Dallas Colleges: UCLA Bruins
With national signing day in the books, RecruitingNation is looking at the top position classes. For the full series, click here.
Nationally (and SEC)
The Alabama Crimson Tide’s 2014 class fill just about every need on the board, and that includes linebacker. With designs on addressing pass rushing and the ability to play in space on the edge at outside 'backer in Nick Saban’s 3-4 scheme, Alabama signed the Nos. 1 and No. 2 outside linebackers in the country in No. 48 overall Christian Miller (Columbia, S.C./Spring Valley) and No. 52 overall Rashaan Evans (Auburn, Ala./Auburn), who is pound for pound of the best pure athletes in the 2014 cycle. The Crimson Tide added two more talented linebackers in ESPN 300’s No. 102 Shaun Dion Hamilton (Montgomery, Ala./Carver) and No. 281 Keith Holcombe (Tuscaloosa, Ala./Hillcrest). Hamilton is an MLB.
The Crimson Tide had the nation’s best linebacker class; here’s which schools had the best in each of the remaining power conferences:
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Chip Brown of OrangeBloods Tweeted that Mora will interview "in the next few days." Texas has already reportedly interviewed Louisville's Charlie Strong and Vanderbilt's James Franklin. Baylor coach Art Briles also is thought to be in the mix.
Mora already turned down his alma mater Washington, thereby earning a raise for himself and his coaches along with certain guarantees about upgrades to UCLA's lagging facilities.
No question Mora would be a great hire for Texas. And he and his staff would move up a tax bracket in Austin. Or two.
Things could get interesting.
2. Among the four AQ conferences split into divisions, who are the only two coaches undefeated in their own divisions since the beginning of the 2012 season? Urban Meyer at Ohio State, obviously, since he is unbeaten against everyone. The other is UCLA’s Jim Mora, who takes a 7-0 record in the Pac-12 South to Arizona on Saturday night. Mora is 1-6 against the Pac-12 North, which is a reflection of both the relative strength of the two divisions and the fact that UCLA has played Stanford three times and Oregon once.
3. Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema is still looking for his first SEC victory and is one loss away from his first losing record after seven seasons at Wisconsin. But according to Bielema, the honeymoon continues. “If we weren’t doing things right, if we didn’t have kids believing in what we were saying, we’d be having problems right now,” Bielema said Monday. “We’d have kids that would be erupting on the sidelines. We’d have kids that are being problems in the classroom or doing some things that are just really disruptive to what’s going on and everybody just keeps humming, everybody just keeps sawing wood, everybody just keeps moving themselves in the right path.”
It was billed as a potentially high-scoring, exciting Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl. Baylor got the memo. UCLA didn't. The Bears dominated, making an early statement for the Big 12 in the battle with the Pac-12 for the title of "second best conference."
UCLA was gifted a TD at the end they didn't actually score. The final score should have been 49-19.
It was over when: It was 35-10 at halftime, so there wasn't much tension at any point. Baylor dominated in every way from gun-to-gun, on both sides of the ball. That the Bears' offense was explosive wasn't a surprise. That the Bears' defense crushed UCLA, well, that was.
Turning point: UCLA wanted to blitz and pressure Baylor's offense. It seemed like a good idea. But in the second quarter, on third-and-9 from the Baylor 45, the Bruins blitzed Bears QB Nick Florence, and he connected on a 55-yard TD pass to Tevin Reese. It was a beautiful pass and catch. It made the score 21-zip, and it firmly established the direction of this game.
Baylor game ball goes to: Coordinator Phil Bennett and the Baylor defense. There was this guy who kept calling Baylor's defense "horrible" and "terrible" and "awful." He doesn't feel very smart at this moment. Of course, that was the take on Baylor's defense just about all season from everyone. Still, just as Baylor transformed after a 3-4 start, the defense posted its best game in its final outing of 2012.
UCLA game ball goes to: Let's hear it for the special teams! Bruins kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn was 2-for-2 on field goals, and punter Jeff Locke was his usual outstanding self. Shaquelle Evans had a 43-yard punt return, and Steven Manfro had a 51-yard kick return.
Unsung hero: Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk, who announced his Heisman Trophy candidacy before the game, had a nice performance with 16 carries for 138 yards. But backup running back Glasco Martin had 98 yards and three TDs.
Stat of the game: UCLA was 1-of-17 on third down. That's just horrible. The Bruins were also 3-of-8 on fourth down. Credit to Baylor. Discredit to UCLA.
Stat of the game II: Baylor outrushed UCLA 306 yards to 33. One word: dominant.
What it means: This was the first of three bowl games putting Big 12 and Pac-12 teams. Those conferences are competing for the mythical title of Second Best Conference. This was a decisive win for the Big 12, as a team that went 7-5 overall and 4-5 in Big 12 play whipped a Pac-12 team that went 9-4 overall and 6-3 in conference play. While it's probably silly to read too much into one bowl game, which can be fluid and surprising, the pressure certainly is now on Oregon State in the Valero Alamo Bowl against Texas and Oregon in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl against Kansas State.
1. Johnathan Franklin versus Lache Seastrunk: Baylor's defense is bad, but it's better against the run than the pass. When we type "better," we mean less terrible. The Bears give up 189 yards rushing per game -- 4.74 yards per rush -- which ranks 89th in the nation. Franklin, who averages 6.3 yards per carry, needs 300 yards to hit the 2,000-yard mark this season. He probably won't get that, but he could cross the two bills mark. Meanwhile, Seastrunk's emergence in the final portion of the season was a key to the Bears' late surge. If he outrushes Franklin, the Bears probably are going to win.
2. Attack on defense: One of the great secrets this season was that Baylor QB Nick Florence was darned near as good as Robert Griffin III was during his Heisman Trophy campaign in 2011. He's a good runner and scrambler and was sacked only 1.42 times per game. He also only threw two interceptions over the final five games, both coming in the upset win over Kansas State. The Bruins ranked seventh in the nation with 3.31 sacks per game, and outside linebacker Anthony Barr is one of the nation's dominant pass-rushers. The first step is pressuring Florence. The second is hoping that pressure causes him to misfire. Against a spectacular offense that scores quickly, UCLA should be willing to take some chances to potentially create big plays.
3. Turnovers: It's a good bet that whoever wins the turnover battle wins the game, because with two prolific offenses scoring a lot of points, every possession is critical. Baylor's season turned around when it started protecting the football -- it won the turnover battle 13-3 over the final five games. UCLA committed six of its 25 turnovers in one game, its horrid 43-17 loss at California.
Who to watch: Baylor has been ridiculously good on offense all season, but it got even better over the homestretch when running back Lache Seastrunk, an Oregon transfer, asserted himself, eclipsing 100 yards rushing in four of his final five games (and the fifth was a 91 yards, three TD performance at Oklahoma). He's already popped off about winning the Heisman in 2013. With a good running game, life gets even easier for the high-flying pass-catch tandem of QB Nick Florence and receiver Terrance Williams. On the other side of the ball, UCLA QB Brett Hundley and running back Johnathan Franklin will be charged with keeping up. Franklin should eclipse 200 yards in this game.
What to watch: As noted, Baylor ranks among the nation's leaders in just about every offensive category. But on the other side of the ball, Baylor is among the nation's worst. The Bears rank 119th in the nation in total defense and 115th in scoring defense. They are really, really bad on defense. Think Colorado bad. UCLA is good on offense and solid-to-mediocre on defense. The question, really, is does the Bruins good-to-solid on both sides of the ball outperform the lopsided Bears, who entirely rely on their ludicrous speed offense to outscore foes.
Why to watch: Isn't it obvious? Do you recall the Baylor-Washington Alamo Bowl from a year ago? This could be a scoring fest. Both teams are talented on offense and like to play fast and both seemed to peak over the latter half of the season. Baylor's chances improved when UCLA safety Tevin McDonald was suspended for breaking team rules. It could come down to turnovers, as wasted possessions could prove critical. It's difficult to look at this matchup and not anticipate a highly-entertaining game.
Prediction: While losing McDonald is a significant blow to the pass defense, UCLA has enough talent on defense to slow the Bears down and perhaps to make any turnovers or miscues critical. The Bruins should get at handful of stops. The question is will it be enough for Franklin and Hundley? We expect this one to go deep into the fourth quarter. UCLA 42, Baylor 40.
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