We’re all overreacting.
Okay, maybe not.
UCLA football finishes their non conference schedule winless for the first time since 1971. In 1971, Richard Nixon was the President. UCLA basketball didn’t lose a game in the middle of an 88 game streak. Personal computers were not a thing yet. Forty-seven years is a long time, and that’s how long it’s been since the Bruins have started this badly.
Chip Kelly was supposed to bring hope — and it’s just his first year — but fans leaving early on Saturday wouldn’t say they are particularly hopeful. He said Wednesday that he wants to win now. He didn’t come here to gradually build; he wanted to compete immediately. There are many built-in excuses (not his guys, adjusting back to the college game, injuries and suspensions) but he’ll neither use them nor adjust his expectations.
This week is the bye week, historically a watershed moment for college teams. Before the season, some fans were optimistically hoping for Kelly’s system to take the Pac-12 by storm again and competing for a conference or even a (*laughs nervously*) national title. Now, some people think the team may never win again and have lost faith in Chip. In truth, the reality is probably neither, but I’ll try to forecast how each one of these could still happen this year.
The Worst Case
This probably won’t happen. Right? …Right? UCLA hasn’t gone winless since before the Great Depression, specifically 1924, when they only played 8 total games. But these days, things can go from bad to worse very quickly in college football. Lack of focus for small amounts of time can manifest in a much larger way. It’s how so many teams get blown out even though they were down three at the half. It’s how once a team falls out of the conference championship race, they can stagger to the finish line. It’s how good teams can lose in a bowl game. When there aren’t as glorious rewards, sometimes these young kids aren’t willing to put in all of the work. This team has the talent to be competitive and win a few games, but if they give up a quick touchdown and then turn the ball over, they might just pack it in and look to next week.
The offense has looked bad — too rigid and not accounting for the inexperience or weak links. The offensive line has been up and down, but even when it was good, the quarterback play has not been. Dorian Thompson-Robinson has shown flashes, but also has shown he’s a true freshman with some poor decisions. The defense has played better than the summary numbers suggest, but from time to time it just looks like they can’t tackle. If they can’t get any help from the offense, it will only get harder. If the team as a whole continues playing the way they are, there aren’t any true cupcakes left on the schedule. If they get outplayed by a couple of teams that they are more talented than, they might not get a win this year.
The Best Case
The counter argument to that is that this team is too prideful and too talented to go 0-12. Even though there isn’t a glorious reward, they don’t want to live in infamy, which is motivation enough to try. While the schedule is tough, they might catch some people off guard and their talent gap isn’t that far from the top. Their problem has always been performance — Jim Mora recruited well but could never get those results to truly translate into wins.
If Chip can get this team to refocus, a win in Colorado next Friday night could be a huge confidence boost for this young team. There are whispers that Wilton Speight could return, but the aforementioned DTR could also use the full extra week of reps to get more comfortable. He has the talent to be successful in the offense, but this multiple look offense requires quick reads and decisions that can only come from experience. A big win a hostile environment could boost them into a great game against the conference favorite, Washington. If they play well and pull off the upset, it would be proof that there isn’t a team in the conference they can’t beat.
UCLA has playmakers in Theo Howard, Caleb Wilson, Keisean Lucier-South and Jaelan Phillips. Kazmeir Allen is one of the most electric players in the country with the ball in his hands. Boss Tagaloa is coming back from suspension to shore up the line that was improved this week. Even Stefan Flintoft was the Ray Guy Punter of the Week. It’s definitely improbable, but in the words of every underdog ever, “Why not us?”
The reality of the situation is probably somewhere in the middle of those two outcomes. The Bruins aren’t last in the Pac-12 in talent and as the season goes, players will get better within the system. They also aren’t first, and Chip Kelly hasn’t exactly won over everyone. We can’t expect some sort of inspired dominant performance against Washington, let alone every week the rest of the way.
Truth is, the way they’ve played so far, the Bruins would be lucky to get two wins the rest of the way. Luckily, they can play better. If DTR and the offensive line can sync up their good play, the offense will look much better. More creative runs and forcing the ball to the top playmakers would help as well. A better offense relieves some pressure on the defense and leaves them with fewer short fields.
Three or four wins seems about right the rest of the way – obviously as long as Chip can keep this team from falling fully apart. Friday games are always a bit weird and they have two. Other teams have also been wildly inconsistent that could open some opportunity. The Bruins always turn up the intensity for USC at the Rose Bowl, and that team doesn’t look as imposing as it has in the past. Oregon in Eugene is scary, but at least they get Stanford at home.
It can only go up from here, right?
Gambling this season? Want to try it just to see what it feels like? Go to MyBookie.ag and use promo code ARMCHAIR25 at checkout. They will match your deposit dollar for dollar. Putting in $100? You’ll now have $200.