By John Agovino, Associate College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: After leading the Bruins to a lackluster 4-8 ledger in 2008, coach Rick Neuheisel had a better go around in his second season, helping UCLA to a seven-win campaign in 2009.
The Bruins opened with three straight victories, beginning with a convincing
33-14 decision over San Diego State. The next two victories were more
challenging, as UCLA slipped past Tennessee by a four-point margin on the
road, and then defeated Kansas State, 23-9. However, the Bruins hit a wall
once league play began, as the team suffered five consecutive losses, all of
which came against Pac-10 foes. The skid began with a 24-16 setback on the
road against Stanford, and was followed by back-to-back losses at home to
Oregon and California. After falling to Arizona and Oregon State, the Bruins
were finally able to post their first league win with a thrilling, 24-23
decision over Washington. The win over the Huskies turned the tables for UCLA,
which followed with victories over Washington State and Arizona. Unfortunately
the Bruins were unable to defeat their rival, as USC handled coach Neuheisel
and his troops, 28-7. Despite falling to USC in their season finale the Bruins
were still 6-6 on the year and earned a spot in the EagleBank Bowl where they
took on the Temple Owls. The Bruins were able to close out their season with a
30-21 victory over the Owls.
OFFENSE: After finishing 111th in the nation offensively in 2008, the Bruins
made a slight improvement last year, but still ended just 94th in the country,
leaving offensive coordinator Norm Chow with some work to do in 2010.
The success of this unit will rely around sophomore signal caller Kevin
Prince, who was inconsistent last year, but showed flashes of talent and is
likely to improve this season. What should help Prince in his second year is
the talent that surrounds him, beginning junior wideouts Taylor Embree and
Nelson Rosario. Both receivers are big targets that should help move the
chains. Also look for Colorado transfer Josh Smith to play a vital role in the
passing attack. Smith, who is also a junior, is not a big target but he has
excellent speed, giving Prince a deep threat.
Almost as important as Prince is fellow sophomore Johnathan Franklin, who
rushed for 556 yards a year ago. Franklin started the year strong, but hit a
wall down the stretch. With a year of experience he should be tougher this
time around. If Franklin is unable to carry the load, or if he slows down
through the rigors of a tough college schedule, look for highly touted
freshmen Malcolm Jones and Jordan James to grab some carries.
DEFENSE: Last season the Bruins finished 28th in the nation defending the
pass, and with three starters back in the defensive backfield, look for UCLA
to put forth another strong showing in that area, which is definitely
important playing in the Pac-10. Sure, the Bruins do lose top corner Alterraun
Verner, but return All-American safety Rahim Moore, who hauled in an amazing
10 interceptions in 2009. It will be very tough for Moore to duplicate that
number, but the only numbers the leader of this defense cares about are the
ones in the win column.
"If I could, I would take away the 10 picks to get 10 wins. It is about
getting me better and everyone around me better. I want to do all the things
to get better and be a big contributor. This is our chance to show ourselves
on the biggest state against great teams like Kansas State, Texas and Houston.
This year is not about me, it is about the team."
As mentioned earlier Verner is now gone, and while that is a big piece, the
Bruins do have a talented replacement in sophomore Aaron Hester.
The Bruins also lose a playmaker at linebacker in Reggie Carter, but coach
Neuheisel does return an all-conference player in Akeem Ayers, who finished
with 75 tackles and six sacks last year. While losing Verner and Carter hurt,
the biggest hole left by a departing player is on the front line where Brian
Price handled the opposition. Price was the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the
Year, so it will be extremely tough to replace him. Hopes are that Datone
Jones and sophomore Damien Holmes can give the Bruins some pressure off the
SPECIAL TEAMS: The best kicking tandem could be on UCLA's roster in the form
of Kai Forbath and Jeff Locke. Forbath, who has already won one Lou Groza
Award, is capable of grabbing another trophy this season, and as for Locke is
enters his sophomore year after being the only freshman on the list for the
Ray Guy Award last season. As mentioned earlier, Smith coming over from
Colorado gives Prince a deep threat, but what the junior also brings to the
table is a game-changing return man that can take a kick to pay dirt at any
OUTLOOK: When coach Neuheisel took over at UCLA the goal was to show not only
the Pac-10, but the nation there are two really good teams in Los Angeles.
While the Bruins have lost both meetings against USC in Neuheisel's tenure,
the team has improved from a four-win 2008 campaign to a seven-win showing
last year. The expectations for UCLA are growing and another improvement will
be in order in 2010, but for that to occur the offense must perform at a much
higher level. However, even if the likes of Prince and Franklin improve as
sophomores, the schedule for UCLA is a bit troublesome, especially early on
when the team plays Kansas State and Texas on the road in September. It does
not get any easier for the Bruins as the year progresses with conference road
matchups against California, Oregon and Washington. Also, even though UCLA
will host USC, the Trojans have given UCLA nothing but trouble over the past
few seasons. All in all, the Bruins are showing progress and the team might be
able to finish a little better than last year, but contending for a league
title might be a year away.