It's an exciting time for UCLA football, and this kind of excitement leads us to doing foolish predictions, especially in recruiting.
The recruitment of the 2014 class so far, overall, has been solid. As we said before, UCLA recruiting fell asleep for a while in early summer, but it's been strong since the season started in fall.
It now, though, has some momentum, with UCLA having beaten USC, pretty convincingly, for a second time in two years, Jim Mora re-upping and re-committing to getting UCLA into the upper echelon of college football, and Mora able to sign and keep some elite assistant coaches. Mora and his assistant entourage have been on a private plan since Sunday, traversing California doing in-home and in-school visits with many prospects.
Whether the 2014 class will develop from solid to elite depends on five or so of those "Measuring Stick" recruits, the big impact four- and five star guys. UCLA is involved with a number of them, and if UCLA has a big run between now and Signing Day in February, makes a haul of those measuring stick guys – and has enough scholarships to give them – the 2014 class would have a chance at finishing top 10 and having an impact on the team like 2013 did this season.
Right now UCLA has 20 scholarships to give, and that includes the rides we're anticipating UCLA will, in fact, get back from the three players currently on the roster that we previously reported weren't returning. We never worry about UCLA having enough scholarships, because if a five-star prospect wants to jump in the boat there is no way UCLA is turning them down. But it needs to be said that UCLA currently has 12 committed players and just 8 open rides, and quite a few needs – like at quarterback, offensive line, defensive line and linebacker – that it will have to fill. If it fills those, and then also gets a good handful of those measuring stick guys, it's going to need to free up about 4 or 5 rides by next fall. Again, we don't worry about it, but it has to be pointed out.
So, here's our incredibly premature prediction as to how UCLA's recruiting class will fill out and finish, how it will potentially fill needs and then be ranked nationally.
UCLA, obviously, doesn't have a quarterback commitment in the class of 2014 and it needs one. Next year the depth chart is solid, with Brett Hundley, Asiantii Woulard and Jerry Neuheisel (as well as walk-on Mike Fafaul), but we've watched quarterback depth and recruiting go south so fast in the past due to injuries, transfers and non-development. Very simply, after next season, with Hundley gone, UCLA will have Woulard and Neuheisel as its candidates for the starting job, and that should make any offensive coordinator a bit shaky. Woulard is a great prospect – but he's a prospect, meaning he has all the tools but it's still a big question mark whether he can develop into a legitimate, starting Pac-12 quarterback. We still think Neuheisel is a back-up level guy. And this is without any injuries. We're talking about the depth chart for the 2015 season, and because never know how well you'll do recruiting for a class that is another year away (2015), or if you can even get anyone in that class who would have even a remote chance of competing for the starting job as a true freshman, you'd really like to have one more horse in the race from the 2014 class.
UCLA, right now, doesn't have a quarterback they're pursuing seriously that isn't committed elsewhere. They've offered Brad Kaaya, the prospect from West Hills Chaminade, who is committed to Miami, and there hasn't been much movement on that offer since UCLA extended it about two months ago. UCLA coaches are supposed to be visiting him this week, so that could be a big indication of whether Kaaya is a legit possibility. UCLA also recently offered Cal commit Luke Rubenzer, the 5-11 prospect from Arizona. UCLA's OC Noel Mazzone and quarterbacks coach Taylor Mazzone know Rubenzer, and they were probably thinking that he might be reconsidering his commitment to Cal since the Bears are looking pretty shoddy right now. But Rubenzer said publicly that he's still a solid commit to Cal, and he could be thinking that, with Zach Kline transferring and star freshman starter Jared Goff requiring shoulder surgery, he could have a chance at playing time.
UCLA did the last-minute salvage of quarterback recruiting in 2013 with Woulard, and it's pretty risky to be attempting it again. We believe there will be a few more names that crop up between now and the beginning of February, but this ain't no way to recruit quarterbacks. You can't rely on a Woulard falling out of the sky like he did last season. We are skeptical that either Kaaya or Rubenzer flip, too. It's not a program-ending development if UCLA doesn't get a quarterback in 2014, but again, we've seen how little mis-steps in quarterback recruiting in the past have added up to pink slips for a few head coaches.
Will Sign: 0
Marlon Mack, 5-11, 195, Sarasota (Fla.) Booker
Mack is an interesting situation. On tape he looks at least as good as UCLA target Tre Watson from Corona Centennial. But Mack was recruited by fired running backs coach Steve Broussard, so we'd have to say that his status with UCLA is probably a bit uncertain at this point. We have heard UCLA would like to take two running backs in 2014 and, at this point, without that many more possibilities left on the board, Mack might be a guy UCLA would want to hold onto.
Watson, who is verbally committed to Cal, has long indicated privately that he's going to flip to UCLA. We've heard enough to believe this is more of a question of when, not if.
Then there is Joe Mixon, the five-star prospect from Oakley (Calif.) Freedom. There has been quite a bit abuzz about Mixon in the last couple of days, specifically concerning UCLA. Mora and five assistants visited him Tuesday, and it the feedback we were getting was very good – that UCLA had a very legitimate chance and it very well could come down to UCLA or Oklahoma. UCLA, then, hired Kennedy Polamalu (even though it hasn't been announced formally yet), and that's a hire you would think would help with Mixon. We're sure that Polamalu, who has a rep for being a great recruiter, will undoubtedly reap major rewards in recruiting for UCLA over his tenure, but it might not be in the case of Mixon. We've heard that Polamalu might not be a strength specifically with Mixon and his people. Right now, Mora will have to do a monumental job to maintain his relationship to have a real chance with Mixon.
We think that UCLA and Polamalu will put in a huge effort on Mixon, but he'll ultimately opt for Oklahoma, or his hometown Cal, which he has always had a soft spot for. We have to think that Mack might fall by the wayside, and that Watson will jump on board.
Needs: 1 or 2
Will Sign: Watson
Austin Roberts, 6-2, 220, Carmel (Ind.)
Jordan Lasley, 6-1, 185, Gardena (Calif.) Serra
Alex Van Dyke, 6-4, 215, Elk Grove (Calif.) Cosumnes Oaks
Right now the receiver class is a strong one, with four-stars Roberts and Van Dyke, and under-rated, in our opinion, Lasley. The three of them are big, more physical receivers, and Roberts and/or Van Dyke could end up at the Y.
That puts the receiver class for 2014 in a great position – with enough talent that, if they didn't sign anyone else, it would be strong. But in WR recruiting for 2014 is where UCLA has a few measuring-stick guys that could make huge impacts. Michiah Quick, the five-star prospect from Fresno Central, is a guy who could come in and immediately contribute next season, and we're hearing that UCLA is doing very well with him, and at last word, was leading. Malachi Dupre is the #1 receiver prospect in the country, and the buzz is that it's between UCLA and hometown LSU. While we've heard at times that Dupre was, in fact, coming to UCLA, we have to retain some skepticism and believe he'll ultimately give in to those many compelling elements of the SEC. There is also five-star, impact guy Adoree Jackson, who very well could be a Myles-Jack, two-way type, and play both cornerback and be on the field for a offensive package. In fact, while we think Jackson long term might project better as a cornerback, we think he his electric, explosive ability could make an immediate impact on offense. But we'll we'll consider him a cornerback for this piece.
We believe UCLA will get Quick and that will put the icing on cake of one of UCLA's best receiver recruiting hauls in recent memory. A great deal of credit, then, would have to go to UCLA receive coach Eric Yarber, since the attraction at UCLA for receiver recruits is to play for Yarber.
Will Sign: Roberts, Lasley, Van Dyke and Quick.
In tight end recruiting, it's one guy or no one, and that guy is the #2-ranked tight end in the country, Bryce Dixon, from Ventura St. Bonaventure. Dixon is a great athlete, who could probably be a great defensive end in college if he chose to be. He is, though, a great pass-catcher for his size, and a great fit in UCLA's offense at the Y spot.
If they don't get Dixon, UCLA really isn't too concerned, since it has good talent at the Y and, as we said, could easily use Roberts or Van Dyke there.
Dixon has indicated that he wants to be a Bruin. We think he'll stick with that idea all the way to Signing Day.
Will Sign: Dixon
Najee Toran, 6-3, 260, Galena Park (Tex.) North Shore.
Offensive line recruiting is an interesting situation at this time. Coming off such a big haul in offensive line recruiting for 2013, UCLA offensive line coach Adrian Klemm looked like he was going to reload in spring when he had commitments from two big-time JC guys, Jermaine Eluemunor and Dominic Jackson, and there was every indication he was going to also get Demetrius Knox. But Eluemunor and Jackson opted elsewhere because they didn't want to take more classes in summer, and Knox pulled a surprise. That left OL recruiting a bit back to square one, and then it became even more critical when Christian Morris transferred and the offensive line roster got hit by injury. Instead of needing maybe 2 or 3 OLs for 2014, it now appears UCLA would take 3 or 4.
UCLA got a commitment from Toran, which is a solid get, taking him away from Oregon State. But after that, the possibilities are a bit limited.
We can clearly state that UCLA will get Kammy Delp, the #21-ranked offensive guard in the nation from Pomona (Calif.) Diamond Ranch. The only way he'd opt to go elsewhere is if Klemm went to USC, and that's not happening.
Toran and Delp, though, are inside guys, and UCLA, as was clear this season, needs tackle types. UCLA is pursuing Kenyon Frison, from Utah, but the word is that he'll stay home to play for the Utes. The big local target is Chris Brown, the #19-ranked tackle from Los Angeles Loyola who is the best tackle prospect in California. Polamalu just recently coached at Loyola, but we still think Brown opts for his long-time favorite, USC.
The Holy Grail, then, is Damien Mama, the five-star and #1 guard prospect in the country. He might project as a guard, but, with some weight loss, very well could end up at tackle in college. Really, right now, with how UCLA OL recruiting stands, Mama makes or breaks it. If they get him, it's a successful class; if not, it's a bit thin. Mama could very well compete to play as a true freshman, especially if he sheds some pounds. He intends to then, Xavier Su'a-Filo style, go on his mission after one college season.
UCLA might still take a shot at Viane Talamaivao, the four-star from Corona Centennial. Talamaivao was an early UCLA lean, but then he committed to Alabama, and then recently switched abrupty to USC. It's thought he's pretty solid to the Trojans, even if they don't have an OL coach just yet. Tamamaivao has a Polynesian connection to Mama and Delp, and it would make sense for Klemm to go after him. Klemm could sell him on the fact that Klemm was USC's first choice as its offensive line coach.
We think there will have to be other OL prospects that emerge before February. Perhaps it's an appropriate time to take a project – an big athlete with good feet that needs to put on some good weight. We sincerely don't know who that might be, however.
We hate to kill the buzz but we think that UCLA ultimately won't get Mama, and he'll go across town.
Will Sign: Toran, Delp and a third unknown.