Key Points from 2014 Recruiting

The 2014 recruiting cycle is over, and after spending a few days mulling it over, we've fixed on four broad areas where things could change going forward...

We did a brief analysis of the 2014 class after National Signing Day, and if we had to revisit it, we would be more inclined to say the class was a solid B, rather than the B to B- we gave it after last Wednesday. The class did fill up on a good deal of depth at key positions, and virtually ensured the defense should be good for the next two to three years at least.

Now that we've had a few days to reflect, though, we wanted to touch on a few areas that we think could greatly enhance UCLA's recruiting in the next cycle, taking a few teaching points from this past year. Admittedly, it was difficult to know at the time how each of these situations would turn out, but with the benefit of hindsight, UCLA may be able to improve its process going forward and increase the likelihood of signing a truly elite class in 2014.

In each instance below, we'll describe the situation, discuss why it was a problem, and then discuss how it might apply to the 2015 recruiting cycle.

Kyle Allen's Recruitment

What happened: UCLA was the heavy leader for the No. 1 quarterback in the country Kyle Allen after UCLA's 2013 spring game, when Allen visited and, according to sources, gave indications to UCLA coaches that he wanted to be a Bruin. Over the next two months, though, that sentiment changed, with Texas A&M coaches coming hard after Allen and Elite 11 coaches pushing Allen away from UCLA. Allen ultimately decided on the Aggies, leaving UCLA without its elite 2014 quarterback.

Kyle Allen.
What was the issue: After Allen committed to Texas A&M, UCLA didn't have a realistic backup option. It was completely understandable that UCLA didn't know that Allen was going to commit to Texas A&M—according to multiple sources on the subject, the situation really only developed over the course of a week or two. What was an issue, though, is that the Bruins did not have any other quarterbacks they'd kept warm in the meantime on the more than realistic chance that Allen did opt for another school. Take Arizona State, for example -- when the Sun Devils lost the Allen sweepstakes at the same time as UCLA, they were able to immediately pivot to Manny Wilkins, the four-star Northern California quarterback, because they had been recruiting him all along as a potential backup plan. UCLA was late to pivot, to the point where Wilkins, Brad Kaaya, K.J. Carta-Samuels, Morgan Mahalak, and other realistic options were already heavily involved with other schools.

The argument could have been made that UCLA didn't necessarily need a quarterback in 2014, and that it was going for Allen or no one. We fully believe that was part of what went into UCLA not keeping any other quarterback prospects warm. But quarterback recruiting is easily the most important aspect of recruiting for any program -- and for any staff to sustain success and, actually, keep their jobs. Good quarterback recruiting doesn't just mean getting elite prospects, but getting enough quarterbacks on your roster for depth, to ensure against injury, and to merely optimize your chances of finding your starter every 2-3 years. We've witnessed how, with past UCLA coaching regimes, mismanaging the latter part of the quarterback recruiting equation was a big factor in their downfall. Give the current staff a great deal of credit, then, that after it stopped recruiting quarterbacks for a while when Allen committed to A&M, it did eventually recognize it needed to get a quarterback in 2014.

How it applies to 2015: We'll just say it -- UCLA is the heavy leader for Josh Rosen. At this point, you might even say that UCLA is a heavier leader for Rosen right now than the Bruins were, at any point, for Kyle Allen. But if we've learned nothing in the last 15 years (or the last week) about recruiting, it's that there's no such thing as a sure thing. With a fairly talented quarterback class in the West that includes Ricky Town, Blake Barnett, Brian Lewerke, Brady White, Sheriron Jones, and others, it's important for UCLA to keep several options warm in the event that Rosen does make an unexpected decision for another school.

Recruiting Out of State

What happened: UCLA clearly targeted, and pursued heavily, more elite out-of-state prospects in 2014 than it had in previous years. The results were mixed. UCLA pulled Kenny Young out of Louisiana, Aaron Sharp, Najee Toran, and Zach Whitley from Texas, and Austin Roberts from Indiana, but struck out on the big, national fish, missing on Rashaan Evans from Alabama, Malachi Dupre from Louisiana, Solomon Thomas from Texas, and, earlier in the cycle, Jermaine Eluemunor from New Jersey (by way of Canada) and Demetrius Knox from Texas.

Rashaan Evans.
What was the issue: As we've written for a long time on the basketball side of things, it's OK to recruit nationally at UCLA, but, typically, only when there's either a clear connection between the school and the prospect, or there's legitimate, verifiable interest from the recruits. Roberts' family was connected to UCLA by way of a sports information assistant. Kenny Young was a silent commitment to UCLA for months. Najee Toran, who committed to Adrian Klemm mid-season, told his teammate and very close friend Zach Whitley about the Bruins and played a large role in getting him to Westwood. Not to take away from UCLA's recruiting job of Whitley, but he practically recruited himself. Dupre, the elite receiver from Louisiana who ultimately opted for LSU, was justifiable, since Jim Mora had a deep, 20-year history with the recruit's parents. With other situations, though, like with Evans, Thomas, and others, there wasn't a clear connection that really tied them to UCLA, and the Bruins had no one on the ground close to the kids pitching UCLA constantly to them. While UCLA did a great job of recruiting Evans, to even get to be among the final three for him, it was a situation that, with hindsight, might not have been worth the time and effort. Plus, many times, like with Eluemunor and Knox, the early focus on them may have held back UCLA in the recruitments of Viane Talamaivao, Damien Mama, and other west coast offensive linemen. Dedicating so much time and resources to out-of-state prospects definitely does generally take away from the time/resources you spend recruiting local prospects.

How it applies to 2015: The 2015 class is loaded in the West, with elite talent at most positions, so it's going to be even more important than usual that UCLA focus most of its recruiting efforts at home -- particularly given that USC will finally have a full complement of scholarships to give. As it stands, UCLA already leads for several elite prospects in the region -- Rosen, Alize Jones, Keisean Lucier-South, and Stanley Norman, to name a few -- so it looks like the Bruins are already focusing in on the west coast. Maintaining that focus, though, and avoiding the siren call of SEC country will be very important.

Recruiting JC Prospects

What happened: UCLA took early commitments from the two best JC offensive line prospects in the nation in Eluemunor and Dominic Jackson. Both then committed elsewhere later.

Dominic Jackson
What was the issue: Eluemunor and Jackson flipped from UCLA mostly based on the fact that both had to take some additional classes to get admitted into UCLA and they didn't have to if they went elsewhere. The recruitments and commitments of both Jackson and Eluemunor severely set back UCLA's offensive line recruiting, making it have to play catch-up with guys like Talamaivao and Mama, whom they very well might have gotten. UCLA was leading for Talamaivao early but stopped recruiting him when Eluemunor and Jackson (and Knox) verbally committed.

How it applies to 2015: This isn't just how it applies to 2015, but to recruiting at UCLA in any year: JC prospects are tough propositions at UCLA. Unless they were qualified out of high school, or qualified for UCLA admission after their first year at a JC, there are almost always going to be problems with their admittance to UCLA. Most of the time they don't have enough credits, or the right credits, and have to take more classes -- say in summer. If you're a JC guy, probably not a real academic guy anyway, and have been waiting a long time to get into a four-year program and your options are take more classes and go to UCLA, or get in immediately to, say, Alabama and get into their summer program, what would you do? It's a scenario that every UCLA staff in the past has had to experience, and we think this staff has now learned about the pitfalls of JC recruiting.

Taking Marginal Commitments Before September

What happened: We're not going to name names, but there have been situations over the last two years where UCLA has taken marginal recruits early in the process when it really didn't need to. With the 2014 class, there were several, on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, and we'd say that, before the majority of them moved on to other opportunities where they'd have a better chance of seeing the field, their mere presence on the committed list gave other, more heavily-touted prospects pause when considering UCLA.

Elite 2015 tight end Alize Jones.
What was the issue: Beyond the fact that it virtually always creates an uncomfortable situation later on in the process when UCLA and the prospect both come to the realization that it's not a good fit, taking the marginal prospect early can inhibit recruiting better players. With the way UCLA has produced on the field and recruited down the stretch the last three years, there's no need to take those kinds of players early. Also, there is the natural inclination from any coach that, once you have a commitment, you are less inclined to recruit others at that position. So, taking early commitments from marginal prospects easily puts you in a catch-up mode with other prospects -- the ones you'll more than likely end up being serious about later.

How it applies to 2015: UCLA is likely going to have an even better year in 2014 on the field than it had in either of Jim Mora's first two years. The Bruins also will likely have a smaller class than they've had in any of Jim Mora's first three recruiting classes at UCLA. As such, it becomes even more important to ensure that the only commitments taken are either a) players who fit immediate needs or b) elite prospects. This, above all other years, is not the year to load up on just-decent talent early because the Bruins will likely need those spots for all of the players that want to jump on board during and after the season. In simple terms: This is the year to really be selective. So far, despite taking two commitments before February with two more likely within the next few weeks, UCLA is hammering high-level recruits, with elite tight end Alize Jones and three-star linebacker Victor Alexander committed, both of whom we completely agree are very worthy of taking early commitments from. In other words -- so far so good. Avoiding the temptation of taking some guys early while being patient and letting the season play out isn't easy, for any staff, but it's a key factor for UCLA to optimize its chances at its best class for 2015.

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