UCLA BRUINS Head coach: Rick Neuheisel Last season: 6-7 overall, 5-4 in the Pac-10; lost 17-16 to BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl. Spring practice: April 3-April 26.
The hiring of Rick Neuheisel means UCLA intends to compete with crosstown rival USC for headlines. The Bruins will also need to tussle with the Trojans on the recruiting trail. In his first season, though, Neuheisel will be hard-pressed to compete with USC on the field. UCLA has only seven returning starters, although that number is somewhat skewed by the number of players sidelined by injuries last season.
New UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel has to replace a number of starters on both sides of the ball.
UCLA should be in good shape at defensive tackle, where Rivals.com second-team freshman All-American Brian Price returns. Senior Brigham Harwell also is back; he started 12 games in 2006 before missing 11 games last season with a knee injury. Two starters return at linebacker, and the one new starter either will be a senior or a touted redshirt freshman.
HELP IS NEEDED
UCLA will find out exactly what it has behind senior tailback Kahlil Bell, who will miss the spring while he recovers from a torn ACL suffered during the regular season. Redshirt freshman Raymond Carter will get a long look in the spring. The other potential replacements are not too inspiring: Chane Moline is a short-yardage specialist, Christian Ramirez is a converted safety and Craig Sheppard is a former walk-on. The Bruins will have to wait until four freshmen arrive in the fall for a clear picture at the position. Verner is the only returning starter in the secondary.
KEEP AN EYE ON
LB Akeem Ayers: With projected starter Joshua Edwards out for the spring with a fractured cheekbone, Ayers will have every opportunity to claim the weakside linebacker spot. Ayers is a Rivals250 member who redshirted as a freshman last season.
TB Raymond Carter: With Bell out, Carter – another redshirt freshman – will try to make an impact before a talented class of true freshmen arrives in the fall.
WR Dominique Johnson: Brandon Breazell and Joe Cowan are gone, leaving Johnson (322 yards, four touchdowns) as the team's leading returning receiver. UCLA will look to Johnson, a sophomore with great size (6 feet 3, 208 pounds), to become the go-to guy in 2008.
HIS TIME IS NOW
Ben Olson and Patrick Cowan have split quarterback duties, but they've traded injuries more than they've competed for the job. UCLA's quarterback situation was a mess last season. Both seniors, Olson and Cowan will compete for job under the tutelage of coach Rick Neuheisel and coordinator Norm Chow.
The arrival of Neuheisel, a UCLA alum, appears to have reinvigorated the program. Neuheisel retained defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker and hired Chow, so there's a definite buzz surrounding what could be the Pac-10's best coaching staff
David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.