Analyzing UCLA’s 2011 recruiting class

Sometimes it’s really funny to watch UCLA fans go through the roller-coaster of emotions.

UCLA’s 2011 class ran the gamut – utter jubilation at times, downright depression at other, probably even the five stages of grief. Throughout yesterday, which started on a sour note with the commitment of Jalen Grimble to Miami – and to be clear, yes, UCLA was still in on Grimble when I made the “Just a note” post, and many experts were saying the same thing – the tenor of the fan reaction dropped and rose and dropped and rose and dropped and ultimately rose once more, settling into a sort of a nervous calm.

Call it fans being resigned to their fate, but I guess my question all along was, why were you surprised?

I had one UCLA fan on Facebook go from calling Rick Neuheisel “The Big Whiffer” to the “Best closer in the game” in a span of a week. And right back the other way, too. When Torian White “committed” to USC yesterday, you would’ve thought the Hindenberg crashed into Spaulding Field.

And I just didn’t get it.

This was a 4-8 team…the second in four years…without a defensive coordinator…after a downright baffling situation with the offensive coordinator spot…and an embattled coach who is fending off a ton of scorn from fans and media.

What did you expect?

To get Brett Hundley, and to get him to become the “face” of the recruiting class was alone a coup. But to also add guys like Kevin McReynolds and Devin Lucien on signing day was critical. Ultimately, I can understand the frustration of signing day, especially with USC cleaning up, with the exception of DeAnthony Thomas (Wow!, might I add). Coming after a couple years of massive signing day success must sting. I get it.

But the problem was NOT with how UCLA closed, but with how it opened.

Did you notice who “spurned” UCLA yesterday? Grimble, from Nevada, and Tony Steward, from Florida. Earlier, it was Cyrus Hobbi, from Arizona. And there were more earlier in the process.

A lot has been said about how UCLA pulled from other states last season, getting Owa Odighizuwa from Oregon and Aramide Olaniyan from Virginia. Two huge signings, to be sure.

Guess what?

Malcolm Jones, Cassius Marsh, Chris Ward, Jordan Zumwalt, Anthony Barr, Jordon James, Dietrich Riley, Anthony Jefferson. California, California, California…you get it.

I get the feeling that Rick Neuheisel got a bit too optimistic – haven’t we heard that before? – in his vision for the future, and in no way, none whatsoever, expected UCLA to crash to 4-8 this season. I remember him looking me straight in the eye before spring ball telling me he expected eight wins. I gave him a chance to qualify the answer. He didn’t. He was that optimistic.

But it seems that UCLA went out and recruited accordingly, ignoring some key California players.

To be fair, Lucien, White, Ben Wysocki, etc. are all good prospects.

But if you think I’m just a Thousand Oaks High honk, ask Brandon Huffman what he thinks about Richard Mullaney. Kid had 121 catches for over 1,600 yards and 20 touchdowns, against one of the toughest high school football schedules in California, and he barely gets any interest? No offer? And to show I’m fair and balanced as always: What about Westlake’s Nelson Spruce?

Or #35 RB Jordan Perkins out of Lodi, who flipped from Stanford to Northwestern. Maybe gotten in on Duke-bound Blair Holliday a little earlier and given him an offer before making a mad dash at the end. There’s La Mirada OT Bryan Peters, who went to Kansas, and didn’t appear to have any interest from UCLA.

Look, I’m not professing to know all of these kid’s back stories, and I certainly don’t know most of their SAT scores, but in my talks with recruiting guys, the common consensus is that coming off a 7-6 season, UCLA coaches thought they could go big, and after 4-8, they couldn’t.

On ESPN yesterday, Urban Meyer warned Oregon of the same thing last night, saying that they shouldn’t just go five-star hunting because of their success this season. I couldn’t agree more.

Perhaps Rick Neuheisel will remember that next season, particularly given the amount of talent on the west coast. Maybe he won’t even be tempted to look too far outside California.

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  • bruincheerleader

    thanks jon……now i am even more depressed about yesterday’s haul…

  • Hollywood Bruin

    I like the way you’re put together Jon. Good analysis..During the last 3 years Rick has the highest ratio great recruits to lowest wins..

    I am excited to see what will happen when he starts putting together >8 win seasons.

    Strong work Jon.

    Hollywood

  • Reformed Droog

    I’m hesitant to say this, as I’m sure I’ll be accused of continued bromance, but I think your analysis is spot on. I couldn’t quite understand why UCLA was ignoring so many local kids – and I rarely following recruiting, so I figure that if I was hearing as much grumbling and head scratching as I was, there must have been some seriously missed opportunities.

    Ultimately, I think we made out okay. Sure, we could have done better, but I maintain that until we develop and utilize the talent we have, it won’t matter who we recruit.

  • UCLAVES

    Nice post, but remembering how great last year was reminded me of how crappy this year was. 16 commits 9 of which are unranked by Rivals. If we have anything less than the full allotment of 25 schollies next year, this mad dash at the end makes no sense.

  • gilligan

    As a big time USC fan I really enjoyed our recruiting class but the loss Thomas does sting a little bit.
    Onto UCLA, the biggest problem with this class was that UCLA probably put too much effort on a good amount of Out of state prospects instead of focusing on the local talent. The departure of Chow and Bullough also impacted recruiting but the inability to hire their replacements in a timely matter played a bigger factor. I don’t know of any other major school going to NSD without a DC. I was shocked that McReynolds committed to UCLA b/c of the absence of a DC but he is a good pick up. McReynolds could be the second coming of Price and I really thought Price was missed a lot last year.
    Neuheisel has his players at UCLA and if I were a UCLA fan this team better show improvement or else I think it might be time for a new coach.

  • UCLAndrew

    I agree, go for guys close to home. We sure have enough of that. Texas doesn’t go outside of Texas too too often in football, Cal State Fullerton almost never goes out of CA in baseball, Minnesota’s hockey team is almost all Minnesotans. One exception for UCLA football is Arizona. We have 4 on our roster now (including Hundley), and there’s a lot of 3-5 star kids in AZ’s 2012 class already.

  • Very Optimistic Bruin

    Being young and female, I have only been following the recruiting process for a few years now. I am very impressed with Rick N’s ability to recruit, but I think your analysis is spot on, Jon. Let’s be real, with the seasons we’ve had (including the 7-6 season), the continuous loses to that other LA school, the basketball team even seriously struggling last year, the coaching situations, and everything else that’s gone on, we need to just be thankful yesterday is over and Rick N and the coaches can start seriously planning for next season. The whole UCLA atmosphere top to buttom was hard to sell. We need to be more supportive because I bet it’s extremely hard to sell how fun it is to play at the Rose Bowl when all season there were more red chairs than blue shirts. I’ve been going to UCLA football games since I was born, and now that I actually live in So Cal, I am seeing how harsh our fans can be. They are just kids and they wanna play in front of people who want to see them do well. When no one is cheering or even coming, they aren’t gonna perform as well. It’s just what happens in sports. They feed off our energy. So get off your butts and go to the games so we actually have something to sell to the recruits.

    Second, what’s so bad about getting some “unranked” or 3 star kids? Remember, every kid being recruited in America is one of the top athletes. They haven’t even peaked yet. So they arent a pampered 5-star princess who thinks they’re gonna be starting in a few month.. I’m glad. I want those kids who just want to be Bruins despite the climate right now. They are gonna come in with a lot of heart, with a chip on their shoulder (especially when they read all this), and work their butts off. Good. Who cares about how many stars some dude who works for Rivals gave someone, just go out and play.

  • UCLA Fan

    Jon,

    UCLA fans read your blog. According to this article we are morons, and you were right all along. Thanks. Came her for insider information, not to be told I am clueless all things Bruins.

  • Mikey Likes It!

    I think the Rivals, Scout star system is over emphasized. Here is the reality:

    http://rivals.yahoo.com/ncaa/football/news;_ylt=AvrTFcunhbe4wZoxbZeTcT8cvrYF?slug=dw-supermac020211

  • Coach Thom

    Dear Very Optimistic Bruin,

    This is a well-reasoned and articulate post. I agree with all of the points you’ve raised. It’s heartening to see that there is another person out there that looks at our program as intelligently and positively as you do. If you ever pop around Barney’s Beanery, please ask for Coach Thom. I’m often there and would love to meet you and discuss the current and future state of our Bruin heritage.

  • UB (Ultimate Bruin)

    Jon Gold is the Al Gore of Beat Reporting . . .
    Al Gore first said that winters as we know them are a thing of the past due to global warming. Now a few years later, Gore says that the harsh winters are a result of global warming. Seems that Gore waits for the facts to come in and then tailors them to his theory.
    Now, as for Gold, it wasn’t too long ago that he praised CRN for going after the BIG talent, whereas Karl Dorrell didn’t “compete” with Cheatey Petey for the BIG talent but settled for lesser talent. Now, that the “facts” of this 2011 class are in, Gold pulls a “Gore” and says that CRN set his sights too high.
    We’ve been “Gored” fans!
    On a different note, when did beat reporters become columnists?

  • Anonymous

    I think your analyzes is spot on Jon. I think this has been the same problem with Howland’s recruiting strategy as well. They spend so much wasted time with out of state recruits that they are losing out on some really good talent in CA. There is enough talent in the west that you really don’t have to go east for talent, unless there is a talented kid that is really showing interest.

  • UB (Ultimate Bruin)

    I love how Jon gets pariase for ‘spot on’ analysis that relies solely on 20-20 vision. How’s this for spot on analysis,
    “I believe that the Bruins basketball team effectively handled the Trojans last night by scoring more points than the SC team and not missing as many shots.”
    Am I ‘spot on’ too?

  • Ed

    First of all, welcome to Westwood to all signees. Hope you make the best of your college experience at UCLA.

    However, let’s not b.s. anyone. While some of these players are darkhorses or sleepers and may turn out to have productive careers at UCLA like the 2-star Bosworth twins. The fact that they were offered scholarships at the last minute, the weekend before NSD, just showed an act of desperation by Neuheisel. He went into a panic mode after striking out on many of the locals and were unable to flip any of them other than Tuliaupupu. That’s not a bashing on Manfro, McDermott, Oliver, and Orloff. That’s just facts. Hell, anyone of us would’ve done the same in their shoes. I know I would’ve screamed out the “You had me at hello” line.

    So, the bottom line is most fans are not pleased overall but are happy we filled some area of needs. What’s done is done. LOI’s are signed. Recruits lost are gone forever. They are now our enemies on game days. So let’s focus on who we have and how they can help the team. That’s the only way I can keep my sanity. Thank goodness the games are not played on xbox or on paper. We can still hope that Neuheisel can pull out a 8 or 9 win 2011 season. If that happens, I guarantee that the passion bucket would be full again and Rick The Closer would pull in a top 5 recruiting class next Feburary. Another 4 or 5 win season, well, then it’ll be groundhog days all over again. Only seven more months until the season starts. Cross your fingers and hope for the best Bruins!

  • Very Optimistic Bruin

    Coach Thom,

    I think it’s important that people remember the fun is only in sports if both the fans and the kids are enjoying themselves each game. Rick N has a lot to prove this year but I am willing to stand behind him and the new coaches because I want going to the Rose Bowl to be fun again. How do we think all of these recruits are gonna feel if they read all of this? Luckily, most don’t pay attention to this kind of stuff, but I want to personally say THANK YOU for choosing UCLA and WELCOME. Every single one of them had more than one choice. Go Bruins.

  • Ed

    Mikey, Very Optimistic Bruin, Coach Thom,

    I get what your points about rankings. That’s why the game is played on the field and not on paper. But that’s not the reality. That article cited by Mikey shows examples of players coming out of smaller schools and making it in the NFL. That’s fine. But it is a fact that if you want to win as a TEAM and be in the championship hunt, you need 4 & 5-star players surrounded with good role players. Boise State is anomaly.

    Here it is re: recruiting and rankings

    http://rivals.yahoo.com/ncaa/football/blog/dr_saturday/post/Star-Power-Recruiting-gurus-track-record-at-th?urn=ncaaf-312394

    http://rivals.yahoo.com/ncaa/football/blog/dr_saturday/post/Star-Power-Recruiting-gurus-All-American-track?urn=ncaaf-311830#remaining-content

    An excerpt:

    “You know this already, but in black and white: In any given season, you can count on at least 50 percent of the nation’s elite teams on the field coming from the 10 percent that routinely dominate the recruiting rankings. Every year. If n elite class doesn’t guarantee a team vaulting to the top of the polls, it still dramatically increases the odds.”

  • PV Bruin

    @UB…

    Leave Jon alone… he is doing a great job and he has his right to be wrong sometimes.

    The most important thing is that we are getting info directly from the source and lighting fast.

    Jon is entitled to his opinions and we greatly appreciate his insights.

  • Thomas Soteros-McNamara

    Jon,

    You couldn’t be more wrong this go ’round, but your assertion is often true. Marv Goux is reported to have told Pete Carroll several years ago the key to winning at USC was to “close the borders” and keep the majority of the Southern California talent at home.

    Problem is, that was impossible for UCLA this year. There are several reasons, but the least of which was that UCLA’s feckless play at the end of the season didn’t inspire many kids to want to play in Pasadena. It’s not about wins and losses. It was about direction. Players could see the offense was lost, they could see there was no correlation to the team’s output and its needs on the field.

    Part of this is the fan’s fault, pushing the school into a shotgun marriage with Norm Chow, Neuheisel, and DeWayne Walker that should have never happened. Everyone sees it now, but at the time, Rick was forced to accept these terms in the court of public opinion.

    But even if there was Zen-like harmony on campus, there were still big, structural problems this year. One is that, if Scout is to be believed, the caliber of offensive line men in CA was way down. That’s critical, because UCLA’s best strength has been recruiting on the line and when we don’t get those commits, it reduces the critical mass of other signees. USC on the other hand, had lots of speedy local players to sign, which helped their momentum exceptionally (ever notice USC does real well with those fast guys on signing day?) Add in the fact that Ed Orgeron came back to USC, and you knew that there would be no shortage of hustle from the Trojans.

    And this doesn’t even begin to address all the other structural components: the game relying more on speed than strength (thus putting UCLA in the firing line with its tougher academic standards because contrary to popular belief, offensive linemen tend to be the smartest players); the real lack of penetration into urban L.A. high schools by UCLA, and the changing demographics in the suburbs of Southern California.

    I don’t buy your argument because UCLA went after guys like Junior Pomee and Christian Heyward, and Brandin Cooks. But in the end, all those guys took one look and said…no thanks. It’s hard to sell a car up on a pair of cinder blocks, and that what UCLA had to do this year. Hopefully we’ll get some identity back in 2011 and resume our success on signing day.

  • UB (Ultimate Bruin)

    As am I, PV. I am just stating my opinion. That is why it is called a ‘comment’ section.

  • UB (Ultimate Bruin)

    I agree, Thomas S-M. It’s nice to see that there is some sanity out there! Glad to see you didn’t praise Jon for his ‘spot-on’ analysis. (Or what I like to call 20-20 hindsight evolving into analysis.)

  • http://www.insidesocal.com/ucla Jon Gold

    Cool it down, everyone.

  • PV Bruin

    @UB…

    There is a fine line between comments and bashings… and when we cross this line, the comments can become kind of distasteful…

    I know you must be knowledgeable about bruins football but does not hurt to be classy when expressing your “comments”.

  • http://www.insidesocal.com/ucla Jon Gold

    Cool. It. Down.

  • UB (Ultimate Bruin)

    Well, Jon and PV, I am sorry if my opinions have offended you. But, again, I was just staing my opinions. With all due respect, my opinion is that Jon’s analysis was off-base and inconsistent with prior analysis he has made about the recruiting style of CRN. I see that some agree with Jon and some do not. I am in the latter category.
    It seems to me that if Jon can use sacrcasm, and be “amused” by fans reactions, he should understand that fans will make comments that use sarcasm and express “amusement” as his analysis. Now, if Jon wants to “cool it” with bashing UCLA fans, then maybe UCLA fans will “cool it” in bashing Jon. Just a thought.

  • Reformed Droog

    Analysis is interpretation. Jon’s analysis is “spot on” because he has interpreted a situation that might otherwise not have been clear to many people, such as myself.

    So yes, his analysis was done in hindsight. Of course it was – that’s why it’s analysis.

  • UB (Ultimate Bruin)

    Reformed: Well it was analysis in hindsight, but I disagree that it was ‘spot on.’ Again, with all due respect and IMHO.

  • Mike H class of 90

    Interesting question to ask Neu…

    USC signed 30 players I believe. Did Neu and staff get sucked into believing that that number might only be 20 or so (with self imposed sanctions) and spent a little more time on some out of state guys believing that there would be a little less in-state and in L.A. competition for guys like Pomee, Martin, Heyward, Hobbi and some of the other “local” guys?

  • clyde

    Too many of these comments rely on lack of information.Many of the people who comment have no idea what happened in the recruiting process.If you don’t have all of the facts it’s not too swift to complain
    about what you don’t know.Jon,time to censor some
    comments.Our teams need support more than criticism.

  • Matt

    Damn…What a bunch of cry babies!

  • Bruintx

    Spot on, Jon!!

  • Anonymous

    I’m neither a UCLA or USC fan…just a distant observer…

    In the tri-county region of LA, SD and orange county, there are about 45 all-american quality high school seniors graduating each year.

    UCLA should be able to fill their class with many of those guys without having to drive more than 30 miles for a recruiting visit.

    USC got hit hard by the NCAA this year. Bowl ban. Sanctions. Worst scholarship reductions anyoen has had in over 15 years. It was a neagtive recruiting godsend for other schools to use against them.

    You’re UCLA. In this setting, you reeled in the 60th best class in the country. You ended up, per scout.com, one rung below WSU.

    I can see a PAc-12 school in california maybe reeling in the 60th best class in the country when they undergo a coaching change.

    But in a year without a coaching change, when USC has the kitchen sink thrown at it?

    Jesus. You deserve better.

  • Marc

    Lighten up, people. Don’t like what you get here, get it somewhere else.

    Jon, fine job. I think the haul wasn’t too bad. We need O-linemen and D-linemen. We got them. Now we got to coach them up. The biggest thing thelast several years is not the talent level coming in, it’s the coaching and tacking. The kids just didn’t seem to be getting better. Hopefully, Rick has figured that out, and the new coaches he brought in can do that.

    The class was small because of the small senior class. Oregon, on the otherhand, graduated a bunch so they signed eight more guys or something like that. It is on the coaches. Get it done or move on.

  • Anonymous

    Hey UB you DB… You say “with all due respect” and “IMHO” and yet you have no respect, certainly no respect for the writer of this blog and no respect for the other readers of this blog. What does IMHO mean to you? Certainly not “In my humble opinion” because the next time you are humble will be the first. Why don’t you just go away?

  • Mike

    This cannot be a major surprise, this program has had more than 7 wins in a season once in last 13.

    Young kids of today do not see a winning tradition, they do not see UCLA FB in primtetime across the country.

    There is a HC who if he does not win may not be there the next year, there is no DC and no one knows what offensive system will be run.

    60th ranking is about right since that is about where the program is in D1

    Its reality

  • Anonymous

    I couldn’t agree more with this analysis. Let me begin by stating that I am a current UCLA student. I went to every home game and traveled to Oregon, Berkeley and Texas to watch my Bruins. You would have trouble finding a bigger Bruin fan in Westwood than me. And coming from me I was amazed that anyone would want to come play for us. It’s time for all of us, especially the students, to get over our Bruin denial. Yes we all love UCLA and know how amazing it is. Yes we all know how lame and awful USC is and always will be. But put yourself in the shoes of a 17 year old senior. What can we offer? Um a 4-8 losing season where we looked downright embarassing at several different points. No defensive coordinator. An incredibly inconsistent new offensive coordinator with a terrible track record of one and done seasons (I must qualify this by stating that I am a die hard 49er fan and cannot understand how Mike Johnson keeps getting hired anywhere outside of Pee-Wee football camps). A head coach on the cusp of getting fired. And lets be real does any program in the country do less with the talent they recruit than we do?

    But hold on a second, what are we complaining about? We have had top ten recruiting classes the past two years and we went to bowl games both seasons. Oh wait…no we didn’t. Our top players are passionate about our program and want to do everything they can to rebuild the team. Oh wait..bye bye Akeem. Our players are mentally and physically tough on and off the field. Oh wait…Kevin Prince feeling better yet? We have veteran players that are leading this team. Oh wait…5 true freshmen playing against Oregon State (Zumwalt ready to be the team leader as a true sophmore?).

    Let’s call it what it is Bruin Nation! IT’S THE COACHING! Our players are soft! They are poorly coached plain and simple. It shows on and off the field. I don’t care what we have to do but lets get a Tom Moffit clone(strength and conditioning coach from LSU) to come in here and light a fire under this teams ass. Hell any coach from the SEC would love the chance to work with all the potential we have in westwood. We are weak and soft and that’s the hard truth. Can you honestly say that against Stanford we played as gritty and tough as they did? But come on we can’t recruit those types of players because we have high academic standards! Yeah right, because Stanford is just some legacy clown college like USC and will admit any player no matter how insanely unqualified they are academically.

    For whatever reason pretty boy RN is just not reaching his players. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s his huge ego? Maybe it’s his fake highlights? Maybe he and his assistants tag team the players in the showers? The point is I haven’t got the slightest damn clue why he isn’t connecting with his players but he is not. Time for him to pack it and go. There is just too much potential in this program to accept any more failure.