The UCLA Bruins went just 4-8 overall last season, including 4-5 in conference play. This team was involved in the Pac-12 South race in November but then reality hit them. How far can they go this season?
It’s safe to say that UCLA didn’t expect just four wins when they hired Chip Kelly as their head coach. However, the games passed and it was clear that they were not going to compete or reach a bowl.
The team didn’t make much progress under Kelly and they will be under a lot of pressure next season. This will be a critical year that can determine the rest of Chip Kelly’s tenure.
Dorian Thompson-Robinson Has to Improve Significantly
There was no significant leap under Chip Kelly. The offense scored more points and improved on third downs but their inexperience and injuries led to inconsistency.
This will be the third year for dual-threat quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson. He was supposed to be the right man to lead Chip Kelly’s offense but he lacked accuracy and threw 12 interceptions in 11 games last season.
UCLA won’t go far unless Thompson-Robinson becomes a consistent offensive threat. The team needs much more from him. They also have Washington transfer Colson Yankoff as his backup, in case they need to make a switch.
The receiving corps is solid, with Kyle Philips, who set a school record for catches by a freshman (60). Chase Cota and Jaylen Erwin can also see more action and contribute.
Will the Linebackers Respond?
Defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro will return, although UCLA gave up 34.8 points per game last season. Azzinaro will have some building blocks to work with, like their top defensive lineman Osa Odighizuwa.
This team did improve against the run and they need Tyler Manoa to be healthy and ready for a bigger role. Their top cornerback Darnay Holmes won’t be back but new defensive backs coach Brian Norwood can turn to the rest last year’s players.
Linebacker is a big question mark, as UCLA lost all four starters. Carl Jones making a sophomore leap would really help. They also need their highly-touted freshman Damian Sellers to make an impact from the start. Texas transfer Caleb Johnson also has to step up.
Kelly is not on the hot seat yet but UCLA made some progress addressing underlying issues. This means that now is time for this program to show progress as far as wins are concerned. Getting to a bowl game, at least, has to be their goal.
It all comes down to Dorian Thompson-Robinson. He has to make significant strides and take better care of the ball or this team will be fade material for college football picks. If he does then UCLA has a better chance to cause headaches to teams like USC (+5500 to win the College Football Playoff at 5Dimes) and Utah in the Pac-12 South.