Football Recruiting: Down to the Wire

With signing day two weeks away, UCLA has only a few scholarships left and a small list of elite prospects it'd like to fill them with...

UCLA has 24 commitments (Commitment List) to date. Two of those are commitments from JC prospects, who will enroll at UCLA this school year and don't go against the scholarship count for this recruiting class officially. UCLA, then, has 22 commitments that count against this class, giving them the possibility of getting commitments from 3 more to stay within the limit of being under the maximum of 25. But, UCLA could free up room for one more scholarship if it needed it, with Elliot Vallejo, the OL commit, having agreed to gray shirt (which means enrolling next January and not counting against this class but the next).

So, with the possibility of taking 3 or possibly 4 more commitments, the following prospects are the candidates to fill those spots:

Jarrad Page, DB
Aaron Miller, DB
Rhema McKnight, WR
Justin London, LB
Winston Justice, OL
Hershel Dennis, RB
Fred Matua, DT

[All the links included below will take you to the players' profile in the recruiting database. To access, it requires TheInsiders Recruiting Pass subscription]

Defensive back Jarrad Page is almost certainly the best bet for one of those remaining available rides. Page is considered one of the best DB prospects on the west coast, and he's favored UCLA for a while, his brother having gone there. The most recent update on Page shows UCLA firmly leading, even after he had just tripped to Oregon. Washington was thought to be the main competition for UCLA, but Oregon supplanted Washington for the #2 spot, which makes it look like UCLA almost has this one wrapped up. He's said he could commit by sometime next week.

Cornerback prospect Aaron Miller is probably one of the biggest fish left out there in the west coast pond. A long-time UCLA lean, he took a trip to Oklahoma a couple of weeks ago and was knocked out. When he returned from the trip he said Oklahoma was his leader and still maintains it now. But the feeling is that the Oklahoma glow is dimming. UCLA will be very hard to turn down, given the fact that Miller has some pretty strong ties to the UCLA program. He's known UCLA assistant Kelly Skipper for a long time. He attends the former high school and is close with Ricky Manning. The high school, Fresno Edison, has strong ties to UCLA. Also, his family is on the west coast, his mother living in Los Angeles; if he went to Oklahoma the family wouldn't be able to see him play. When it comes down to it, there is a lot that Miller would have to turn his back on if he chose Oklahoma over UCLA. He tripped to USC last weekend, but the word is it's a two-team race between UCLA and Oklahoma.

If we're talking about big fish, probably the other big one besides Miller is Rhema McKnight, the #3-ranked wide receiver in the country. McKnight grew up a UCLA fan, but he's played it very close to the vest during his recruitment. There was a time it looked like he was leaning toward leaving town, due to personal reasons. But the most recent update from Greg Biggins of Pac- West Football is very encouraging. McKnight visited UCLA officially last weekend, and his uncle and guardian indicates that it left a very big impression on him. The uncle now states that the family is far more accepting of McKnight staying close to home, which is a huge development. McKnight has visited Florida, but they seem to be far behind at this point because of the coaching change. Washington, right now, could be the main competition, but watch out for Notre Dame. McKnight will take his last visit there this weekend. Pluses for Notre Dame are the new coaching staff of Ty Willingham and the fact that it represents the option for McKnight to go away to school. Negative: McKnight likes the big city and doesn't like the cold. If Notre Dame weren't involved and McKnight were done with his trips right now, it would probably be an easy call for UCLA. He could make his decision next week, after his visit to Notre Dame.

While we've been considering mostly the west coast prospects as the most likely candidates to fill the remaining rides, the word is that you should not count out the possibility of Justin London filling one of those spots. He has said recently that UCLA is one of the four finalists. In fact, a source said that UCLA is one of the top two on his list. Remember, Justin London came across the country to participate in the Nike Camp in San Diego specifically to get UCLA to notice him. While it could be hard to still get an east coast kid to leave the east coast, there is a real chance with London.

And then there's the most entertaining recruit of the season, Winston Justice. It would be far too involving to relate Justice's history here. It would be too involving even to relate his most recent history. Justice, at this moment, considers himself a soft commitment to USC, but the word is that he's having second thoughts and that he's starting to believe more and more that UCLA is where he wants to go. He's very enamored of UCLA offensive line coach Mark Weber. UCLA coaches Weber, Don Johnson and Bob Toledo will be in the Justice home tonight. Now, again, you have to take all information about Justice with a grain of salt, given the history here. Most observers believe that, regardless of what is said now or in the next two weeks, it will literally come down to which NLI he signs on signing day.

Another Long Beach Poly player that considers himself a soft commitment to USC is Hershel Dennis. Dennis committed to USC on his visit a couple of weekends ago, but the word is that, after visiting Oregon last weekend, the Ducks have made a strong run. And with Oregon opening it up a little for Dennis, there is still a possibility that he'll visit UCLA officially the first weekend in February. While, at this point, UCLA doesn't look to have much of a chance, if the Bruins get that visit a few days before signing day you can't count them out. Remember, Dennis said he came close to committing to UCLA during the season. USC, though, has to still be his leader. But the advantage for Dennis with Oregon and UCLA is that he could enroll in spring in time to participate in spring practice, something he can't do at USC and something he wants to do. If he did that at UCLA or Oregon, remember, his scholarship could count against this last year's class in much the same way that the scholarships for the incoming JC prospects do.

At this point, among the prospects UCLA is still recruiting that is perhaps the longest shot to be a Bruin is Fred Matua. Matua took a trip to Oklahoma last weekend and now says the Sooners are his co-leaders with USC. But, like McKnight, Matua has a Notre Dame trip this weekend. He has indicated that Notre Dame could be a major player here, and with a good trip, he could be swayed toward the Fighting Irish. UCLA is trailing, in fourth. The Bruins are still trying, having spent a great deal of time yesterday at his school, but they'd have to make up an awful lot of ground in the next two weeks to get it done with Matua.

UCLA isn't seriously considering any other prospects than those listed here. If UCLA perhaps misses on all or most of these recruits it will more than likely save any open scholarships for next year's recruiting class since. There are only 15 seniors next year, with a potential for only 15 scholarships to give, so if UCLA didn't fill its remaining rides with any of the elite prospects on the above list it would probably behoove them to keep the open rides for next year's class.

If UCLA finished the recruiting season without getting any other recruits, it would almost definitely still have a top ten national recruiting class (Its currently #3. Current recruiting class rankings). If it just got a commitment from Page, it would probably finish in the 5-8 range nationally. If it got one from Miller or McKnight, probably around the 4-6 range. If it gets Page, Miller and McKnight, it finishes probably as high as #2, and possibly no lower than #4. If you throw in a Justice to that equation, UCLA probably has a lock on the #2 spot nationally.

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