Having beaten USC, the program's biggest win under Head Coach Karl Dorrell, there is probably the best feeling around the program in Dorrell's four years. The team is 7-5 this season, with one last remaining game, the Emerald Bowl against 6-6 Florida State Dec. 27th, so UCLA is guaranteed a winning season.
An aside about the Emerald Bowl: UCLA has sold its alloted 11,000 tickets. So much for the long-held claim that UCLA fans don't travel well. UCLA, in fact, asked for and received another 1,000 tickets from Florida State, which it has also sold. Tickets for the game are no longer available through UCLA, but through the game's box office itself.
Coming off the 10-2 season a year ago, and now following that up with either a 7-6 or 8-5 season, gives UCLA its most wins in two seasons since the back-to-back 10-2 seasons of 1997 and 1998.
An aside: It's ironic that UCLA got so much more credit for the 10-2 season than perhaps it is for the 2006 season. Yes, UCLA did go 10-2 in 2005, but a couple of those come-from-behind victories probably should have been losses. And, really, a couple of the losses this season – most notably against Notre Dame and Washington – probably should have been victories. UCLA very well should have been 9-3 or 8-4 in both the 2005 and 2006 seasons.
Head Coach Karl Dorrell has a chance to parlay this and build it into something. With the good vibes from the 10-2 season in 2005, his recruiting for the 2007 class was upgraded. UCLA currently has the second-highest rating per committed recruit in the nation, as computed by Scout.com (Team Rankings). With a winning season this year, and with the promise of a very strong season next year, Dorrell should be able to combine that into another strong recruiting class for 2008, in a year when he should have upwards of 20 scholarships to give.
To keep the momentum going from the big win over USC it's critical that Dorrell:
-- Beats Florida State.
A win would preserve the generally good feelings surrounding the program heading into the off-season and the critical spring recruiting period.
-- Recruits Well.
If Dorrell is going to win consistently at the level of a top-15 national program, he needs to get the horses. As we've said, there just isn't enough elite talent in the program right now – but that could change. Dorrell had a solid class in 2006, the current Bruin freshmen. In the 2007 class, he had limited scholarships but, as we stated, has received commitments from a higher level of prospect on average than he had in his previous classes. It's critical that Dorrell hang on to the commitments of the elite prospects that have verbally committed, like defensive tackle Brian Price and defensive end/linebacker Akeem Ayers, who are both getting recruited heavily by USC. With the good feeling from this season and what looks to be a strong season in 2007, Dorrell should be able to use the 20 or so scholarships available to the 2008 class to possible score his best recruiting class to date. Three consecutive good classes would be integral to Dorrell achieving a consistent level of success down the line.
-- Have A Good 2007 Season.
UCLA returns 19 of 22 starters, and will plug in some of the younger guys that have been developing on the scout team. It will not only be UCLA's most experienced team in many years, but it should be its deepest. Both quarterbacks, Ben Olson and Patrick Cowan, gained invaluable experience and should be veterans as redshirt juniors. The schedule is favorable, with most of the tougher games at home and the easier games on the road.
-- Retain Defensive Coordinator DeWayne Walker/Fix the Offense
Sources are indicating that there is a big, concerted effort to create a financial package for Walker that will keep him at UCLA, at least for the near future. People around the program are very excited that this is being done to retain Walker, who is getting interest from other college programs and the NFL. It's clear that retaining Walker is critical; his defense was greatly responsible for the successful season. Also, while much is being done to retain Walker, the word is that UCLA will be letting go offensive coordinator Jim Svoboda, and that Dorrell is looking for a "good fit" as a new offensive coordinator, someone with extensive experience in the West Coast Offense who Dorrell is comfortable with. There is also discussion that there could be other changes in the coaching staff after the Emerald Bowl.
Dorrell has had an enormous amount of turnover on his coaching staff in his four years. It's almost as if he's going by trial and error, trying to put together a winning combination. It's taken four years, but perhaps if he does, in fact, bring in a good offensive coordinator that fits, he will have the superior coaching staff he'll need to continue to build toward a consistent top-15 program.