I wish it were that surprising we're hearing the too-often-used coaching cliché about UCLA not having enough talent to compete in the Pac-12. It's the dreaded talent excuse this blog debunked repeatedly during the Dorrell years. It is now creeping into the Bruin football conversation all over again. Peter Yoon of ESPN LA shared some highlights from Rick Neuheisel's regular Sunday night conference call that hinted at the talent excuse:
* Neuheisel said one of the biggest differences between UCLA and Stanford was size in the trenches. The Cardinal averages 6 feet 5, 303 pounds on the starting offensive line and was able to manhandle UCLA's defensive line, which averages 6-4, 279 pounds. "We've got to get a little bigger," Neuheisel said. "They were clearly bigger across their offensive line than we were. We've got to continue to build on our strength and keep recruiting bigger kids and then develop them."
* Stanford was 1-11 in 2006, 4-8 in 2007 and 5-7 in 2008, but has since blossomed into a national power at 12-1 last season and 4-0 this season. Neuheisel was asked what was keeping UCLA from making a similar turnaround. "There's a number of things we can talk about, but that's all worthless," Neuheisel said. "The point of the matter is we've got to get better and we're working to get that accomplished. If you look at all the great teams out there, there is a reason they become great teams and normally it's because they have established some very experienced players that are doing it for them.
We have number of issues the excuses Neuheisel hinted in those comments. Let's address them after the jump.
First, factually Neuheisel's excuses concerning the size differential between the Stanford and UCLA offensive lines do not hold up. Compare the stat lines of the offensive lines from the Stanford and UCLA releases from this past week:
Jeff Baca 6-4 305
Chris Ward 6-4 330
Kai Maiava 6-1 318
Greg Capella 6-3 292
Mike Harris 6-5 326
Alberto Cid 6-4 323
Jonathan Martin 6-6 306
David Yankey 6-5 300
Sam Schwartzstein 603 290
David DeCastro 6-5 312
Cameron Fleming 6-6 307
I should note that other locations may have differing weights and this is a fairly inexact science. Moreover, who knows how accurate the listed weights really are. In addition, listed weight is only part of the discussion as strength and quickness of the football teams are also relevant factors. But since Neuheisel decided to make size of the respective OLs an excuse the depth chart reveals that he is factually off base. Neuheisel didn't complain that they had stronger or more athletic lineman, he alleged that they were bigger which doesn't seem to be a valid complaint.
Second, let's talk about the experienced talent issue. Neuheisel apparently suggested that having a Heisman caliber QB such as Andrew Luck was the primary difference between UCLA and Stanford:
"It's a proven formula over the years that if you get a great quarterback, you can usually do some good things around him," Neuheisel said. "That's not to take away from the other terrific players in the program, but that quarterback allows them to really tee off because there's very few mistakes made on the offensive side."
One player does not make a football team great but a few great players and a lot of good players that are committed to a style of football and a philosophy of life that stresses the importance of getting the most of out of one's life both on and off the athletic fields can make a huge difference in the win/loss column and that is the REAL story of Stanford football's resurgence.
The Rivals.com recruiting rankings reveal a TRUTH that the folks in Westwood including Rick Neuheisel probably don't want to face. According to Rivals.com over the past six recruiting periods Stanford has finished ahead in UCLA in recruiting in only...
That year was 2011 when Stanford's recruiting class was 4 th in the Pac-12 compared to UCLA's 7 th ranked Pac-12 class. In the 5 years preceding 2011 UCLA had higher ranked recruiting classes by small margins in 2 years and by large margins in the other 3 years.
CoachesHotSeat.com went on to add more on this talent/experience point saying Bruins have more than talent than all teams in our remaining schedule except for Arizona State and USC:
....we don't think there is any talent difference between UCLA and most of the other 11 Pac-12 schools and in fact we would put the Bruins in the upper half of the Pac-12 just on talent on their roster alone.
The two biggest differences between UCLA and Stanford right now are mistakes and QB play and there is no excuse for any well-coached football team to make lots of mistakes and there is no excuse for a guy that played QB in college to have bad QB play and that reality adds up to Rick Neuheisel being on the hot seat.
So there goes the talent excuse. We like Neuheisel a lot. He is much better than this. But, we're disappointed that he's resorting to lame coaching clichés. Simply put, there's a disconnect between the facts and what Neuheisel is suggesting.
Most importantly, Neuheisel is now in his fourth year in Westwood. At this point, he's not allowed to point at the roster and hint that the talent isn't there. These are his players. These young men are his recruits. The program is made up of his coaching staff. It is up to him now to get this done and make UCLA competitive as upper echelon Pac-12 team this season.