It’s been precisely two weeks since the UCLA Bruins 2023 season has come to a close as the Bruins ended a roller-coaster season on a high, winning The LA Bowl (their first such bowl victory since the 2015 Alamo Bowl under Jim Mora).
UCLA found things to build off entering a new year as QB/RB combo Ethan Garbers and TJ Harden played sensationally and both will be returning to The Rose Bowl next season.
The year as a whole was incredibly bumpy and chaotic, but the Bruins did reach an 8-5 record (its 3rd straight winning season) fighting through some incredibly poor performances from the supporting cast and coaches alike.
As we move into a new year and new overall challenges with UCLA entering The BIG10 Conference, I wanted to cook up (“Fieri, I’m in the kitchen I’ma Magician”-Drake-Will) a top 5 list of things UCLA needs to address/figure out before it opens its season August 31st in Hawaii against the Rainbow Warriors (Could you ask for a better opener to travel to?!).
I get the fanbase’s frustration with Chip 1000% as I have my own issues with him, despite being way less doomsday about him returning than others. Chip’s return for 2024 can’t be changed to the dismay of many. This article, however, will lay out all areas that can be altered/improved if done correctly by the fanbase, athletic department, and even the coaching staff!
Honorable Mention: Convince J. Michael Sturidvant To Return To UCLA Bruins In 2024
Let me tell you as someone who attended every single spring practice, it was pure magic to watch J. Michael Sturdivant wreak havoc against a defense that ranked in the top 10 in Total Defense this past season in college football. It was like watching the football lovechild of Randy Moss and Megatron as he routinely torched UCLA’s deepest secondary under Chip Kelly for 4-5 TD practices and countless big plays.
The hype was incredibly real for J Mike as he was one of the top transfer portal WRs and even The Athletic’s Dane Brugler listed him as a Top 5 WR on his draft board heading into the 2023 CFB year. The season, however, went far from planned.
2024 UCLA Bruins Football Commits
Despite balling out in the 1st game against Coastal Carolina (5 catches 136 yards and 1 TD), the struggles of forging a connection with the seemingly endless 3-way carousel of QB play plus the lack of time the offensive line provided to let plays develop made it next to impossible to be a consistent performer.
Despite those challenges, J Mike ended the season on a dominant note by torching the Boise State Broncos when UCLA needed him most hauling in 4 catches for 142 yards and 1 TD looking like Ethan Garbers’ top target.
If the UCLA Bruins can somehow convince J Mike to return to Westwood next season, the offense will have a legitimate three-headed monster between Garbers, Harden, and Sturdivant, and the Bruins offense should revert back to dominating defenses even in a superior conference.
5. Recoup Assets In The Transfer Portal
I know NIL money isn’t exactly in the best spot right now (more on that later) but despite the importance of that, I believe the UCLA Bruins with Chip will always be able to land some semblance of solid, starting-level contributors out of the transfer portal. Why you ask? Development and opportunity to play meaningful downs.
We can all agree that Chip’s record should be better over the last three seasons, but what we can’t debate: No PAC-12 team has put more players into the NFL over the past two seasons than this Bruins program with 10 players drafted plus two undrafted ones (Jake Bobo and Qwantrezz Knight) making 53-man rosters.
A large portion of the portal is about $$ these days, but I would argue the opportunity to play is just as big of a factor for kids. The early returns from the portal have been promising thus far: four new players committed to UCLA, including former Notre Dame WR Rico Flores Jr., former experienced Oregon safety Bryan Addison, and the crown jewel of the class thus far Marcus Ratcliffe from San Diego State. It’s terrible Sucks Ramsey and Humphrey but help is on the way!
4. UCLA Bruins Needs To Build Some Semblance Of NIL To Compete
College football, whether we like it or not, has turned into a pay-for-play model. The more money your school and alumni can generate in recruiting talent, the more likely of a chance you will have at landing top-level position players.
I understand, to some extent, the fanbase not wanting to donate to Chip. I don’t understand however UCLA and its fanbases’ unwillingness to donate towards its Blue Blood basketball program, per Ben Bolch.
2024 UCLA Bruins Transfer Portal Tracker
For a University that has a current student body of roughly 45,000 students as well as hundreds of thousands of alumni around the world, having little to no NIL is unacceptable. If UCLA and its fanbase want to make a surefire impact heading into the future, money is going to have to be involved for our major sports to succeed.
Sure, there may be bigger donors for other universities, but we’ll have to treat it like voting. Each person doing a small part can make a big difference and if we rally enough people to donate we can maybe sway some big-time recruits to come to Westwood. Donate here if you’re interested!
3. Retool The Front 7
The UCLA Bruins defense, as a whole, was one of the best units in college football this past season, and its main factor for being so was the Bruins defensive front seven of pass rushers and linebackers.
Laiatu Latu had as fine of a season as any Bruin at any position in the past 30 years, the Murphy Twins turned into College Football’s Morris Twins of the NBA and were incredible playing off the dominance of Latu, all while Darius Muasau turned in another All PAC-12 defensive season at LB.
For as good as that defense was, each of those names will not be back next season and that doesn’t even include the departure of D’anton Lynn as D-Coordinator.
Some promising players are returning such as Jay Toia, Keanu Williams, and Oluwafemi Oladejo among the front 7, but generating edge pressure and top-notch middle LB play will be a challenge after losing so many integral pieces.
2. Fix The Offensive Line
The UCLA Bruins offensive line was so chaotic and dysfunctional this season and was, in my opinion, the biggest reason why the offense really never gelled to its highest potential. Turn on the film and watch UCLA’s tackles get beat repeatedly. It felt like there were defenders almost always in the backfield, and the numbers reflected those observations.
UCLA let up the 17th most sacks in the country with 42 over a 13-game schedule. This is year three for Tim Drevno. He had great success in coaching up Mafi/Gaines in 2022 but regressed mightily this past season. If UCLA’s offense wants to be the offense blowing doors open against opposing teams it all starts on the line.
1. Nail The Defensive Coordinator Hire
The biggest loss of the 2023 season for most UCLA Bruins fans, including myself, was the departure of D’anton Lynn to USC.
Lynn came in right away and altered the level of play to the defense in a way we haven’t seen at UCLA since the Terry Donahue heydays of the mid/late 1980s. Sure, he didn’t recruit any of the guys on the field but he exponentially raised the performance of the defense to heights unimaginable at the season’s beginning.
The biggest gripe I’ve had with Chip in his tenure was his lack of investment in the D-coordinator position in his first four years as he kept Jerry Azzinaro in charge of the defense. Imagine the fanbase protesting like that of USC about firing Alex Grinch but going through with the firing two and a half years later.
Yes, there was the late great Bill McGovern (may he RIP) but he had half a season and the defense reverted to form.
Does he promote somebody on staff from the likes of Ken Norton Jr., Ilkaika Malloe, or former HC of Navy Ken Niumatalolo, or does he look outside of his immediate tree to attempt to replicate last year’s success? Whatever he decides, it will be a hire that UCLA fans alike will be paying attention to.