Los Angeles (CBS LA)- Year 1 for Chip Kelly with UCLA was rough to say the least with the team getting off to an 0-5 start and finishing the season at 3-9.
It was just the second time in program history the Bruins have lost nine games.
That kind of season leaves fans looking for bright spots and hope heading into a new season that kicks off on Thursday, August 29 with a trip to Cincinnati to battle the Bearcats. For UCLA alum and CBS Sports college football analyst Randy Cross, the biggest bright spots lie along the offensive line and in the backfield.
“You can’t help but be crazy about Joshua Kelley. Any time a guy can do what he did against SC [Southern California] (40 carries, 289 yards 2 TD), he has to have a good amount of people up front that are blocking pretty darn well,” said Cross. “They have a boss up front at center too in [Boss] Tagaloa”
With Kelley returning, along with an experienced offensive line, that should make life pretty good for now sophomore quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who got thrown into the fire in his freshman season and came out with some good and bad moments. That more experienced offense will look to put up numbers in line with Bruins fans expectations when the program hired Kelly.
On defense, a massive improvement is needed as the team finished 104th in points per game allowed (34.1) and couldn’t do much to get opponents out of their rhythm. According to ESPN.com’s Bill Connelly, the Bruins ranked 122nd in stuff rate, 126th in sack rate and 110th in havoc rate. Those three stats help measure a defense’s ability in various areas to get an offense “off schedule”. The Bruins weren’t successful in any of the three last season, but they do bring back most of their defensive unit with a year of experience in the system.
In a Pac-12 South division that looks to be wide open behind the favored Utah Utes, could UCLA sneak up the standings? Cross seems to believe they can.
“I think they are going to be a team that, behind Utah in the South, could be the second or third best team in the South,” said Cross. “My main term for them right now, be the best team in L.A. If you are the best team in L.A. you have a chance to be the second or third-best team in the South.”
Cross said further that he can see a scenario in which the Bruins reach eight wins in Kelly’s second year at the helm. But, in order to do so, they will have to survive what is a rough start to the season.
“Their start is hellacious with at Cincinnati, home for San Diego State and home for Oklahoma,” said Cross. “There isn’t much room for optimism early.”
That three-game stretch will certainly leave the Bruins battle tested heading into the Pac-12 slate. The schedule doesn’t let up there either, starting with road games at Washington State and Arizona. The Bruins also face Stanford, Utah and USC on the road this season. If they want to get back to a bowl game, some big road wins will need to come in the Pac-12 slate.
8/29 (Thursday) @ Cincinnati, 4 p.m. PT
9/7 vs. San Diego State, 1:15 p.m. PT
9/14 vs. Oklahoma, 5:00 p.m. PT
9/21 @ Washington State, TBA
9/28 @ Arizona, TBA
10/5 vs. Oregon State, TBA
10/17 @ Stanford, 6:00 p.m. PT
10/26 vs. Arizona State, TBA
11/2 vs. Colorado, TBA
11/16 @ Utah, TBA
10/23 @ USC, TBA
10/30 vs. Cal, TBA