With the 2008, 2009 and 2010 recruiting classes, Neuheisel needed to re-stock the cupboards, signing 23, 23 and 24 recruits, respectively.
In 2011, Neuheisel won't have as many scholarships available, probably 15-20, with a good estimate being around 17. So, UCLA will be in a position to be generally more selective than it's been with the last three recruiting classes, looking for big impact players for the majority of the rides they'll have to give.
It's also going to be a bit different in terms of the impression that most 2011 recruits have of UCLA. Neuheisel has been able to bring in top 10 national recruiting classes without any significant results on the field, which is a considerable feat. Most recruits and their families for the last three classes have bought in to Neuheisel's pitch, and there was a great deal to sell – A strong defense, Norm Chow, talent coming in, etc. It's not as if Neuheisel is selling the program based on no upside. But there comes a time when you just can't sell on potential anymore, and results have to be tangible on the field. This last season UCLA definitely showed some improvement, going from 4-8 in 2008 to 7-6 in 2009, but there was still a feeling that the program has yet to completely find its footing. UCLA needs to have a clearly successful season, which isn't necessarily 9, 10 or more wins, but a season where recruits can easily perceive that UCLA is gaining an edge on the field.
After Neuheisel's first two seasons, there is definitely a feeling in recruiting now that UCLA has to show something significant. Recruits for 2011 are probably more of the wait-and-see opinion of UCLA than in 2009 and 2010, since recruits in those classes clearly didn't have the luxury to wait but had to make a decision about UCLA based almost entirely on potential. If UCLA does make significant strides in the 2010 season, the general opinion is that UCLA's recruiting will reach the stratosphere. UCLA has gotten top ten recruiting classes on mere potential and Neuheisel's recruiting acumen, so it's easy to believe that, if Neuheisel ever had a clearly successful season on the field, UCLA's recruiting could potentially move into the super-elite echelon of college football. It happened in the late 1990s, when UCLA produced back-to-back 10-win seasons; it signed the #1 and #2 recruiting classes in the country. If it doesn't show clear improvement in 2010, Neuheisel will be finding recruiting far more difficult, still having to sell recruits on the potential of the program, fighting what could be a solid argument that, by the 2010 season, a significant portion of that potential should have been realized.
In other words, the pressure on Neuheisel is mounting, on the field and in recruiting.
The 2010 season is, by no means, make or break for Neuheisel, however. He could turn in, say, a decent 8-win season, sign a good 2011 recruiting class, and then have a huge season in 2011 and recruiting would then, at that point, blow up to the next level. At the very least, though, UCLA needs to show clear improvement in 2010, to keep the momentum moving forward.
As we've said in the past, too, the 2010 season should be fairly difficult, with UCLA facing a pretty tough schedule, with what will be still a fairly young team. The issue with 2010 is that UCLA could be a better team than it was in 2009 but not show marked improvement in its win/loss record. That leads into what should clearly be UCLA's chance at a clear-cut, turn-the-corner season in 2011, when the schedule is far more favorable and UCLA's roster will be filled with 2- and 3-year starters.
Pretty much, too, UCLA's dye is cast in terms of the talent it will have on hand to make its impact in the next two seasons. There could be a recruit in the 2010 class that might have an immediate impact on the 2011 season as a true freshman, but it's not highly likely. So, for Neuheisel, he'll play the hand he's been dealt, or, more accurately, the hand he dealt himself.
In terms of what this means for the 2011 class, it's probably good timing for UCLA not to have as many scholarships to give. If, perhaps, UCLA doesn't have a vastly successful season in 2010, it would be easier for Neuheisel to convince a smaller number of impact players to jump in the boat. This was, of course, done by design: to load up on the recruiting classes during your initial couple of years when you can sell them on potential.
So, UCLA has now started to focus on the 2011 class, and looking at its projected depth chart, there are some clear positions of need.
Of course, with UCLA not getting a quarterback with the 2010 class, that position is the highest priority. UCLA will probably take two quarterbacks in 2011 – and one of them not being Jerry Neuheisel, the coach's son. Jerry, from what we've heard, will either walk on or grayshirt – that is, come in later in the school year and be considered part of the 2012 class. It's a great bonus for the coach to have a son who could contribute at quarterback because, well, for one, you know he's coming; it doesn't take much recruiting, beyond maybe taking the mom out to dinner. Plus, you can bring him in whenever you want – and it behooves UCLA to have Jerry come in later, so UCLA can bring in two quarterback recruits in the 2011 class who don't feel threatened by being in the same class with the coach's son.
The quarterback position, of course, is the most important on the field. The fact that UCLA intends to bring in two quarterbacks makes it easily the most critical aspect of UCLA's recruiting for the class of 2011.
It's going to be interesting, too, since the west isn't necessarily overly talented in terms of 2011 quarterbacks. It's a solid year, you could say, but not overwhelmingly talented, which you would prefer in a year when you intend to bring in two.
Right now, the clear #1 quarterback in the west is Evan Crower, the 6-3, 180-pounder from San Diego (Calif.) St. Augustine, who is verbally committed to Stanford. He's a top ten national prospect at his position. Despite being verbally committed to Stanford, it's logical that Crower might look around some still, with Stanford having so many quarterbacks on its roster and reportedly more coming back from Mormon missions.
After Crower, it appears that a group of four or five make up the next-best list. That group includes Max Wittek, the 6-3, 190-pounder from Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei, who UCLA just recently offered a scholarship and is recruiting hard. There is Brett Hundley, the 6-3, 205-pound prospect from Chandler (Ariz.) High, who had a big performance at last weekend's Steve Clarkson Dreammaker Academy. He appears to have all the tools, and will be recruited at a very high level. There is Cody Kessler, the 6-2, 195-pound prospect from Bakersfield (Calif.) Centennial, and Kyle Boehm, the 6-3, 210-pounder from San Jose (Calif.) Archbishop Mitty. Both have long been considered among the best in the class in the west, but UCLA has yet to offer either, waiting to see them this spring.
Having a shot at being on that list are a few other guys: Trevor Gretzky, the 6-3, 180-pound quarterback from Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian, who had a very good showing at Dreammaker. He likes UCLA, and it would be very beneficial for the Bruins if he emerged as a UCLA-level guy. There is Michael Eubank, the 6-5, 220-pound prospect from Corona (Calif.) Centennial, who is an exceptional athlete for his size, but still pretty raw. He came to UCLA's Junior Day on Thursday. There is Michael Bercovici, from Woodland Hills Taft, who came to Junior Day Saturday; Jake Geringer, from Newbury Park (Calif.) High; and Derrick Brown, from Murrieta (Calif.) Vista Murrieta, and a few others that have a chance to emerge.
Nationally, UCLA has offered Stephen Rivers, the 6-6, 200-pounder from Athens (Georg.) High, the younger brother of Phillip Rivers, whom Norm Chow coached. It's unknown what kind of chance UCLA has with Rivers.
So, at this point UCLA has offered Rivers and Wittek, and is in watch-and-see mode with many of these other prospects. The Bruin coaches will probably wait generally until after they can go out and see some of the quarterback prospects during the spring recruiting period, and then have them on campus to work out at UCLA's one-day camp June 6th.
If you project out UCLA's depth chart, the other position that probably has the next biggest need is wide receiver. UCLA took only one with the class of 2010, Paul Richardson, while it probably wanted two, ideally. On its roster, UCLA has four receivers who will be juniors next season, so it needs to replace at least that many in recruiting over the next couple of years. UCLA intends to shoot for bringing in three receivers in 2011.
At the top of the list of targets are Victor Blackwell, the 6-2, 195-pound athlete from Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei, and Devon Blackmon, the 6-1, 180-pounder from Fontana (Calif.) Summit, both of whom UCLA has offered. They are probably at the top of UCLA's list of receivers since they're elite and like UCLA, according to sources. Of course, there is George Farmer, the 6-2, 190-pounder from Gardena Serra, who is considered among the best in the nation. Neuheisel will certainly take a shot at him, but he's known to be a USC lean.
Other guys that UCLA could offer after getting a look at them this spring are Kapeili Pomee, the 6-3, 200-pound prospect from Moreno Valley (Calif.) Rancho Verde, who many thing is reminiscent of Nelson Rosario. Pomee cam to UCLA's Junior Day. There is Wallace Gonzalez, who is 6-5, and 215, and sat out last season after transferring from Glendora to La Puente Bishop Amat. He's supposed to be a WR/TE that has impressed many scouts. Devin Lucien, the 6-0, 180-pounder from Encino Crespi is supposed to have good speed. The 6-3, 185-pound Antoine Arnold from Temecula Chaparral is a guy that many expect to potentially blow up this spring.
Offensive line – particularly the tackle spot – will be another priority. After three strong recruiting hauls at OL, and just when you thought UCLA was stocking the cupboard, the talent and depth took a blow when it lost Xavier Su'a-Filo to his Mormon mission, and potentially Stan Hasiak, who is officially suspended from the team for difficult behavior. UCLA brought in three guys with the 2010 class, but not a guy who is a clear-cut future tackle. Probably the one with the most tackle potential is Wade Yandall; Cody Innes could be a right tackle or guard, and Chris Ward is probably the prototypical right guard, the spot where you want your bigger guard. UCLA intends to bring in three OLs, and would like at least a couple of them to be potential tackles (and even they don't end up tackles, you just slide them over to guard anyway).
Christian Westerman from Chandler (Ariz.) Hamilton is perhaps the #1 OL and tackle in the west, but he has every elite program in the country on him, and we've heard he's a USC fan. UCLA has offered Westerman and Paulay Asiata, the 6-5 and 285-pounder from Honolulu (Haw.) Word of Life Academy, who is probably the #2 OT prospect in the west. UCLA is thought to have a good chance with him, given UCLA's contacts in Hawaii.
Yes, there's an unusual amount of talent in Arizona, which, on one hand, isn't particularly great since it gives the Arizona schools an advantage. But on the other hand, Neuheisel is from Arizona, and is very good at selling the Arizona-kid-to-UCLA pitch, which was very effective on Innes.
Probably the other position of the most need would be defensive tackle. UCLA wanted to bring in at least four DTs with the 2010 class, and with the uncertainty surrounding the status of Julious Moore, they got three: Cassius Marsh, Sealii Epenesa and Wesley Flowers.
But the spot is still pretty depleted, so UCLA will probably want to bring in 2 DTs in 2011.
Luckily, 2011 is a pretty strong year for d-tackles in the west, as it was in 2010. UCLA already has offers out to two guys who came to Junior Day, Christian Heyward, from San Diego Point Loma, and Todd Barr, from Lakewood. Many scouts believe both will be considered at least four-star prospects when all is said and done and sources indicate UCLA is doing well with both. There is Antwaun Woods, the prospect from Woodland Hills Taft, who is verbally committed to USC, but reportedly came to UCLA's Junior Day. Brennan Scarlett from Portland (Ore.) Central is thought to be one of the best DL prospects in the west, and UCLA has offered him. Mustafa Jalil from San Diego Cathedral is verbally committed to San Diego State, but he attended UCLA's Junior Day, and he's someone UCLA could offer pretty quickly this spring. Todd Peat, from Tempe (Ariz.) Corona Del Sol, has Pac-10 offers and UCLA might follow like-wise.
Those positions – quarterback, wide receiver, offensive line and defensive tackle – are the spots UCLA will really emphasize. UCLA might only take one prospect at every other position.
Of course, it's extremely early, and there will be more UCLA targets emerging as we get into the spring evaluation period, which starts April 15th and runs through the end of May.