Chip Kelly Looks Again To The Transfer Portal To Find Success For The 2022 Bruins Season

Chip Kelly looks to build on 2021 success and replenish roster with the transfer portal.

Cary Krongard
UCLA Head Coach Chip Kelly and the Transfer Portal
UCLA Head Coach Chip Kelly At Press Conference Photo Credit: Don Liebig | UCLA Photography

The era of the transfer portal in college football is here, and it’s not going away. With players now essentially being able to change teams as they please, coaches can no longer simply rely on recruiting the best players out of high school to build their team. To be able to succeed in today’s college football atmosphere, coaches must be able to successfully wield the power of the transfer portal. That means filling any holes in your recruiting class via the transfer portal, as well as being able to replenish positions lost when key players decide to transfer out of the program, as is now inevitable.

Many coaches obviously don’t like this because it gives them less control over the 18-22-year-olds that provide the free labor that pays their salaries. But on top of giving players more power–as they should have, in my opinion, it also helps level the playing field for what is typically a sport with close to no parity.

If you’re a new coach, you can rebuild a program more quickly than ever before. And if you’re a program that typically doesn’t recruit well, you can still build a competitive team using the transfer portal.

Chip Kelly and the Transfer Portal

This is where UCLA and Chip Kelly come in. The Bruins are coming off their best season under Kelly in 2021, going 8-4 and becoming bowl eligible for the first time in four years. After some uncertainty for Kelly’s future at UCLA during the offseason, the two sides were able to work out a deal, and Kelly will be returning to Westwood to hopefully build on the success he brought this program last year.

There are many reasons that Kelly got off to a rough start during his UCLA tenure and lackluster recruiting was definitely one of them. At its most basic level, college football is about recruiting. If you recruit well, you tend to win. If not, then you tend to lose. And recruiting has never really been Kelly’s forte.

But as I mentioned earlier, building a college football program is no longer just about recruiting. It’s about recruiting and the transfer portal. And that is where Kelly has really thrived for the Bruins, both last year and this year.

The Bruins’ 2021 class was ranked 32nd overall based just on recruiting, but their transfer class was ranked 4th in the country. Kelly utilized the transfer portal to bring in players like Ale Kaho, Jay Toia, Kam Brown, and Ethan Garbers. But most importantly, he brought in the bruising back and former Michigan Wolverine Zach Charbonnet, who may very well be the MVP of the Bruins at this moment.

This year’s class is more of the same for Chip Kelly and UCLA. Kelly’s recruiting class is 57th in the country, which isn’t too impressive. In the Pac-12, it is actually somewhat respectable, ranking 5th in the conference. USC and Oregon are first and second, as to be expected. UCLA being behind Arizona and Stanford is slightly alarming, but not as bad when you realize that there is barely any separation between the quality of those three classes.

But when it comes to the transfer portal, UCLA football ranks 8th in the country. Not too bad when you consider some of the blue bloods in front of them like LSU, Texas, Alabama, and of course, Lincoln Riley and the traveling band of five stars at USC. When it comes to Pac-12 transfer rankings, UCLA sits second behind only the aforementioned University of Southern California.

On the field, there is good reason to expect UCLA to be competitive in the Pac-12. It starts with quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, affectionately known as “DTR” around these parts. Say what you want about DTR–and I have criticized him on this website quite frequently–but he’s a dynamic player who has improved every year that he has started. He’s also now had four years playing in Chip Kelly’s system, and experience matters in this league.

DTR will have plenty of help on the ground, as Zach Charbonnet returns as a force to be reckoned with in the backfield. They do have some targets to replace in the passing game as Greg Dulcich and Kyle Phillips, two of DTR’s most trusted weapons, went on to the NFL. Chase Cota ended up transferring after never really living up to his potential in this offense. Kam Brown will likely play a bigger role, and Kazmeir Allen should continue to be a mismatch nightmare. Expect transfer wide receivers Jake Bobo (Duke) and Titus Mokiao-Atimalala (UCF) to step in for the lost targets.

Defense is also a huge question mark for Bill McGovern’s unit as the Bruins return almost no starters. They lose key components in the secondary, Qwuantrezz Knight and Quentin Lake, to the NFL. Martell Irby is retiring, and several players transferred out of the program. Luckily, Kelly brought in lots of defensive help this year via the transfer portal, players such as Darius Muasau (LB, Hawaii), Laiatu Latu (Edge, Washington), and Azizi Hearn (CB, Wyoming), among several others.

The Pac-12 looks to belong to Lincoln Riley and USC for the foreseeable future, but beyond that, UCLA can absolutely compete when you look at the state of some of these other programs. Should Chip Kelly build on his successful 2021 and help lead the Bruins to a bowl game and potentially a Pac-12 Title, expect his use of the transfer portal to be a big reason why.

UCLA Head Coach Chip Kelly and the Transfer Portal
UCLA Head Coach Chip Kelly At Press Conference Photo Credit: Don Liebig | UCLA Photography