{FSMETA} College Football: Rivals.com - College Football

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January 30, 2008

Top 25 Countdown: No. 3 UCLA

Head coach: John Savage
Last season: 33-28, 14-10 in Pac-10
Postseason: The Bruins didn't get off to an impressive start, but managed to finish third in the Pac-10 behind Arizona State and Arizona. They won the Long Beach Regional before dropping a series to Cal State Fullerton in Super Regional action.
2008 breakdown: Probable starters | Overview | Offense | Starting pitching | Bullpen | Outlook

Overview

UCLA coach John Savage is entering his fourth season with the program, and this is the year he has been waiting for.

With the Bruins expected to compete for the national title, expectations are high. However, Savage and his players aren't shying away from the challenge.

The Bruins aren't flawless, but have an outstanding and experienced offense with juniors Brandon Crawford and Jermaine Curtis leading the charge.

UCLA BRUINS
Senior second baseman Alden Carrithers hopes to help carry UCLA to Omaha.

Probable Starting Lineup
C Ryan Babineau
1B Casey Haerther
2B Alden Carrithers
SS Brandon Crawford
3B Jermaine Curtis
OF Justin Uribe
OF Blair Dunlap
OF Gabe Cohen
DH Cody Decker
SP Gavin Brooks
SP Tim Murphy
SP Charles Brewer

While the offense is in great shape, the pitching staff still needs to establish some roles.

Gavin Brooks, Tim Murphy and Charles Brewer make up the weekend rotation, while Jason Novak and Garett Claypool are competing for the closer's role.

The Bruins are finally primed for a run at the national title, but nothing will come easy this spring.

Offense

When it comes to productive offenses, few will have the ability to best UCLA this spring.

The Bruins welcome back a load of talent and experience with juniors Brandon Crawford and Jermaine Curtis leading the charge.

Crawford batted .335 with seven homers and 55 RBIs last season. He also slugged .504 and had a .405 on-base percentage. Additionally, he finished the year with 17 doubles and a pair of triples.

Curtis missed some of last season because of academic issues, but is in great shape this spring. He batted .329 with four homers and 33 RBIs last season. He also slugged .461 and had a .412 on-base percentage.

The Bruins also expect productive campaigns from sophomore outfielder Gabe Cohen and senior second baseman Alden Carrithers.

Cohen was a Rivals.com Freshman All-American last season and batted .345 with 10 homers and 36 RBIs. He also slugged .549 and had a .404 on-base percentage. He hit 12 doubles.

Carrithers is an offensive catalyst. The veteran hit .352 with a pair of homers and 32 RBIs last season. He also hit 16 doubles.

Also keep an eye on power hitter Cody Decker, outfielder Justin Uribe, catcher Ryan Babineau and first baseman Casey Haerther.

Starting pitching

The UCLA weekend rotation doesn't have a household name, but that could change this spring.

Sophomore Gavin Brooks is a pitcher to watch. The talented left-hander put on a display in Super Regional action against Cal State Fullerton last season.

Brooks finished the year 6-7 with a 4.47 ERA in 110 2/3 innings of work. He also struck out 98 and walked 30, while opponents hit him at a .266 clip.

Charles Brewer is another sophomore to watch. Health issues limited the right-hander last season, but he went 0-1 with a 5.40 ERA in 6 2/3 innings of work.

Junior left-hander Tim Murphy must rise to the occasion. The veteran went 5-4 with a 5.68 ERA in 76 innings of work. He also struck out 96 and walked 33, while opponents hit him at a .278 clip.

Dan Klein, Rob Rasmussen and Matthew Drummond are in the mix as midweek starters.

Bullpen

The UCLA bullpen has a wealth of talent, but some roles are still not set in stone.

Sophomore Garett Claypool and junior Jason Novak are the leading candidates to close.

Claypool was a Rivals.com Freshman All-American last season and had a 3.54 ERA in 53 1/3 innings of work. He also struck out 35 and walked 18, while opponents hit him at a .230 clip.

Novak hopes to show more consistency. The talented veteran made 24 appearances last season and had a 4.83 ERA in 41 innings of work. He also struck out 38 and walked 20, while opponents hit .256 off him.

Brendan Lafferty, Matt Grace and Matt Drummond are expected to occupy most of the remaining innings.

Lafferty made 25 appearances last season while Drummond worked just 11 2/3 innings. Grace is in his first year with the Bruins. As a high school senior last season, he had a 1.71 ERA in 65 1/3 innings of work.

Also keep an eye on Justin Uribe, Tim Schlatter and Mitchell Beacom.

Outlook with postseason forecast
UCLA is finally in position to make a run at a national title. Like every team in college baseball, the Bruins aren't flawless. However, they're loaded at every position. The Bruins will have one of the nation's best offenses this spring. Juniors Brandon Crawford and Jermaine Curtis are the headliners, while senior Alden Carrithers is a leader and consistent producer. While the offense is in great shape, the pitching staff still has a degree of uncertainty. Sophomore Gavin Brooks is one of the top prospects in his class, but must show it this season. Tim Murphy and Charles Brewer must also rise to the occasion. If the pitching staff meets expectations, the Bruins are in business. If not, it will be a season of missed opportunities.

Shoes to Fill

It's good news when this category lacks information.

Though the Bruins have few holes to fill, replacing right-hander Tyson Brummett is a tough chore.

Brummett was the staff ace last season. He went 10-6 with a 4.04 ERA in 138 innings of work. He also struck out 111 and walked 33, while opponents hit him at a .279.

Outside of losing Brummett, UCLA is in great shape.

Other departures include Will Penniall, Kevin Brophy and Brant Rustich.

Must Step Up

The UCLA weekend rotation must step up if the team plans on competing for the national title.

Sophomore left-hander Gavin Brooks showed flashes of greatness last season, but needs to establish consistency early this spring.

The Bruins also need good campaigns from junior left-hander Tim Murphy and sophomore right-hander Charles Brewer.

Murphy had a less than impressive 5.68 ERA last season, while Brewer was limited to 6 2/3 innings of work because of mononucleosis.

Ryan Babineau and Casey Haerther highlight this list at the plate. Babineau hit .272 with five homers and 37 RBIs last season, while Haerther batted .263 with a home run and 15 RBIs in only 114 at bats.

Impact Newcomer

With the Bruins returning most of their offense this spring, they won't rely too much on newcomers.

Freshman outfielder Brett Krill could be an exception. Though Blair Dunlap is the frontrunner in centerfield, Krill and redshirt senior Brady Dolan are in the mix.

Coach Savage describes Krill as a player with a prototypical build and the ability to hit for power. Additionally, he runs well and if given the opportunity could compile Gabe Cohen-like numbers.

While Krill is the position player to watch, Rob Rasmussen and Dan Klein are pitchers to watch.

Rasmussen was one of the top high school pitchers in California last season, and was drafted in the 27th round by the Dodgers.

Savage describes Rasmussen as an undersized pitcher with a very good curveball. In addition to throwing 87-91, he has high pitchability and two electric breaking pitches.

Klein was a 24th-round selection by Baltimore in last year's MLB Draft. He had a 2.59 ERA in 56 2/3 innings of work as a high school senior.

Savage describes Klein as a pitcher with a great delivery, good off-speed pitches. He also throws 88-90 with consistency.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at rogersk@yahoo-inc.com.

Rivals.com is counting down our Preseason Top 25. Coming tomorrow: No. 2.



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