College Football is back, as are the UCLA Bruins! UCLA is coming off their best season under Chip Kelly, going 8-4 with an invitation to the Holiday Bowl against NC State. The game was canceled last minute due to covid issues, but a win in that game would have brought the Bruins to nine wins on the season. Either way, it was the first time the Bruins had a winning record since 2015. Things finally seemed to gel for Kelly’s program after a very rocky and inconsistent first few years, and expectations are high coming into the 2022 season.
UCLA established its identity last season on offense with a powerful and explosive running game complemented by a diverse passing attack. Perhaps the most valuable player of the program was RB Zach Charbonnet, a transfer from Michigan. He was an absolute tank on the ground. He’ll return to the team for this season, along with starting quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson–affectionately known as “DTR” around these parts.
That combo created one of the more lethal offensive attacks in the Pac-12, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t be just as dangerous this year. DTR will be returning for his 5th year, all at UCLA. He’s a dual-threat QB with the experience in this system, and that makes him dangerous.
The offense did lose some key components to the NFL in WR Kyle Philips, TE Greg Dulcich, and RB Brittain Brown. But they add talented Duke transfer WR Jake Bobo, and they also bring back the versatile and explosive Kazmeir Allen. The offense may take a little bit of time to click, but it’s going to be just fine by the end of the season.
Defense is a question mark, as the Bruins replace pretty much their entire secondary. They also lose defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro–much to the excitement of Bruins fans I’m sure–although the replacement isn’t exactly inspiring. But defense has never been Kelly’s forte, and if this unit can manage to just be serviceable, the team will be fine with the offense leading the way.
So we’ll kick off the season, as usual, with the non-conference schedule. That means a week 1 matchup hosting the Bowling Green Falcons at the Rose Bowl. UCLA is heavily favored, and rightfully so. Bowling Green’s run defense was bad last year, and UCLA should make easy work of them on the ground.
In fact, for the first time in Chip Kelly’s tenure, UCLA will have an easy out-of-conference schedule. In the past, this team has been stymied by the likes of Fresno State, Oklahoma, and Cincinnati. They defeated LSU last year in a signature win that put them on the map.
This year, it should be smooth sailing: All home games against Bowling Green, Alabama State, and South Alabama. Wins aren’t guaranteed, as Chip Kelly always seems to have at least one upset and one disappointment up his sleeve per season, but it’s really not that big of a stretch to expect the Bruins to start 3-0. And quite frankly, there’s nothing wrong with that. The best teams in the country quite often play nobodies in their non-conference games. It’s just part of college football, and you might as well take the wins where you can.
In fact, not to get too ahead of things here, but the entire schedule seems pretty manageable this year. UCLA has 8 home games, with road matchups against Colorado, Oregon, Arizona State, and Cal. Of those teams, only Oregon is particularly intimidating. The more challenging matchups of Utah and USC are both at home. Of course, they have to play the games, but another bowl season should be the expectation this year, hopefully with a game that UCLA will actually get to play in.
But it all starts with taking care of business this Saturday, and there’s no reason to think that the Bruins will be unable to do so.
Welcome back to College Football!