One of the truisms of college sports is that senior leadership can be a decisive factor in the success of a team. This topic in turns raises the oft debated issue as to the relative importance of raw talent and experience, where a choice must be made between the two. We're on the brink of getting an interesting answer to the debate as UCLA's football season is about to begin.
Two years ago, UCLA had one of the most ineffective offensive lines in the school's history, and once of the worst in Division I football that year. It was so bad that not only did one of the starters not have much talent (a lightly recruited two star player out of high school), but he played most of the season with a separated shoulder. Last year's offensive line, while still below average, was a great improvement over 2008, and the prospects for 2010 looked even better. However, due to a series of unfortunate events, UCLA faces the prospect of a starting offensive line consisting of players who cumulatively started fewer than 10 games in 2009. Oh, and all five of these starters are seniors.
So what we have is a starting lineup of inexperienced seniors. How will this play out? Will their senior leadership raise the group's performance to unexpected heights, or does the lack of prior starting experience mean this is an untalented group that will have little success?
Looking at the cogs of the wheel, perhaps the key player is Micah Kia. Highly recruited out of Hawaii, Kia played extensively as a true freshman in 2006, but seemed to underachieve in his next two years as a part time starter. An injury kept him out for all of 2009, and if anybody could have a breakout year, it would be Kia. Fellow starter on the 2008 line Darius Savage was tabbed by Coach Neuheisel as having pro potential, but by 2009 had dropped to third string without showing a hint of his promise. Out of the same recruiting class is another four star prospect, Sean Sheller who had been projected as a starter in 2008 but had his season wiped out by a preseason ATV accident, and is only now getting back into shape as a fifth year senior with almost no playing experience. Eddie Williams, a JC transfer, started six games in 2009 before breaking his leg. And Ryan Taylor, another JC transfer (who had originally signed with Texas A&M-Kingsville--not the real Texas A & M) who replaced Williams after he went down, rounds out the starting five.
Daily News writer Jon Gold has been slightly encouraging regarding this group, reporting that they seem to be doing surprisingly well. They work well as a unit, which would be attributable to their years of experience. We'll see very soon how effective they will be.