Could UCLA's offensive line -- a group with more holes than a bowling ball -- be more penetrable this year than it has been in recent years?
Apparently, the answer is yes.
Junior tackle/guard Jeff Baca said Tuesday that he has been ruled academically ineligible. Baca added that he is appealing the NCAA's ruling, which may be overturned by the Sept. 4 opener at Kansas State. Baca was the recipient of the "Coach K" award for academic and athletic excellence in 2008.
The news of his ineligibility comes a few weeks after sophomore Stanley Hasiak, a backup guard, was ruled academically ineligible. On Monday, coach Rick Neuheisel announced that junior tackle Mike Harris will be suspended for the season opener for violating team rules.
In the meantime, UCLA has to prepare without them. An offensive line that took a major step forward last season has now taken two, three steps back. Here's a look at what the tentative depth chart looked like heading into fall camp (starters first, backups second):
LT Sean Sheller (Sr.), Brett Downey (So.)
LG Jeff Baca (Jr.), Darius Savage (Sr.)
C Kai Maiava (Jr.), Ryan Taylor (Sr.)
RG Eddie Williams (Sr.), Wade Yandall (Fr.)
RT Mike Harris (Jr.), Micah Kia (Sr.)
That means two starters are potentially out for the opener. Ryan Taylor is a candidate to spell Baca -- he made two starts at right guard while filling in for an injured Eddie Williams last season.
The problems just keep piling on for the Bruins.
In December, it was center Kai Maiava who missed the EagleBank Bowl due to academic problems. Sean Sheller appears to be the leader to replace Xavier Su'a-Filo (two-year Mormon mission) at left tackle, but his capabilities are unclear. Sheller spent the 2009 season on the other side of the trenches -- adding depth at defensive tackle -- and missed the entire 2008 season after suffering ligament damage in his left knee in an off-the-field accident. That means he hasn't played with the offense since 2007 (a year in which he did not see game action). Sheller tore a ligament in his right knee in 2006, missing the entire season.
The story at the other tackle spot is no different. Micah Kia is finally 100-percent healthy, according to Neuheisel. But what can be expected from a player who missed all of last season after suffering a knee injury in fall camp?
Sophomore quarterback Kevin Prince said Monday that he added about 10 pounds in the offseason. He's now up to a comfortable 230. The added weight may come in handy if UCLA keeps losing linemen.