011 class, and went out and got three of them. It's a question of whether the three will have a big impact or not, so UCLA, from just that standpoint, will need to find more candidates in 2012.
The other variable is going to be Zumwalt. On one hand, he's quite a talent, and he'll be able to plug into middle linebacker when Larimore graduates. But on the other hand, he is quite a talent, and he could very well have a chance to go pro after his junior season. Because of that, and the fact that UCLA has seemingly brought in many weakside types and not many strongside or middle linebacker types, you'd think they'd be going after the bigger, rangier version of linebacker in the 2012 class.
The linebacker prospects in the west for 2012 aren't great. It could be one of the worst linebacker classes in a while. So, UCLA will be fairly challenged to find a big enough pool in just the west.
2012 DEFENSIVE BACK DEPTH CHART
CB: Aaron Hester, SR; Andrew Abbott, SR; Brandon Sermons, JR; FS: Dalton Hilliard, SR; Tevin McDonald, SO; Alex Mascarenas, JR; SS: Dietrich Riley, JR; Stan McKay, JR; CB: Sheldon Price, SR; Anthony Jefferson, SO or JR; Damien Thigpen, SR; Anthony Thompson, R-FR
Needed for 2012: 2 corners, 2 safeties
The defensive back depth chart for 2012 looks great – for 2012 – but it has the most turnover of any unit after the 2012 season, losing five players to graduation. Since UCLA struck out on Signing Day with any 2011 DB, it makes defensive back recruiting for 2012 that much more imperative.
We've heard in the off-season that McDonald has really stepped up and is expected to be a player. The coaches have always thought very highly of Hilliard. It would be greatly beneficial if Sermons can overcome the injury and become a contributor by 2012.
We've heard that a recruit named Anthony Thompson, from Quebec, Canada, took an official visit to UCLA last weekend and the signing of his NLI will be done very soon. He reportedly is a cornerback, but we know very little about him.
Of course, as it is with all of the positions in terms of recruiting needs, if UCLA has a successful 2011 season, it will have plenty of 2012 recruits who want to jump in the boat, especially DBs, since they'll recognize UCLA is losing three starters and they'll perceive a chance at immediate playing time.
Luckily, the talent in terms of defensive backs in the west for 2012 is deep, perhaps one of the best in recent years. So, if UCLA does have a good 2011 season, it won't have to go far to fill out its 2012 DB recruiting class.