UCLA struggled to switch to Chip Kelly’s new scheme last year, starting 0-5 before winning three of their last seven to end the year on a 3-9 record. By the end of the year, though, they were trending towards becoming a top-50 team, and I have faith in Chip Kelly to get the Bruins to that mark with 19 starters returning
The offense took a big step back last year with the departure of Josh Rosen. Blue-chip true freshman Dorian Thompson Robinson struggled early before being injured, transfer Wilton Speight didn’t fare much better, but the talent around them was undeniable.
Joshua Kelly (1,243 yards, 12 touchdowns 5.5 YPA) was a bona fide star at the RB spot. He will run behind a line with four starters returning that adds a four-star freshman tackle, Sean Rhyan. TE Caleb Wilson is gone but the top three wide receivers are back, Theo Howard, Demetric Felton, and Chase Cota. Young guys like Michael Ezeike and Kyle Phillips will contend for snaps as well.
Thompson-Robinson is athletic, and while he was slow out of that gate as you could expect from a true freshman, he was turning around before the injury and should improve with a full offseason playing with the ones. If he can find his footing and avoid injury again, this offense will improve.
The defense played poorly last year, allowing six yards a play and 34 points a game, but some individual talent showed through though, especially in the secondary where safety Quentin Lake and corners Darnay Holmes and Elijah Gates combined for 21 PBUs and six interceptions, all as underclassmen.
The pass rush struggled but to be fair a couple of freshmen were starting there, and to help with that, the Bruins brought in JUCO Datona Jackson for depth at the end. On the second level, OLB Keisean Lucier-South returns after an awesome year where he had four sacks, 7.5 TFL, and six PBUs.
This team is still young on the line and in the secondary, but if the chemistry can mesh they should improve because the talent is all there.
The schedule looks tough, and even if DTR finds his footing and the defense finds its rhythm, a bowl might still be out of reach. A brutal non-conference slate with games @ Cincinnati, vs Oklahoma, and vs San Diego State, a program 4-1 vs the Pac-12 the past three years, followed by @ Washington State and @ Arizona to open conference play make a 1-4 or so start a very real possibility.
Five of the Bruins’ six toughest conference opponents are road games, and so while the talent is there that improvement will be noticeable, it might not show up as much in the record.
|Date||Opponent||opp. rank||Proj. Margin|
|7-Sep||San Diego State||66||6.0|
|21-Sep||at Washington State||41||-3.4|
Average Projected Record: 5.5 wins, 6.5 losses (4.2 wins, 4.8 losses)