Part of the fun of college football is looking ahead to next season.
Well UCLA fans, perhaps it’s time to avert your eyes.
Despite all the positive inertia developed in Rick Neuheisel: Year 2 – a 7-6 record including an EagleBank Bowl win after the 4-8 mockery that was last season – the Bruins are lined up for a difficult 2010.
Of UCLA’s 11 All-Pac-10 selections, just five return, including only three who were named to the first or second teams – sophomore safety Rahim Moore, junior kicker Kai Forbath and freshman punter Jeff Locke.
Goodbye, Reggie Carter and Alterraun Verner. So long, Brian Price and Korey Bosworth. Sayonara, Terrence Austin and Xavier Su’a-Filo.
“It’s going to be a definite challenge to get all those guys replaced and to play the same kind of consistent defense and even try to improve,” UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel said. “That’s going to be a tall order. We’ll have to do a great job in the offseason of not only evaluating our talent but our scheme.”
UCLA viewed the opening of the Pac-10 schedule as a second chance, a new beginning, a rebirth of sorts.
Well bust out the shower presents, these baby Bruins have arrived.
After a stunning shooting performance in the first half, UCLA held on to defeat visiting Arizona State, 72-70, in the Pac-10 opener at Pauley Pavilion on Thursday afternoon.
Riding the hot hand of senior forward Nikola Dragovic, who found a comfort zone in the corner and shot 5-for-5 from the 3-point line in the first half for 16 points and 23 for the game, UCLA shot 83.3 percent from the field and hit 8-of-10 threes.
With guards Jerime Anderson, Michael Roll and Malcolm Lee penetrating the lane and kicking out to the perimeter, the Bruins got uncontested looks.
Even better, they made them.
“Our attack of the zone was good with Mike, Jerime and Malcolm,” UCLA head coach Ben Howland said. “We should be a good team against the zone. I expect us to be a good shooting team. But 15-for-18 in a half? I didn’t expect that.”
UCLA hit 83.3 percent of its shots – including 8-of-10 3-pointers – to maintain a 42-31 lead over Arizona State at the half.
Nikola Dragovic leads the Bruins with 16 points and Malcolm Lee has 11, as the perimeter passing has been sharp.
Moving into a 2-3 zone midway through the first half, UCLA simply shut down the Sun Devils, who are shooting 44.4 percent. Rihards Kuksiks is the only ASU player in double figures, with 15 points, and seems to be the only one who has solved the zone defense.
UCLA has gone up 26-16 on Arizona State as its perimeter offense and defense are both on point.
Nikola Dragovic just hit a 26-foot 3-pointer, and the Bruins have stifled ASU on the outside, as the Sun Devils have scored just five points in the last 7 minutes.
Nikola Dragovic has opened the Pac-10 opener on fire, knocking down his first four 3-pointers and drawing a foul on one to lead the team with 13 points early against Arizona State.
The Bruins are playing well offensively, but their perimeter help defense has been poor.
In the end, Xavier Su’a-Filo chose faith over football.
UCLA’s freshman phenom offensive tackle said after the Bruins’ 30-21 EagleBank Bowl win over Temple on Tuesday that he was leaving school and embarking on his LDS mission.
The All-Pac-10 honorable mention selection has returned home to Utah and will learn of his destination on Jan. 6.
“I always thought it was the right thing to do,” said Su’a-Filo, who was a fixture at left tackle this season, starting all 13 games. “Growing yup, it was what I wanted to do. It was always ingrained in the back of my mind. I wasn’t looking for reasons not to go – I was trying to concentrate on the season, and see if it was the right thing for me to do at this time. After prayer and thought, I felt like it was.”
After celebrating its first bowl win since 2005 with a 30-21 win over Temple on Tuesday night at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., UCLA was dealt crushing blows on both sides of the ball after the game.
Junior defensive tackle Brian Price told Chris Roberts, Wayne Cook and Matt Stevens of the UCLA ISP Sports Network that he intended to declare for the NFL Draft after a spectacular junior season and freshman offensive tackle Xavier Su’a-Filo confirmed in a text message that he was going on his LDS mission immediately.
While Price qualified his statements by adding that he still needed to have final discussions with the UCLA coaching staff and his family, all indications are that he is leaving for the NFL.
“I want what’s best for Brian Price,” Neuheisel said. “Obviously, we would love to have him back. He’s a big-time football player. But if it’s a good decision for Brian and his family to move on, we wish him the very best.”
Price sky-rocketed up the pre-draft charts late in the season and his five tackles and one tackle for loss gave him season totals of 48 total tackles and 23.5 TFL. While also adding seven sacks this year, Price’s 44.5 career tackles-for-loss rank second in UCLA history behind current cornerbacks coach Carnell Lake.
Many around the UCLA program braced themselves for Price’s early exit, though, particularly as he exploded onto Mel Kiper’s Big Board at the No. 10 spot.
UCLA freshman left tackle Xavier Su’A-Filo will partake on his LDS mission, he said in a text message minutes ago. Su’a-Filo was a highly touted recruit out of high school and his exit leaves a gaping hole for the Bruins.
We’ve arranged to talk about the decision tomorrow.