2010 UCLA Preview
UCLA LB Akeem Ayers
UCLA LB Akeem Ayers
Posted Jul 21, 2010

With USC getting thrown into the penalty box, UCLA has a window of opportunity to make a big move and get back to being a Pac 10 contender. Can Akeem Ayers and the Bruins step up their play and be more of a factor in the conference race? Check out the 2010 CFN UCLA Preview.

UCLA Bruins

Preview 2010

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- By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: Rick Neuheisel
3rd year: 11-14
Returning Lettermen
Off. 18, Def. 22, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 23
Ten Best UCLA Players
1. PK Kai Forbath, Sr.
2. LB Akeem Ayers, Jr.
3. FS Rahim Moore, Jr.
4. DE Datone Jones, Jr.
5. WR Nelson Rosario, Jr.
6. WR Taylor Embree, Jr.
7. P Jeff Locke, Soph.
8. QB Kevin Prince, Soph.
9. RB Johnathan Franklin, Soph.
10. C Kai Maiava, Jr.
2010 Schedule

Sept. 4 at Kansas State
Sept. 11 Stanford
Sept. 18 Houston
Sept. 25 at Texas
Oct. 2 Washington State
Oct. 9 at California
Oct. 21 at Oregon
Oct. 30 Arizona
Nov. 6 Oregon State
Nov. 18 at Washington
Nov. 26 at Arizona State
Dec. 4 USC

UCLA took a step in the right direction in Rick Neuheisel's second year, poking its head above the .500 mark with an EagleBank Bowl win over Temple. Yeah, it was a baby step, but a much-needed one at that.

Anyone who expected a bridge to the upper echelon of the Pac-10 to be built overnight is probably already disappointed. And more than a little delusional. When Neuheisel replaced Karl Dorrell two years ago, he inherited a mess, especially on the offensive side of the ball. He and his staff have taken the right steps toward prosperity, scoring big on the recruiting trail in all three of their attempts. While the talent is much better, it's also green in key areas, such as quarterback.

It's been more than a decade since UCLA had a consistent threat behind center. That's too long for a school that's had its share of prolific passers. The Bruins took the seal off Kevin Prince, then a redshirt freshman, in 2009, getting predictably mixed results. With that awkward season now behind him, there's hope in Westwood that he can begin to bloom and maximize the talents of gifted receivers Nelson Rosario, Taylor Embree, and Colorado transfer Josh Smith. Fair or not, as Prince goes, so goes UCLA in 2010.

On defense, the Bruins are looking to regroup after losing the corps of a solid group to the NFL. DE Datone Jones, LB Akeem Ayers, and FS Rahim Moore form a tremendous starting point for coordinator Chuck Bullough, though lots of help will be needed from the returning veterans and talented underclassmen. At least there'll be no worries on special teams, where PK Kai Forbath and P Jeff Locke form one of America's best kicking tandems.

It's been a good offseason in Westwood. UCLA continued to amass more blue-chip recruits, while Pete Carroll left rival USC for the NFL. The Bruins aren't quite there, but they've got their best chance in years to narrow the divide and start closing the gap on the Pac-10 elite.

What to watch for on offense: Kevin Prince: The Sequel. The Bruins need far more consistent play from the quarterbacks, especially with the running game misfiring and the defense expected to suffer a decline. Prince had his share of ups and downs as a rookie, yet also showed hints of being the kind of strong-armed scrambler that the rest of the offense can rally around. If he fails to bloom up to his potential, coordinator Norm Chow will be forced to consider sophomore Richard Brehaut, another highly-touted UCLA recruit.

What to watch for on defense: The sophomore cornerbacks. UCLA is set at safety with the returns of All-American Rahim Moore and starter Tony Dye. Corner is going to be a lot more perilous this fall, particularly with the graduation of all-star Alterraun Verner. The Bruins will lean heavily on a pair of sophomores, Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price, who're are hoping to reach rather high ceilings as soon as possible. Hester was actually the starter before getting hurt in the opener and, ironically, replaced by Price for the balance of the season.

The team will be far better if… it trades more Kai Forbath field goals for touchdowns. There wasn't a single program in the FBS worse than the Bruins at turning red zone trips into six points. In fact, of its 37 excursions deep into enemy territory, UCLA scored just 13 touchdowns, a paltry 35% success rate. The difference between a pulsating win and a heartbreaking loss this fall could come down to improved efficiency in the red zone.

The Schedule: This isn't a schedule, it's a dare. In today's day and age of wussy BCS team non-conference schedules, going to Kansas State and taking on a high-powered Houston team that will put up a bajillion yards a game would qualify as tough, respectable slate. The third game? Sacramento State? Portland State? UC Davis? At Texas. Throw in a home game against Stanford in Week Two and the Bruins should be really, really happy to get through September 2-2. If that wasn't bad enough, after a date with Washington State the Bruins have to go on the road to face Cal and Oregon and still have to deal with away games against Washington and Arizona State. Getting Oregon State and USC at home is a positive, but it's not like those are sure-thing wins.

Best offensive player: Senior PK Kai Forbath. Okay, so he's not technically an offensive player by the definition, how can you argue with the Lou Groza Award winner and team scoring leader, two years running? Forbath is the nation's premier placekicker and an irreplaceable cog in an offense that frequently stalls in the red zone. If not for his booming range and laser-like accuracy, the Bruins would spend many weekends topping out in the teens.

Best defensive player: Junior LB Akeem Ayers. No, you wouldn't go wrong by tabbing FS Rahim Moore, who earned some All-America recognition after intercepting 10 passes. Ayers, however, is about to reach a different level of achievement. He's one of those rare defensive difference-makers, who's so supportive and so versatile that he can literally impose his will on the other team. At 6-4 and 252 pounds, he can put his hand in the dirt and rush the passer or drop back into coverage and blanket the tight end. He had a bunch of huge plays last fall, and is just beginning his ascent into stardom.

Key players to a successful season: The offensive line. Sure, the evolution of Prince at quarterback will be critical, but if the line doesn't contain opposing defenses, will it really matter? The point is that UCLA has talent behind center and at the skill positions, but you probably won't know it if the other team is constantly harassing Prince and gumming up running lanes for Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman. If the offense is going to have a chance to move forward, it needs the front wall to carry its weight for a change.

The season will be a success if ... the Bruins take another step forward by winning seven regular season games. Sure, it's not too aggressive, but then again, this team has concerns on both sides of the ball and a thorny non-conference schedule that includes trips to Texas and Kansas State, and a visit from Houston. Moving up the Pac-10 ladder would be a sign of progress, as would getting Prince closer to being the program's franchise quarterback.

Key game: Dec. 4 vs. USC. So, you're beginning to catch up with the Trojans, UCLA? Go out and prove it in front of the home crowd. With Troy down from its peak, this could be the Bruins' best chance in this series in some time. A win in the Rose Bowl would be a huge statement for Neuheisel and the program in front of the home crowd. Plus, even with Pete Carroll no longer around, it would avenge last November's loss, which ended with a controversial USC long ball as time wound down in a game that was out of reach.

2009 Fun Stats:
- Over the course of 13 games, UCLA yielded only 45 fourth quarter points
- The UCLA D tied for No. 7 nationally and led the Pac-10 with 20 interceptions
- Of its 37 red zone trips, UCLA scored just 13 touchdowns, ranking last among the 120 FBS schools

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