UCLA season review


Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

With first-year coach Rick Neuheisel's relentless optimism spurring them on, UCLA's surprising victory over Tennessee in the opener briefly lit a flame of hope among Bruins fans for the 2008 season, but, in retrospect, things were pretty much lost even before preseason practices began.

Most prominent: Quarterbacks Patrick Cowan, who already had been promoted to No. 1 on the depth chart, and Ben Olson, who'd started 10 games in his star-crossed career, suffered season-ending injuries on the same day at the end of spring practices.

Moreover, the chief concern even before that was keeping the quarterback safe because of questionable depth and talent on the offensive line. Said line then lost two projected starters to injuries: Aleksey Lanis and Sean Sheller.

Finally, the Tennessee game cost the Bruins tight end Logan Paulsen for the season and receiver Marcus Everett for several weeks.

The job of leading this rag-tag offense then dropped on the head of JC transfer Kevin Craft, who went on to throw 20 interceptions.

So Neuheisel and company were in a battle with few weapons. A solid defense kept the Bruins in some games, but one of the nation's worst offenses wasn't able to put up enough points -- or stop giving the ball away.

Turning point: Twelve days after soaring into the stratosphere of hope -- and the national rankings -- with the Tennessee win, the Bruins dramatically crashed to the ground by losing 59-zip at BYU. That was a harsh reality pill. And any idea that perhaps two flukes to start the season meant the Bruins were actually somewhere in the middle was mostly dashed by the consecutive defeats to Arizona and Fresno State that followed.

Offensive MVP: Kicker Kai Forbath was the Bruins best weapon this fall. He ranked 10th in the nation with 1.58 field goals per game, connecting on 19 of 22 field goals -- he hit 13 in a row to conclude the season -- with a long of 53 yards.

Defensive MVP: Sophomore defensive tackle Brian Price demanded attention from opposing offenses, which often assigned two blockers to neutralize him. It often didn't work, see 14 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks among his 35 tackles. Price also had a forced fumble, grabbed an interception and blocked a kick.

What's Next: UCLA played a lot of young players in 2008. The hope is they will get better in 2009 and Neuheisel & Co. will haul in another elite group of recruits.

As it is, nine starters from the final depth chart will be back on offense, seven on defense. And Forbath's foot will be back in 2009. So the Bruins should improve.

The initial question this spring will be at quarterback: Is Craft the man going forward or will a youngster step in, such as touted incoming freshman Richard Brehaut?

Most fans gave Neuheisel a pass this season because he didn't inherit much talent. Expectations will be higher going forward.