The requisite caveat first: recruiting rankings are imperfect, and neither guarantee a program’s success nor ensure its failure. That said, recruiting rankings are still correlated with success, and since we can’t fast forward to see how the players develop, there isn’t a whole lot else to work with.
And without further ado, let’s take another look at the 2014 UCLA class (which you can look over in full here).
— It’s good, not great. I covered the five-star swing-and-misses generally in today’s Daily News story, but here’s the class in more detail.
There are three recruits in the Rivals top 100: No. 80 Jaleel Wadood, No. 88 Zach Whitley, No. 95 Kenny Young. That is more than UCLA had in 2013 (No. 56 Priest Willis, No. 80 Tahaan Goodman) and as many has it did in 2012 (No. 21 Ellis McCarthy, No. 37 Devin Fuller, No. 93 Jordan Payton).
Yes, the team needed to land just one five-star recruit to end Wednesday a winner, but the timing of the class also didn’t help perception. The staff pulled in the bulk of its class by early January, and missed on the big names it had left afterward. Imagine if, say, Whitley had flipped from Alabama to UCLA this past week instead of a month ago. There’d probably be a bit more buzz for him.
— Numbers factor in. Here are the scholarship players UCLA will graduate or lose to the draft after next season: quarterback Brett Hundley, running back Jordon James, linebacker Eric Kendricks, defensive back Anthony Jefferson, linebacker Ryan Hofmeister, defensive end Owa Odighizuwa and offensive lineman Malcolm Bunche. That’s it.
The Bruins loaded up with a 26-man class in 2012, so there wasn’t a lot of room to spare this year if they wanted to ensure flexibility for next season. They ended up with 18 incoming freshmen, short of the 20 maximum that Rivals.com counts toward rankings and the 25 that Scout.com counts.
Mora made the “quality over quantity” argument yesterday evening.
“We have egos just like anybody else so we look at the rankings,” he said. “We look at Rivals, we look at Scout, but what I’m proud of is — it’s a small class — but when you go to Scout and you go to Rivals, both of those websites I have a lot of respect for, have us in the top ten in average star rating.”
(USC’s class ranked almost 10 spots higher with one more recruit, but that’ll happen when you clean up the day with a pair of five-stars.)
— Needs were filled. There aren’t any glaring position groups that UCLA failed to address with the incoming class. The team needed some depth on the defensive line after losing a starter and two rotation players, so it added a trio of four-star recruits there. It lost just about every tailback to injury at some point last season, so it added four-star Nathan Starks. It graduated two starting linebackers, and got two out-of-staters who can make an immediate impact.
Nothing particularly flashy, but it did the job.
— Fixing strategy. Asked if pursuing major out-of-state recruits took energy away from chasing local targets, Mora said he He continued: “We have to make sure — like you do after every game, after every season — after every recruiting cycle, you go back and evaluate. We’ve already started that process. … We’re very critical of ourselves. I’m especially critical of myself because ultimately, the decisions are mine.”
— Alize Jones (@TheRealHybrid8) February 6, 2014
That’s Mora calling a 2015 five-star recruit, less than an hour after he wrapped up his National Signing Day media sessions.
— All the national letters of intent came in, so there shouldn’t be any eligibility concerns like there was with Craig Lee last year. Four-star running back Nathan Starks’ was delayed a bit, but it came in by around 7 p.m.
— Four-star running back Kalen Ballage delayed his announcement yesterday when his Falcon High had a snow day, but officially signed with Arizona State today. He had visited UCLA last weekend.
Ballage said Kennedy Polamalu and Jim Mora were extremely impressive. UCLA not recruiting him sooner was factor @EdwardLewisBSR
— ASUDevils.com (@ASUDevilscom) February 6, 2014
— In addition to early enrollees Zach Whitley and Ron Robinson (and 2013 grayshirt Mossi Johnson), three other players are expected to be on campus in time for spring camp: cornerback Adarius Pickett, offensive guard NaJee Toran and offensive lineman transfer Malcolm Bunche.
— Mora, when asked about the hand signal Jaleel Wadood came up with: “It’s fun for these young men. If it gets them fired up, if it catches on, then I’m all for it. I’m excited Jaleel’s throwing them up for UCLA and not somebody else, because he’s a dynamic player.”