It was pretty obvious in the spring that true freshman Josh Rosen should be the favorite to win the starting quarterback job this fall, and apparently that fact was even obvious to Woulard, who projected as the second-best quarterback on the roster this year.
Woulard, who had a shaky first couple of seasons, had actually started to make strides this spring, looking more and more like a potential Pac-12 level quarterback. Even if he hadn't, his departure leaves a gaping hole in UCLA's depth chart, which is now extremely thin.
Assuming Josh Rosen wins the starting job this fall, UCLA will have just one scholarship player behind him -- Jerry Neuheisel (assuming there are no unforeseen transfers into the program). This is not, in and of itself, an untenable situation. As long as Rosen doesn't get hurt, UCLA's depth at quarterback is irrelevant.
|Noel Mazzone & Josh Rosen.|
UCLA got very lucky the last two years that Brett Hundley is nearly indestructible, since the depth behind him was pretty thin, with just Jerry Neuheisel and Asiantii Woulard as scholarship quarterbacks the last two years. The depth will be even thinner behind Rosen this year, and UCLA will have to hope that either a) he's as indestructible as Hundley, or b) he takes far, far fewer hits, and that none of the ones he does take are of the unlucky variety.
But clearly, this isn't an ideal situation, or even close to one. UCLA probably shouldn't be in the position right now where it has to deal with having just two scholarship quarterbacks on roster. Freak injuries happen, and there might be the occasional season where you only have two scholarship quarterbacks available to play, but having just two on the roster cast an unflattering light on quarterback recruiting and evaluation.
There's little to be done about it now, but it now looks as if UCLA has struck out on its quarterback prospects from 2012 to 2014, with T.J. Millweard transferring, Asiantii Woulard now transferring, and Aaron Sharp switching to receiver. Rosen is obviously the real deal, and he makes up for and masks a lot of issues, but with the lack of depth behind him, UCLA is an injury away from having some very, very serious problems at the quarterback position.
Going forward, with Rosen looking like he'll start for at least the next three years, UCLA has to first hope that Neuheisel sticks around for his two remaining years of eligibility. Neuheisel, the last we heard, was on track to graduate either at the end of this quarter or at the end of fall quarter, so there's always the chance that he pursues the opportunity to play elsewhere. Persuading him not to leave this year is obviously a necessity, but it's also critically important to keep him around for 2016 as well.
The second thing UCLA probably has to do at this point is really consider the idea of taking two quarterbacks in the 2016 class. It's never ideal to do so, since you'll usually end up with a situation where one of the two transfers out pretty quickly, but UCLA absolutely needs to get a guy with real ability in this class, and the odds of doing that are better when you take two players as opposed to one. Matt Lynch may have that potential, but even if you believe that, taking another quarterback in addition to that can only improve the odds. Lynch has already said he's completely open to redshirting his first year and playing behind Rosen for a couple of years, so you have to imagine UCLA taking another quarterback in this class wouldn't have too big of an effect on him.
The question, really, is who UCLA should recruit. At this point, the pickings are slim on the West Coast. UCLA was pretty heavily recruiting Patrick O'Brien in the weeks leading up to Lynch's commitment, but ultimately decided for Lynch over O'Brien. Last week, O'Brien committed to Nebraska, but interestingly, the Cornhuskers also already had a quarterback committed. Kicking the tires on O'Brien to see if he'd be interested in reversing course and staying closer to home could be one option.
The other option would be for UCLA to pursue another quarterback nationally. UCLA did offer Dillon Sterling-Cole earlier this spring, and the Bruins could still pursue him if they're of a mind to take two quarterbacks in this class. We'll get a good look at him at The Opening in July, so we'll have a better evaluation then if UCLA is still pursuing a second quarterback.
In any case, it's pretty obvious now that UCLA has some considerable issues with quarterback recruiting, evaluation, and roster management. We've said it often, but when recruiting non-elite quarterbacks, it behooves a staff to recruit locally. The logic being that, if the local prospect doesn't win the starting job, he's less likely to transfer out of town than an out-of-area prospect who doesn't win the starting job. Woulard and Millweard were from Florida and Texas respectively, and neither was a can't-miss elite. With those sorts of players, you'd ideally want to find their more local analogues who won't leave the school when they don't get the starting job. A scenario with, say, Brad Kaaya deciding to transfer if Josh Rosen beat him out is a bit harder to envision than one with Asiantii Woulard transferring from a school 3000 miles from his home.
UCLA does have Rosen, though, and that's not a bad foundation for rebuilding a quarterback depth chart. But going forward, UCLA really needs to take a hard look at how it recruits quarterbacks and whether it makes sense to make some big changes to its strategy. Matt Lynch, as we said, might turn out to be pretty good, but taking a second quarterback in this class is almost a necessity at this point. Lynch has said all the right things about playing behind Rosen, but who's to say whether a kid from Colorado might feel homesick during his first year at UCLA and want to return closer to home? So whether you take a second quarterback as further depth or as a Lynch contingency plan, it probably makes sense to do that now.
The most important position to recruit well if you want to sustain an elite level program is the quarterback spot. Elite programs that sustain a high level of play year-in and year-out hit on quarterback recruits at least every other year. By virtue of Josh Rosen, UCLA has a window here to fix its quarterback recruiting since the starter is basically locked in for the next three years. But it's now more important than ever for the next two classes to produce real quarterback talent that can compete for the starting job once Rosen is gone, and provide credible, quality depth while he is here.
The UCLA football program has rarely been on as solid footing as it is right now. Jim Mora and staff have done an incredible job rebuilding the depth, changing the culture, and turning UCLA into a winning college football program. The next goal, clearly, is to take the big leap from very solid, winning program to elite perennial conference title contender. To get there, and stay there, UCLA will have to recruit well at all levels, but no position is more important than quarterback.