The staunch defenders of the program say that recruiting hasn't slipped at all from the recently strong recruiting years and that the football program is as involved with as many top recruits as it has been in any typical recent year.
It's difficult at this point to reconcile that argument.
For the first time in a few years, UCLA isn't as involved with as many elite players on the west coast or nationally. And there are a number of factors contributing to this:
-- UCLA does have a fairly young team, with younger players getting some pretty signficant playing time, making it somewhat difficult to recruit players at certain positions. It's pretty easy to see that UCLA might have trouble recruiting at quarterback, tailback, tight end, and defensive back, given the young talent already on the team at those positions.
-- The three seasons previous to the current one combine for a 17-17 record and one bowl appearance. That kind of performance will affect recruiting. UCLA's good recruiting in recent years was very much a result of UCLA's back-to-back 10-2 seasons in 1997 and 1998. In recruiting, it takes at least a couple of years for results on the field to establish trends in recruiting.
-- The sentiment that Head Coach Bob Toledo is on the hot seat has given rival programs plenty of ammunition in the negative recruiting wars.
-- Being a bit under fire and feeling that heat – and that of the hot seat – the coaching staff has focused more on the team's on-field performance this season, and recruiting might have suffered. The theory is that recruiting will benefit more from a successful season than anything else, which is primarily true to a certain extent.
-- USC is having its best season in years, making many recruits consider them favorably for the first time in a while.
This doesn't mean that UCLA will have a poor recruiting class. There is so much left to be played out that will contribute to UCLA's recruiting efforts and recruiting results for this season. The best-case scenario is that UCLA wins out and, with the benefit of a few other scenarios, goes to the Rose Bowl. If UCLA wins out but doesn't go to the Rose Bowl it would still see a significant boost in its recruiting as a result. If UCLA could win two of its last three regular season games, and if one of those wins is against USC, it would boost recruiting significantly. Ending the season on a positive note (for the first time in a few seasons) would greatly enhance UCLA's ability to "close" in its recruiting season, something it hasn't done well in recent years.
Plus, UCLA is actually pretty stocked talent-wise at many positions and really needs to fill a few recruiting needs and still would be in very good shape talent-wise on the roster.
It's near-impossible to determine how much a very good finish to the season will improve UCLA's chances with many elite recruits. There would be an issue of whether and how big of a finish (a Rose Bowl berth?) could turn around some of the prospects that have UCLA waning on their list, or pop UCLA on to the list of many that aren't currently listing the Bruins.
But it's fairly evident that UCLA isn't doing as well as it has in recent years in recruiting at this same stage of the recruiting season, and it needs some kind of positive finish to the season to boost its chances in recruiting.
So, with an acknowledgement that things could drastically change between now and signing day, February 5th, here's a look at the needs in this year's recruiting class and what recruits UCLA has the best chance of getting to fill those needs in this recruiting class.
With Antwuan Smith academically qualifying, UCLA now has 20 total scholarships to give to this recruiting class. Four are already earmarked for the four prospects that have verbally committed.
(Click on the player links for all player profiles and all of the player's stories in the network)
UCLA's best chance is easily Dennis Dixon, 6-3, 180, San Leandro (Calif.) High. Dixon is the #7-ranked quarterback in the country, with great, raw potential and a very strong arm. He would be a great fit for UCLA because no matter where he'd go he's going to redshirt to get bigger and stronger, and to develop his quarterback skills. He's very close with Jarrad Page and his family and that's a strong pull to UCLA. He has said recently that he might not take an official visit to UCLA, wanting to use his trips to visit other parts of the country. But after taking a few trips, he still very well could use one of his last visits to come to Westwood. It's hard to say with Dixon, because he plays it close to the vest, but some close to the situation believe UCLA is either leading or among the couple of leaders for him.
After Dixon there aren't many options here. Clayton Richard might be UCLA's next best shot, but that would be considered a fairly longshot. Syvelle Newton is also a bit of a possibility. South Carolina is the odds-on favorite, but UCLA will probably get a trip out of him.
If UCLA looks like it's going to miss on these three or other highly-regarded prospects, it could look to get more seriously involved with Leon Jackson of Long Beach Poly. Jackson lacks size (being about 6-0 ½), but he has a good arm and a polished throwing motion.
Ideally it would be good for UCLA to bring in a quarterback, but you can understand it might be hard with true freshmen Drew Olson and Matt Moore on the roster. Ideally you want a quarterback every year and it seemed like that was going to be taken care of with Moore redshirting. But with Moore now unable to redshirt, it would seem more imperative that UCLA brings in a quarterback. Especially since, now with Moore and Olson in the same class, it would make it more possible that one would transfer.
It's another position that would seem to be difficult for UCLA to recruit, with Tyler Ebell on track to be named Pac-10 Freshman of the Year and possibly setting the Pac-10 freshman rushing record. But you also have Manuel White, who is only a sophomore, and two other redshirt freshman tailbacks, Jason Harrison and Wendell Mathis.
Derrick Williams of Bellflower St. John Bosco is obviously UCLA's best shot at this position. Ranked the #27 running back in the country, he's having a very good season, and is a great all-around athlete. If he didn't end up at tailback he definitely has the potential to be a contributor at defensive back, where some schools are recruiting him anyway.
Cornell Johnson from Nevada likes UCLA quite a bit. He's been on UCLA's to-watch list for a while and they haven't yet really decided to go after Johnson full-throttle. If they did, they'd have a very good shot with him. He's big and has good speed, but some scouts question if he could play at this level.
Reggie Bush is still a candidate. But he has said he favors three schools – Stanford, Notre Dame and Washington – for a while. It would take a huge push by UCLA to crack that group, and it doesn't appear that UCLA is interested enough to make that huge push.
A guy to possibly watch is Daymeion Hughes from Los Angeles Crenshaw. He plays tailback, wide receiver and defensive back for his team this season and is a very good all-around player and plays hard. He could end up a tailback or a wide receiver or cornerback. He likes UCLA, is a good student, and UCLA is watching. Washington, Cal and Arizona have offered, and he's someone UCLA could possibly move on.
It's probably one of the positions with the skimpiest list of prospects at this point. Fullback, traditionally, isn't a position that get a lot of recruiting interest to begin with, because many times a fullback is someone who was converted from another position anyway.
UCLA just offered Shawn Jordan a scholarship, and they'll be recruiting him pretty hard. There are other names, like Brandon Atkinson and Juan Silva, but, like I said, it's a pretty skimpy list at this point.
UCLA is probably looking to take four offensive linemen, and already has two in the fold, P.J. Irvin and Jeremy Harrell. Harrell, though, could end up on the defensive side of the ball; UCLA's line coaches will probably end up fighting over him.
Drew Radovich, the #12 offensive line prospect in the country, is shaping up into UCLA's prime target. They have a pretty good shot at him, but it's going to be a battle. Washington is said to be a favorite, while Colorado might be tough, too.
After Radovich, offensive line recruiting is pretty iffy, which is unusual for UCLA in recent years. They are involved with a number of nationally ranked prospects, like Ryan Harris, but they would be considered only longshots for them at this point. It really is a case that UCLA doesn't clearly lead for any other OL recruit they've offered, including Sam Baker, Mikal Brewer or Dan Mazan. It doesn't look good with Baker, and they have an okay shot at Brewer or Mazan.
Along with defensive line, it's easily the position that UCLA has its best list of top recruits as prospects.
They could take up to three and already have a commitment from Alex Ghebreselassie (#26), who, reports, say, is looking very good in his senior season. They also could take more wide receiver/defensive back/athlete-type guys and plug them into a position later.
UCLA is looking pretty good with highly-regarded Devin Stearns (#41), Quintin Daniels (#34) and Noah Smith (#66). They could easily get one, or even two, of those three. Recently it looks like they've been improving their chances with Mark Bradford (#13). UCLA just offered Joe Cowan (#122) and will have a very good shot at getting him.
On the list of WR/ATHs that UCLA could stock up on even more, there's Mike Harris from Covina Charter Oak, or Rudy Burgess from Edwards (Calif.) Desert. Also, Daymeion Hughes, as I stated above, could end up a wide receiver.
Along with fullback, it's a skimpy list, but even skimpier.