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2009 Expectations: The NY Times Joins The Emerging Consensus Re. Upcoming UCLA Season

Looks like there is not going to be much of a debate concerning the expectations for the upcoming UCLA football season. So far this season we have seen the following expectations/predictions (we have debated and discussed the nuances of those points endlessly over last few years) for the 2009 UCLA football season:

In terms of upside, WWL's Bruce Feldman is bullish on the Bruins pegging UCLA as one of the potential most improved teams of 2009. Similarly, Phill Steele has an optmisitic projection of UCLA as one of the potential "most improved team" of 2009 that could "return to the post season." Still the consenseus right now is that realistically UCLA should be looking at 6-6/bowl season for this upcoming year, which would be a step up from this past season.

It looks the New York Times agrees with that emerging consensus expectations of a 6 win regular season:

Season breakdown & prediction: I believe U.C.L.A. will reach bowl eligibility, but I don’t think this team has any chance of cracking the top half of the Pac-10. Not that the Bruins won’t get there eventually, but this team would have to make a radical improvement on offense to be taken as a serious contender in the conference, and all signs entering the summer pointed towards U.C.L.A. still needing some work on this side of the ball. One fact in the team’s favor: the roster is positively littered with young talent. This is especially the case on offense, where a plethora of underclassmen will have ample opportunity to make their presence felt at the skill positions. Still, the offense has me concerned. Will the defense be good enough to propel U.C.L.A. to, say, eight wins? It’ll be good, but not that good. Neuheisel is building a program here, and if the past two recruiting classes are any indication, help is on the way. But I’m crazy about this team’s chances at cracking the top four in the Pac-10. Instead, I’ve got the Bruins just about tied with Arizona and Stanford for fifth in the conference: 6-6, 4-5.

That was from Paul Meyerberg on the New York Times's blog - "the Quad" - where he has UCLA checking in at number 52 (which is consistent with the discussions we have seen above). For more on the preview come along after the jump.

Paul's UCLA breakdown is fairly detailed as he has the following on players to watch for this upcoming season:

Players to watch: The Bruins will have a new starting quarterback in 2009, as the redshirt freshman Kevin Prince beat out the incumbent starter, the senior Kevin Craft, with a solid, though unspectacular spring. Craft will likely be the backup, though he’ll battle the true freshman Richard Brehaut for that position. Craft struggled last fall, throwing a school-record 20 interceptions against seven touchdowns; six of his interceptions were returned for touchdowns. I gained a lot of respect for the way Craft dealt with his ineffectiveness, but for U.C.L.A. to become a capable offensive unit, the team must get much better play from its quarterback. The Bruins have a nice mix of experience and young talent on its receiving corps, a group led by the senior Terrance Austin. His breakout junior campaign included a team-best 53 receptions for 460 yards, as well as a school-record 1,878 all-purpose yards. Most of this yardage came on kick returns (1,109 yards), but Austin also added 90 yards rushing on only 13 attempts for a team-leading 9.0 yards per carry. Joining him at receiver are the sophomores Tyler Embree, who set school freshman records for receptions (40) and receiving yards (531, best on the team) and Nelson Rosario, the junior Dominique Johnson (34 for 373 yards) and the senior Gavin Ketchum. The Bruins also go two-deep at tight end, as the 2008 second-team all-conference senior Ryan Moya (38 receptions for 364 yards and 3 scores) will be joined by Logan Paulsen, the 2006-7 starter who missed all but one game last fall. The offensive line is due for an improvement, if only because the wide majority of the group returns with a year’s experience in the system. The senior right guard Nick Ekbaktani, the only lineman to start all 12 games last fall, leads the way. The unit also receives a nice boost from the sophomore center Kai Maiava, a transfer from Colorado who earned freshman all-American honors in 2007. He sat out last fall and will compete with the junior Jake Dean (seven starts in 2008) for the starting spot in the middle. The sophomore Jeff Baca will move inside to guard after making seven starts at left tackle as a rookie, likely leaving the left tackle job in the hands of the junior Sean Sheller, who missed all of last season due to a knee injury.

If there is any optimism regarding U.C.L.A.’s chances at reaching a solid bowl game in 2009, it is because of a talented defense. This group will do a lot of the heavy lifting for the Bruins, especially in the early going. It’s a good thing, therefore, that U.C.L.A. has talent at every level of the defense, from the line through the secondary. The front four will feature one of the nation’s best interior linemen in the junior tackle Brian Price, a first-team all-conference selection last fall after notching 35 tackles (a team-leading 14 for loss) and 4.5 sacks. Price has been a stalwart in the middle since early in his freshman season, and will be even better as a junior. He’s terrific. Lining up next to Price, and replacing Harwell, is the junior Reginald Stokes, who started five of the last seven games down the stretch last fall. Also competing for the starting role, though certainly at worst a part of the tackle rotation, is the sophomore Datone Jones. At end, the senior Korey Bosworth’s first season as a full-time starter saw him lead the team with seven sacks; he finished second to Price with 11 tackles for loss. The team will welcome back his twin brother, the senior weakside linebacker Kyle Bosworth, back to full health after missing all but two games a season ago. In 2007, Bosworth finished fifth on the team with 74 tackles. (Quick aside: My favorite movie featuring their uncle Brian Bosworth is "Stone Cold," where he plays a loose-cannon police officer who infiltrates a biker gang.) The leader of the linebacker corps is the senior Reggie Carter, who paced the team with 83 stops a season ago. Twenty of those tackles came against B.Y.U., the most by a Bruin in a single game since 1989. Rounding out the starting group is the sophomore Akeem Ayers, who had 40 tackles and 4 sacks as a freshman. One area where Neuheisel and his staff have done a very good job in recruiting is in the secondary. U.C.L.A. has surrounded the senior cornerback Alterraun Verner — one of the nation’s best — with a number of athletic freshmen and sophomores, giving this unit the potential to be the second-best in the Pac-10. Any group that has a player of Verner’s caliber is bound to be pretty good. As a junior, he ranked second on the team in tackles with 73 and led the nation with 18 pass breakups. Much like Price, Verner will challenge for all-American honors in 2009. The other returning starter in the secondary is the sophomore free safety Rahim Moore, who last fall became the first true freshman to start every game on defense for the Bruins since 2001. On the season, Moore tied Norris for the team lead with three interceptions. The second starting corner spot will come down to the redshirt freshman Aaron Hester and the sophomore Courtney Viney. As mentioned, this group is very talented, thanks largely to the solid job U.C.L.A. has done in bringing in young playmakers over the past two recruiting cycles.

He lists RB as the "position battle to watch" which is right. However, as we have said over and over again the difference this year between a 4-8/5-7 season and a bowl one will be how much improved our OL is from the disastrous effort of this past season. You can read the whole preview over here.

Reading the season previews this year, I think this is probably as close to consensus narrative I have seen around UCLA football pre-season expectations as the one we saw heading into Dorrell's (mercifully) final season when after four years of excuse making we were all expecting a Pac-10 championship season.

As we have said over and over again, this year in many ways will be like Howland's second season at UCLA when we all considering just getting into the NCAA dance a positive marker for the program, after it completely tanked under the previous regime. Similarly this year, if we can somehow scrap and claw into a bowl game, we will see it as a turnaround after the cratering the program experience last year from the listless leadership from previous regime(s).