Shortened Season Spell Trouble for Chip Kelly’s Bruins
Pac 12 Football is back! Sort of. Chip Kelly and the UCLA Bruins are set to play at Colorado on November 7.
There was a time earlier this year where it looked like College Football would not be played in 2020. An offseason filled with Coronavirus health concerns as well as a newfound player advocacy movement seemed to threaten the existing CFB paradigm. The Big Ten was the first major conference to postpone the season in its entirety, seemingly hoping that other conferences would follow suit.
That never happened, and facing a wave of controversy (as well as political pressure), Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren struggled to defend what was likely the correct decision, and eventually reversed course.
In the end, the Power 5 moved forward with the 2020 season, and it played out exactly the way you would expect from a highly lucrative institution with no central leadership.
Each conference is pretty much doing its own thing in terms of scheduling and Coronavirus precautions. Teams are playing a different amount of games at totally different times in the year. Covid situations vary from team to team but overall haven’t been great. It’s hard to fully know the extent to which infections are impacting teams because there isn’t really a system of accountability for sharing that data, but a lot of the teams that are missing games will just finish the season having played fewer games.
And then there’s the College Football Playoff, which seems to think that they will be able to move forward with their usual ranking and selection systems despite the aforementioned craziness across the college football landscape.
Anyway, if you ask me, it could have been handled a lot better, but we are where we are. The ACC and SEC were the first Power 5 conferences to start play back in September. The Big Ten just kicked off their season in late October, and the Pac-12 will play this early November. Like the Big Ten, the Pac-12 initially had canceled its fall season, but they too would eventually reverse course.
Pac-12 teams will play an adjusted schedule due to Coronavirus: Six games, in-conference only. UCLA will start their season on the road against the Colorado Buffaloes. Their 2020 schedule in total consists of road trips to Colorado, Oregon, and Arizona, and home games against Utah, Arizona, and of course, USC.
Now, anyone who’s been following UCLA Football in the slightest over the past few years knows that the overarching story for the Bruins centers around Chip Kelly and whether he’s the right man for the job to get this Bruins team playing at a respectable level. So far, the results have not been good. Kelly is 7-17 in 2 seasons at UCLA, with very few bright spots and signs of improvement along the way.
I don’t see UCLA beating Oregon or USC. Realistic expectations would mean looking at something like 2-4 wins on the season, but a winless season is far from out of the question. When you can only hope for wins in 3-4 games in a 12 game season, that doesn’t bode well for a 6 game season.
Now normally, you would think that the lack of out of conference schedule would only make things harder. The counterpoint to that is that UCLA’s only wins over the past few years were, surprisingly, in-conference. The Bruins certainly won’t miss having to play Oklahoma and Cincinnati, like they had to in both 2018 and 2019.
However, what also seems to be true is that, if the last two years are any indication, UCLA takes a while to hit their stride. They have looked downright horrible during the first few weeks of the last two seasons. With just a six-game schedule, they won’t have that time to work out the rust, and they can’t afford a slow start.
Unfortunately, the pandemic offseason has severely limited in-person practices. As we look around the CFB landscape, that has had the biggest impact on defenses. And what was the biggest weak spot for UCLA last year? Defense. It doesn’t help matters that incumbent defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro got a raise this past offseason after UCLA finished 129th out of 130 schools in passing defense.
Unless things change significantly, things don’t look good for the Bruins in 2020. So then the question becomes, what’s next?
Conventional wisdom says that a Head Coach in college needs three full recruiting cycles before you can render a verdict. That’s how long it takes to get his guys into the building.
Well, this will be year three for Chip Kelly. Excuses are gone. He’s completely remade this team and this roster. It’s his now, and he has to own it.
If UCLA has a bad year, it will be tempting to chalk it up as a fluke because of the shortened season. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Chip Kelly were to echo this very sentiment should that happen.
Don’t buy it. It’s now or never for Chip Kelly, and he needs to give us some indication that he has this Bruins team on the right path, something he’s been unable to do so far.
It’s time to shape up or ship out, Chip.