With the hiring of Rick Neuheisel this pas..."/> With the hiring of Rick Neuheisel this pas..."/>

2008 UCLA Football Preview: Storylines


With the hiring of Rick Neuheisel this past offseason, UCLA football just got a little more interesting and expect some more coverage of the Gutty Little Bruins here at SoCal Sports Hub. But before we get ahead of ourselves and begin breaking down the UCLA’s depth chart and opponents, that will come later, it is much more important to gain a key grasp on the major storylines that the surround the Bruins this year.

Three Amigos

Unlike his predecessor Karl Dorrell, Rick Neuheisel actually has had some experience running a Division 1-A football program before he was hired to coach the Bruins. From 1995 to 2002, Neuheisel was the head coach at Colorado and Washington, where he compiled a 61-21 record and led the Huskies to the Rose Bowl in 2001. Now, Neuheisel is back at his alma mater, UCLA, where he hopes to turn a mediocre program into a Pac Ten powerhouse that can compete with USC on a yearly basis.

However, Neuheisel is taking on this monumental challenge alone, as he has gathered one of the nation’s top coaching staffs. In just a few short months, the Bruins have gone from Dorrell, Jay Norvell and DeWayne Walker to Neuheisel, offensive coordinator/guru Norm Chow and Walker as the defensive coordinator. That’s a big-time improvement with three coaches who could all run major programs, but questions remain as to whether it will pay dividends immediately. While the coaching changes may or may not turn UCLA into a champion overnight, it has created some buzz in Los Angeles and some mild concern crosstown at USC.

A Tough Start

The Rick Neuheisel era might have a rocky start with the Bruins facing some extremely tough opponents. On Labar Day, September 1st, the Bruins host SEC powerhouse Tennessee. The following week, the Bruins face a potentially tougher game against BYU, who are regarded as a potential BCS team. To make things even more interesting for Neuheisel and company is that the third non-conference date is against a dangerous Pat Hill coached Fresno State team that’s certainly good enough to pull off the upset in the Rose Bowl. In 2005, the Bulldogs nearly upset the Leinart-Bush Trojans in the Coliseum and have proven capable of playing with some of the nation’s top teams. It’s very possible that Slick Rick’s bunch could start Pac Ten play with an 0-3 record.

Questions at Quarterback

While Norm Chow has an indisputable track record as a quarterback guru, he is going to have his hands full at UCLA. Last year’s starter Patrick Cowan is done for the year with an ACL tear, and Ben Olson is nursing a broken foot that won’t be healed until sometime this summer. Even when he does return, there is no guarantee that he will stay healthy as he has missed significant playing time over the past two seasons. So far in his UCLA career, Olson hasn’t come close to fulfilling the hype that surrounded him as a high school prospect, as he has fallen victim to injuries and inconsistency. While Cowan and Olson rehab their injuries, JUCO transfer Kevin Craft, son of former San Diego State coach Tom Craft, is already being hailed by the coaching staff as a possible starer for the Bruins. Look for Craft and Olson to compete for the starting job this fall.

The Receivers: On the Cusp of Greatness
Provided that the Bruins can find a quarterback and the offensive line develops as expected, the Bruins certainly have the ingredients to form their most productive receiving corps in years. Young wideout Dominique Johnson has the size and acrobatics to blossom into one of the best in the conference. With Marcus Everett, Gavin Ketchum and Ryan Moya back after missing all or most of last season, the Bruins should have some added depth, which was one of the unit’s problems a year ago. While he isn’t a Marcedes Lewis, tight end Logan Paulsen is a great pro prospect who has flown under the radar during his time at UCLA. He is a good blocker, who should be more involved in the passing game this season. Overall, this unit could potentially become one of the team’s strengths.

The Replacement for Bruce Davis
Replacing defensive end Bruce Davis, one of the best pass rushers in school history, is no small task. The Bruins’ secondary is already thin so if they’re going to have any chance of stopping the pass this year than it must come from the boys up front, who must be able to at least cushion the blow of losing a Davis. Ends Korey Bosworth and Tom Blake are nice players, but without Davis to attract multiple blockers, it’ll be tough for the Bruins to put pressure on the quarterbacks.

Next Great Kicker
When sophomore place kicker Kai Forbath enrolled at UCLA in the Fall of 2006, he entered as one of the most hailed kickers to suit up for UCLA. While he redshirted his freshman year because All-American Justin Medlock was already the team’s kicker, Forbath became an All-American himself last season. Forbath connected on 25-of-30 field goal attempts, including 5-of-5 outside of 50 yards. It’s strange to get excited about the kicker, but Forbath has the potential to be exceptional and its the only stable position of the roster.