ACC: UCLA Bruins

Teams trending up post-signing day 

February, 9, 2015
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Who needs the NFL, Los Angeles? With the way USC and UCLA are going, the city is just fine when it comes to football.

The Trojans and Bruins lead our look at programs trending up following the end of the season, the coaching carousel and signing day.


1. USC
The Trojans just signed their first full recruiting class since 2011, when they were hit by NCAA penalties. Finishing behind only Alabama and Florida State in ESPN RecruitingNation's rankings, it wasn’t just a matter of quantity for USC. Among the 16 ESPN 300 prospects signed, it added the country’s No. 1 cornerback, running back and inside linebacker. The Trojans are stockpiling at this point.

Beyond recruiting, quarterback Cody Kessler -- the country’s most underrated passer -- is back. So are sophomore stars-in-the-making cornerback Adoree' Jackson and wide receiver JuJu Smith.

Pac-12 coaches always believed the Trojans had as much talent as anyone in the country, not just the league. With the numbers bouncing back, now they have the depth to counter any rash of injuries.

Given all that, and the Holiday Bowl win against Nebraska, this is why a number of people -- myself, included -- see USC as a playoff-type team in 2015. The talent is there. Can Steve Sarkisian coach the Trojans to that level?

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Stop, for a moment, at the close of another wild and unpredictable signing day, and remember these eight therapeutic words: Not a single football game was played Wednesday.

Now, proceed to lose your mind.

In possibly the final signing day of its kind, college football grabbed the spotlight for its annual, offseason showcase of the bizarre. Winners and losers emerged. Mostly, though, it went off about as scripted -- and by that, we mean totally, beautifully unscripted.

[+] EnlargeSoso Jamabo
Matt Garnett/Icon SportswireSoso Jamabo helped start signing day, and UCLA's run, with his commitment to the Bruins.
Wednesday out West, signs pointed to a raising of the stakes in the Pac-12.

UCLA won the morning with big scores over Michigan for tight end Chris Clark, Texas for athlete Soso Jamabo, Georgia for No. 2 outside linebacker Roquan Smith -- more on Smith later -- and Oklahoma for offensive guard Joshua Wariboko.

The Bruins later snagged receiver Cordell Broadus, son of Snoop Dogg, but by mid-afternoon, the fireworks shifted to the USC Trojans' side of town.

USC won out for top-ranked inside linebacker John Houston Jr., No. 1 cornerback Iman Marshall and defensive tackle Rasheem Green Wednesday, along with athlete Porter Gustin, linebacker Osa Masina and defensive tackle Kevin Scott earlier in January. The Trojans' late rush helped their class finish No. 3 overall.

National champion Ohio State of the Big Ten made a morning splash by retaining the commitment of quarterback Torrance Gibson, who gave late consideration to Auburn and LSU. The Buckeyes flipped offensive tackle Isaiah Prince from Alabama's No. 1 class, which was otherwise largely put to bed weeks ago.

Texas flipped safety P.J. Locke from Oregon to punctuate Charlie Strong's 29-man, No. 9-ranked class that might signal the return to prominence of the Longhorns.

And the SEC added its share of drama, starting with the Auburn-Florida battles, in which former Gators coach Will Muschamp loomed large.

Muschamp's new program beat his old one for linebacker Jeffery Holland and the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect, defensive end Byron Cowart of Seffner (Florida) Armwood.

Cowart, though, failed to fax his signed letter of intent to Auburn for some seven hours while reports bounced back and forth about his eventual decision.

Clearly, he was torn, feeling compelled to consider Florida coach Jim McElwain and his staff, on the job for two months.

"It's not their fault they're new," Cowart said. "In the recruiting process, [coaches] tell you what you want to hear, and when you get there, everything switches."

So ultimately, Cowart went with Auburn -- and the coach he trusted.

The Tigers, after the great start, lost No. 1 offensive tackle Martez Ivey and second-rated defensive end CeCe Jefferson to Florida and top-ranked defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr. to Missouri.

Tennessee claimed victory with the signing of elite defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie, a longtime commitment out of California, and the late flip of offensive tackle Drew Richmond from Ole Miss to secure the nation's fifth-rated class -- No. 2 in the SEC.

Ranked No. 1 nationally, for the fourth straight year, was the Crimson Tide.

"One of the very good things about this class is we didn't have a lot of drama today," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "These guys have been committed to us for a while.
"That's not the way to get the most attention from the media, but that certainly speaks highly of what a commitment means."

LSU, with its new all-star cast of recruiters headlined by Ed Orgeron, finished with good news early in the week on defensive end Arden Key, followed by the Wednesday addition of guard Toby Weathersby -- a former Texas pledge -- and the flip of receiver Brandon Martin from Missouri.

Martin punctuated his change of heart with this hashtag on Twitter.



And then there was the case of Smith, the linebacker out of Macon County High School in Montezuma, Georgia, who announced his choice of UCLA over Georgia on ESPNU but never faxed his letter of intent.

Why? Because in the moments after signing, Smith learned from reporters at his school -- as Georgia coaches furiously called with the same news -- that UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich was up for a job as the Atlanta Falcons' linebackers coach.

Ulbrich recruited Smith, who plans to wait "a couple days to figure things out," Macon County coach Larry Harold told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Ah, there's nothing quite like signing day, which could change considerably for the next class of recruits if a proposal is approved this spring by the Division I conference commissioners to add a three-day early signing period in December.

So, if this was the last of its kind -- with the full-on drama and star power that only a once-a-year event can provide -- then signing day as we know it went out in style.
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It's tough to imagine a more exhausting and stressful conclusion to a recruiting process than the one Iman Marshall orchestrated. Over the past 10 days, Marshall has taken official visits to Florida State, LSU and Michigan, as well as hosted several coaches at his home and school. But just like on the football field, the nation's No. 4 overall prospect doesn't appear to be fazed at all by what's being thrown at him.

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Daily Social Roundup: UCLA checks in with Iman Marshall 

January, 22, 2015
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Wednesday marked the two-week point until national signing day and coaches were out in force on the recruiting trail, with UCLA's visit to No. 4 overall prospect Iman Marshall leading the headlines.


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National links: Who's No. 4? 

November, 24, 2014
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We’re inside of two weeks until Dec. 7, when the College Football Playoff selection committee announces its four picks to appear in the sport’s first national semifinals.

There will be teams left out who can make perfectly compelling cases to be playoff participants. There will be voices raised and criticisms leveled regarding which program truly deserved the final spot in the playoff. This much is a certainty.

But which teams have the best chances of cracking the field? It still seems to be a matter of conjecture beyond the top three teams: Alabama, Oregon and Florida State.

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This week, USA Today, in the latest of its fan index lists, catalogued the top 10 traditions in college football.

Among them, dotting the "i" at Ohio State, lighting the Tower at Texas and rolling Toomer's Corner at Auburn. All fine events, but no list of such customs in the sport is complete without the latest craze: the wait for Tuesday night.

I say that somewhat jokingly, so refrain from the angry tweets. No, I don't really think it's more fun to dream about the details of a five-minute interview with Jeff Long than to decorate an intersection with toilet paper.

But it's close.

So welcome to the fourth of seven Tuesday College Football Playoff poll unveils, where it finally gets real in the selection-committee room.

Why is this Tuesday different? Because after last Saturday, none of the remaining unbeaten or one-loss Power 5 contenders will meet in the regular season or in conference-title games.

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Let’s say you’re a hot, up-and-coming head coach in a Group of 5 league. You have job opportunities in every one of the Power 5 conferences. If you’re picking solely based on title path -- the fastest way to the College Football Playoff -- which conference do you choose?

Here's my ranking of every division in the major conferences, going from the most ideal to join as a new coach to the most difficult. Easiest to hardest. (I’m counting the Big 12 as one 10-team division. It’s a reasonable way to view it since, as with the divisions in the other four leagues, everyone plays everyone.)

1. Big Ten West

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UCLA 28, Virginia 20

August, 30, 2014
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UCLA scored three defensive touchdowns en route to a 28-20 win over Virginia.

ACC's lunchtime links

January, 1, 2014
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Happy New Year!
No. 17 UCLA beat Virginia Tech 42-12 on Tuesday in the Hyundai Sun Bowl. A few quick hits:

It was over when: Sensational true freshman linebacker Myles Jack of UCLA intercepted a Mark Leal pass and pranced 24 yards for a pick-six with 13:22 to play in the fourth quarter to give the Bruins a 28-10 lead. It came on the heels of 12-play, 85-yard drive that provided breathing room for UCLA and turned up the heat on Leal, the Virginia Tech backup who replaced Logan Thomas after the senior took a big hit from linebacker Jordan Zumwalt in the second quarter.

Game ball goes to: Sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley of UCLA, who rushed for touchdowns of 7 and 86 yards in the first half. Hundley then completed 6 of 6 throws for 80 yards on the Bruins’ 85-yard drive that ended early in the fourth quarter after the Hokies cut the lead to 14-10. Hundley rushed for 161 yards and two scores on 10 carries and completed 16 of 27 passes for 226 and a pair of touchdowns.

Stat of the game: 28. That’s the Bruins’ point total in a span of less than nine minutes in the fourth quarter to bust open a close contest.

Unsung hero: Zumwalt, the senior man in the middle of the UCLA defense. The rookie Jack, who also plays running back, and senior Anthony Barr get most of the publicity among a stellar group of UCLA linebackers. But Zumwalt on Tuesday made an impact as significant as any defender with 10 tackles, an interception in the fourth quarter and the big hit on Thomas.

What UCLA learned: The Bruins continue to progress under second-year coach Jim Mora, reaching 10 wins for the first time since 2005. If Hundley returns for a third season at the helm, UCLA has a potential Heisman candidate next year.

What Virginia Tech learned: The athleticism needs to improve. The Hokies, even if Thomas had remained upright, likely would have succumbed to UCLA’s speed and playmaking ability in the second half.

Hyundai Sun Bowl preview

December, 31, 2013
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No. 17 UCLA (9-3) and Virginia Tech (8-4) meet on Tuesday in the Hyundai Sun Bowl. Here are a few keys:

Who to watch: Start with UCLA’s dynamic duo at linebacker, senior Anthony Barr and freshman Myles Jack. Barr benefited from turning down a chance at the NFL a year ago, developing into one of the nation’s best at his position. Jack needed no such time. He also played running back for the final four games of the year, rushing for four touchdowns as he earned the Pac-12’s offensive and defensive rookie of the year honors. For Virginia Tech, the best chance to move the football comes through the air, but talented quarterback Logan Thomas must avoid interceptions. He threw 13 this season in 12 games.

What to watch: Virginia Tech is shorthanded without its leading rusher, Trey Edmunds, who suffered a broken leg in the season finale, a 16-6 win over Virginia. The Hokies struggled to run the ball with Edmunds, so what happens without him? On defense, top cornerback Kyle Fuller is likely out with a groin injury for Tech. Fellow corner Antone Exum will sit with an ankle injury. Against a pair of freshmen in coverage, UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley could have a big day throwing to Shaquelle Evans and Devin Fuller.

Why to watch: It’s two name-brand programs in El Paso, but in what direction are these programs headed? The Bruins, under second-year coach Jim Mora, are trending up regardless of the outcome on Tuesday as they seek a 10-win season for the first time since 2005. The Hokies lost three of their final five games this season after struggling to a 7-6 finish a year ago under 27th-year coach Frank Beamer.

Prediction: UCLA 28, Virginia Tech 14. The Hokies don’t have enough firepower to get into a scoring duel with UCLA, so look for the bowl-savvy Beamer to search for a few nontraditional ways to even this matchup. But expect the Bruins and Hundley to shake free in the second half.

ACC's lunchtime links

December, 13, 2013
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Enjoy the weekend, gang.

ACC's lunch links

December, 11, 2013
12/11/13
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Hyundai Sun Bowl

December, 8, 2013
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Virginia Tech Hokies (8-4) vs. UCLA Bruins (9-3)

Dec. 31, 2:30 p.m. ET, El Paso, Texas (CBS)


VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES BREAKDOWN
Virginia Tech played the way most people expected this season: Its defense was outstanding; its offense was not. There is little doubt the Hokies fielded a championship-caliber defense throughout the course of 2013, but offensive shortcomings ended up derailing any hope for a return to the ACC title game.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Facyson
AP Photo/John BazemoreFreshman corners Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller (11) were keys to one of the nation's best defenses.
The same issues that plagued Virginia Tech last season ended up dooming the offense again. The Hokies could never develop a consistent running game, and nobody emerged as a go-to target among the receivers. The offensive line struggled for the majority of the season, as well. All of this put pressure on quarterback Logan Thomas to make plays.

When he made them, Virginia Tech won more often than not. The Hokies got off to a 6-1 start and climbed to No. 14 in the rankings after Thomas was particularly effective in their first three ACC games -- scoring six total touchdowns while throwing zero interceptions. But Virginia Tech proceeded to drop three of its next four games, including back-to-back downers against Duke and Boston College.

In those two losses, Thomas had eight turnovers. It is unfair to blame Thomas completely for both losses. There is plenty of blame to go around. The defense did not play particularly well against the Eagles, either, as Andre Williams ran for 166 yards and two scores.

Despite another overtime loss to Maryland at home, Virginia Tech held out hope of winning the Coastal going into the final Saturday of the regular season. But Duke would have none of that. So once again, the Hokies will not play for a championship, the first time they have failed to make it back to the ACC title game after missing the previous season.

The defense ended up ranking in the top 10 in the nation in total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense, pass efficiency defense and sacks. True freshman Kendall Fuller won ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year honors after ranking fifth nationally in interceptions (six) and leading the conference with 16 passes defended.

Fellow defensive back Brandon Facyson is a candidate to join Fuller on the freshman All-America team. Derrick Hopkins, Jack Tyler, James Gayle, Kyle Fuller and Luther Maddy were solid all year.

This puts into perspective how lopsided the performance was between the offense and defense: Of the 11 Virginia Tech players recognized on the All-ACC media teams, only two came from the offense. Both were honorable mention on offensive line. -- Andrea Adelson

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UCLA BRUINS BREAKDOWN
With a 2-0 mark against USC and their head coach locked up for six more years, the UCLA Bruins enter the bowl season brimming with confidence.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Barr
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsAnthony Barr leads the Pac-12 with 20 tackles for loss.
Quarterback Brett Hundley led the Pac-12 in completion percentage (67.8) and has eight touchdowns to just one interception over his past five games. Offensive line issues -- particularly the fact that UCLA starts three true freshmen -- have taken their toll at times and forced Hundley into scramble mode perhaps sooner than offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone would like. But the Bruins, and Hundley, have still been able to adapt.

Stricken early in the season with the death of receiver Nick Pasquale, coach Jim Mora rallied his team to five straight wins to open the year, including an emotional win at Nebraska. UCLA lost back-to-back games at Stanford and Oregon but closed out the year by winning four of its last five.

Defensively, linebacker Anthony Barr continues to be one of the most dominant players in the country. He led the Pac-12 with 20 tackles for a loss and was tied for second with 10 sacks. Complementary players such as Cassius Marsh, Eric Kendricks and Myles Jack give UCLA one of the top front sevens in college football.

As depth issues impacted the running game, the Bruins got more creative in finding ways to score. Jack took over as a dual-threat option and added seven rushing touchdowns to his résumé. Marsh has a touchdown reception, and even defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes has rushed for a score. The Bruins head into the postseason playing a very creative yet still physical style of football. -- Kevin Gemmell

3-point stance: UCLA's growing pains

October, 29, 2013
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1. UCLA started eight true freshmen against Oregon, including three on the offensive line, and played 18 overall against the Ducks. If you are looking for a reason that Oregon scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, it might be physical (how long can 19-year-olds play guys two or three years older?) and it might be mental (close game, big stakes, who’s been there before?). Either way, the Bruins will get a dividend on this investment in, oh, 2015.

2. If you congratulate No. 3 Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher for voting his conscience on his USA Today ballot -- he sounded as if he voted Alabama No. 1 -- and if you applaud him for sitting his starters in the second half against North Carolina State after leading 42-0 at halftime, you may as well congratulate him for getting his team on the field for the opening kickoff. That’s how a coach should act. As the saying goes, Fisher is acting as if he has been there before. Which he has, as an assistant under Nick Saban.

3. Kentucky is 1-6, 0-4 in the SEC, and Wildcats first-year head coach Mark Stoops is trying to remain patient. Only the 48-7 loss to No. 1 Alabama could be considered a blowout. “I think we all see us resembling a good football team from time to time,” Stoops said at his press conference Monday, “but that’s not going to cut it and win you a lot of games in the SEC. You’ve got to be good top to bottom, and you’ve got to be good in critical situations, and most importantly when you’re under pressure situations, our habits, bad habits, come right to the surface.”

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