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August 12, 2007

Rising programs: No. 1 UCLA

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    With fall workouts in the not too distant future, we continue our inside look at many programs around the country.

    In our latest series, we breakdown the nation's Top 10 Rising Programs.

    After two weeks of features, we end the countdown with a program that took another step forward in 2007 - UCLA.

    The Bruins caught the attention of many by reaching the Regional round in 2006. But in 2007, they took their game to another level.

    With a Regional and Super Regional berth coming in the last two seasons, the Bruins have much to look forward to in the immediate future.

    Rising Programs: No. 1 UCLA
    Why are they rising?
    After four seasons as the head man at UCLA, coach John Savage finally has the Bruins thinking Omaha on a consistent basis. The Bruins have yet to break through and reach the College World Series, but the future prognosis looks promising. The Bruins turned some heads by reaching the Regional round two seasons ago. But in 2007, they overcame adversity at times throughout the season and faced in-state foe Cal State Fullerton in the Super Regional round. UCLA took two giant steps forward during the past two seasons, but now they're aiming for more. Just look at the Bruins' returning roster. Sure, they must replace talented right-hander Tyson Brummett. But left-hander Gavin Brooks finished his freshman campaign on a high note. Additionally, reliever Garett Claypool was a Rivals.com Freshman All-American, while fellow sophomore Charles Brewer should be outstanding if he can stay healthy. The Bruins also have much to look forward to offensively with the return of Brandon Crawford and others.

    2007 Year in Review
    The Bruins had one of the more interesting campaigns of any team in college baseball. With a talented returning lineup and ace right-hander Tyson Brummett, the Bruins entered the year with Omaha on their minds. Despite the high expectations, the Bruins started slow out of the gate. Sophomore Jermaine Curtis began the year on the shelf because of academic issues. Because of that and other items, the Bruins struggled during non-conference play. Not only did they drop series to Ole Miss and Miami, they were also swept by in-state foe San Diego State. Once Curtis entered the lineup in the Stanford series, they were back in business. The Bruins put together an impressive conference resume until the final few weeks of the regular season, where they lost to Arizona State, Washington State and Oregon State. With one of the nation's toughest schedules, the Bruins earned a postseason appearance. There, they won the Long Beach Regional before getting eliminated by Cal State Fullerton in a Super Regional.

    What the future holds
    With the Bruins continuing to recruit at a high level, they're not likely to decline anytime soon. If anything, they'll only get better. Look at the 2008 season as a reason for optimism. Though the Bruins must replace righty Tyson Brummett, they return pitchers Charles Brewer, Gavin Brooks, Tim Murphy, Jason Novak, Garett Claypool and others. They also welcome back one of the nation's best offensive lineups. Veterans Brandon Crawford, Alden Carrithers and Jermaine Curtis will lead the charge at the plate, while freshman outfielder Gabe Cohen hopes to build on a productive first year with the Bruins. Ryan Babineau, Justin Uribe and Cody Decker are also key returnees, while Casey Haerther could blossom into a consistent contributor. If the UCLA returnees live up to their potential, Savage's team should be in great shape next season. Even more encouraging, they welcome a talented freshman class to campus this fall.

    Kendall's analysis
    The Bruins haven't put together overly impressive resumes during the past two seasons, but they've found a way to reach the postseason. Reaching the Regional round two years ago was important. But for the program's status, making a Super Regional appearance in 2007 was more proof that they're heading the right direction. After taking a step forward in each of the last two seasons, the Bruins now have expectations with little ceiling. In 2008, anything but a CWS berth will be considered a disappointment. After overcoming adversity in 2007, the Bruins now have the confidence to succeed. With a stout returning lineup and the services of several talented pitchers, the future is bright for the Bruins. Now they must take the next step.

    Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at kendall@rivals.com.