2011 UCLA Preview
UCLA QB Kevin Prince & RB Johnathan Franklin
UCLA QB Kevin Prince & RB Johnathan Franklin
Posted Jun 3, 2011

With three losing seasons in the last four years and a 4-8 2010, things aren't exactly working out at UCLA. It wasn't all that long ago - 2005 to be exact - that the Bruins went 10-2 and were a threat in the Pac 10. Now in the Pac-12, can the program finally produce wins under Rick Neuheisel? Will the offense finally work? Check out the CFN 2011 UCLA Preview.

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- By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: Rick Neuheisel
4th year: 15-22
Returning Lettermen
Off. 21, Def. 23, ST 1
Lettermen Lost: 21
Ten Best UCLA Players
1. RB Johnathan Franklin, Jr.
2. S Tony Dye, Sr.
3. P Jeff Locke, Jr.
4. LB Sean Westgate, Sr.
5. DE Datone Jones, Jr.
6. LB Patrick Larimore, Jr.
7. WR Taylor Embree, Sr.
8. WR Nelson Rosario, Sr.
9. QB Kevin Prince, Jr.
10. C Kai Maiava, Sr.
2011 Schedule

Sep. 3 at Houston
Sep. 10 San Jose State
Sep. 17 Texas
Sep. 24 at Oregon State
Oct. 1 at Stanford
Oct. 8 Washington State
Oct. 20 at Arizona
Oct. 29 California
Nov. 5 Arizona State
Nov. 12 at Utah
Nov. 19 Colorado
Nov. 26 at USC

Maybe Rick Neuheisel wasn't such a great hire after all.

At the time, the move made sense. UCLA was looking for a spark after five mediocre seasons of Karl Dorrell, no better than third place in the Pac-10, and just one finish in the Top 25. Neuheisel had a track record of success, albeit with some NCAA run-ins, and brought the kind of energy to his alma mater that could steal some juice from cross-town rival USC. It hasn't happened. In fact, the Bruins have regressed under his watch, going 4-8 in 2010 for the second time in three years. If a turnaround doesn't come soon, the coach could be out of work again.

Neuheisel and his staff have had no problem attracting talented players to Westwood. None. And that's what makes the 15 wins and EagleBank Bowl appearance in 2009 so doggone frustrating. UCLA has the raw materials, but the finished product has needed to be recalled. Obviously, this is a pivotal year for the program, which is rapidly squandering an opportunity to narrow the divide on USC when it's down.

After stunning Texas in Austin last Sept. 25 and briefly getting ranked, it was all downhill for the Bruins, which finished with six losses in the final seven games. The numbers told it all, with UCLA ranking no higher than 94th in the country in total offense, total defense, or turnover margin. Oddly enough, it could be worse. The cupboard could be empty, but it's not. The school has blue-chip talent on both sides of the ball, but needs to find a way to keep it healthy and mold it into a cohesive unit. A capable quarterback, ever-elusive during the Neuheisel years, would sure help. When summer drills begin, a fully-rehabbed Kevin Prince will look to hold off Richard Brehaut and recapture the job he had before injuring his knee.

The clock is ticking on Neuheisel, a major disappointment in his return to UCLA. He's improved the school's overall talent level, but that's only shined a brighter spotlight on his struggles to produce a consistent winner. He needs to reverse course soon, or else athletic director Dan Guerrero could be looking for a new head man again in December.

What to watch for on offense: True Baca. A line that's been decimated by injuries and academic issues for years desperately needs everyone at full strength, beginning with junior Jeff Baca. Slated to handle one of the open tackle jobs, the Bruin staff desperately needs him to recapture his 2009, pre-suspension form, when he started 13 games and played like a fringe all-star. However, in true UCLA form, he broke his ankle in the spring and is not a lock to be at 100% when summer drills begin in August.

What to watch for on defense: Jonesin' for a pass rush. If the Bruins are going to rebuild the defense after last year's debacle, it'll all begin with a pass rush that disappeared in 2010. UCLA had 18 sacks during the first half of the year, yet only seven over the final six sacks. Hope comes in the return of junior DE Datone Jones, who missed all of 2010 with a foot injury. He hopes to spend the month of September reminding fans that he was on the fast track to bigger things in 2009, racking up 45 tackles, 11 stops for loss, and four sacks.

The team will be far better if… it figures out how to win on the road. In three seasons under Rick Neuheisel, UCLA has won just four regular season games away from the Rose Bowl. Even worse, only one has come against a Pac-10 team not named Washington State. In order to turn the corner and begin climbing the conference pecking order, the Bruins have to become a little more productive on the road, beginning with early tests at Houston, Oregon State, and Stanford.

The Schedule: It's do or die time for the Rick Neuheisel era, and he'll have some big early dates that could define the season and the direction of UCLA football. Starting out against a dangerous Houston team on the road is hardly a layup, and while facing San Jose State should allow the team to work the kinks out, everything has to be in place with a motivated and revenge-minded Texas team coming to Pasadena. Missing Oregon from the North is a mega-break, and not playing Washington could be a plus, but going to Oregon State and Stanford to kickoff Pac 12 play isn't going to be easy. A run of three home games in four weeks in the second half of the season isn't bad, but the road game is at Utah. If the season wasn't going to be full with enough drama, it closes out with a trip down the freeway to USC.

Best offensive player: Junior RB Johnathan Franklin. The catalyst of a revived Bruin ground game, Franklin ran for 1,127 yards and eight touchdowns on 214 carries in 2010. Quick to the hole and even quicker out of it, he's a determined runner, who rarely gets taken down behind the line or by a single tackler. After earning a spot on the All-Pac-10 second team, he has his sights set on adding some All-Pac-12 hardware to his trophy case this fall.

Best defensive player: Senior FS Tony Dye. After bouncing around in the secondary, Dye appears to have found a home at safety. Actually, he's still on the move, going from strong safety a year ago to free safety this season. A playmaking 5-11, 205-pounder, he's outstanding against the run and above average when the ball is in the air. Coming off his best season, which included a team-high 96 tackles and nine pass breakups, he'll be looking to impress NFL scouts this fall.

Key player to a successful season: Junior QB Kevin Prince. UCLA absolutely, positively need more from a passing attack that's been toothless ever since the new staff took the reigns in 2008. The most likely player to stoke that flame is Prince, a Bruin with loads of upside potential, yet a history of injuries. Although he's running out of chances and undamaged body parts, he's the hurler with the best chance to lead the program to higher ground. He also has the arm strength and athletic ability to give the offense a physical dual-threat behind center.

The season will be a success if ... UCLA makes it back to the postseason. A third losing season in the last four years will almost certainly spell doom for the current regime. Facing a difficult schedule and just a couple of lay-ups, the Bruins need to find a way to seven, providing a ray of hope to a disenfranchised fan base, a frustrated administration, and a swelling contingency of underclassmen.

Key game: Nov. 26 at USC. This is one of those annual rivalry games that's important to the underdog for so many reasons. Yeah, bragging rights is one of them, but the Bruins are also determined to steal some of the recruiting and local media thunder that the Trojans have enjoyed for over a decade. Depending on how well UCLA plays in the first 11 games, this meeting in the Coliseum could also impact the visitor's ability to play an additional game in December.

2010 Fun Stats:
- Points per game: UCLA 20.2 – Opponents 30.3
- Total offense: UCLA 3,800 – Opponents 5,041
- Third down %: UCLA 35% - Opponents 44%

- 2011 UCLA Preview | 2011 UCLA Offense
- 2011 UCLA Defense | 2011 UCLA Depth Chart
- UCLA Previews 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006