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UCLA Football: 2022 Bruins Season Preview and Prediction

Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA Bruins Football

Dorian Thompson-Robinson and the Bruins are ranked No. 39 in Athlon Sports' Top 131 for the 2022 college football season

Following three uninspiring seasons in Westwood, Chip Kelly finally delivered a much-needed breakthrough in leading UCLA to an 8–4 record in 2021. An unfortunate COVID outbreak cost the team a shot at a ninth win for the first time in seven years, but signs of progress were clear amid a campaign that featured a victory over a ranked SEC team, a historic thumping of the Bruins' crosstown rival and even begrudging respect from a skeptical fan base.

Now comes the harder part for the Bruins: going from good to great and delivering a Pac-12 South title. Kelly, fresh contract extension in hand, understands the expectations and has an overhauled defensive staff intent on helping meet them. The star quarterback is back for another shot, as is the productive tailback who became the focal point of the offense for long stretches. The schedule is as easy as it has been in years, and the rest of the conference appears to be in transition.

Can UCLA seize the opportunity? The stars have aligned, but it remains to be seen if more than incremental progress can be realized on the field in what could be an inflection point for both the Bruins and the rest of the Pac-12.

Related: Athlon Sports' College Football Top 25 for 2022

Previewing UCLA's Offense for 2022

UCLA's courting of transfer quarterbacks appeared to signal that Dorian Thompson-Robinson was off to the NFL, but he surprised many in announcing a return for a fifth year as the starter. The electric dual-threat has gotten progressively better each season and is coming off All-Pac-12 honors after throwing for 2,409 yards and 21 touchdowns in the conference's highest-scoring offense. If he can go from being a West Coast name to a national one like his talent suggests, the Bruins can survive breaking in a few new names on offense.

Helping out in the backfield is Zach Charbonnet (1,137 rushing yards, 13 TDs), a 220-pound bruiser between the tackles who is equally shifty in the open field. He'll handle the bulk of the workload as the No. 1 tailback and should factor more into the passing game (24 receptions) on third downs.

Who else will catch passes is arguably a bigger question for Kelly to answer during a soft non-conference schedule, with two-thirds of the team's production having departed. RB/WR Kazmeir Allen will be used creatively in various formations, while Duke transfer Jake Bobo is line to become the new No. 1 given his experience (All-ACC third team, 74 catches in 2021) and size (6'5", 215). Logan Loya is the obvious starter out of the slot but could be pushed by freshman Jadyn Marshall, among others.

In the trenches, the offensive line has to hope that last year's excellent effort was not a flash in the pan. The interior spots manned by Sam Marrazzo, Atonio Mafi and Jon Gaines II should prove to be decent building blocks while sorting out improved depth and starters at the tackle spots between Rutgers transfer Raiqwon O'Neal and Garrett DiGiorgio.

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Previewing UCLA's Defense for 2022

Following Jerry Azzinaro's resignation, it was not surprising to see Kelly turn to a familiar face in Bill McGovern to be UCLA's new defensive coordinator. The longtime NFL assistant does have limited college experience calling plays but will chiefly be tasked with fixing a porous pass defense that finished at the bottom of the Pac-12.

It doesn't help that Qwuantrezz Knight leaves a massive leadership void on the back end, but there is at least talent on hand to work with. Safety Stephan Blaylock is a veteran in every sort of the word given the snaps he's logged and should pair well with the rangy Kenny Churchwell III over the middle of the field. Wyoming transfer Azizi Hearn will have an impact early on, and sophomore Devin Kirkwood possesses all-conference talent that he hopes to showcase with increased playing time.

The front seven features a fairly deep list of contributors, and the staff is hoping that a star or two will emerge. Twins Gabriel and Grayson Murphy should have no issues seeing their games translate from North Texas to the Power 5 level and will be the primary source of a pass rush. A healthy Martin Andrus Jr. and Jay Toia are two stout anchors in the middle of the line, while linebackers like Hawaii transfer Darius Muasau and Kain Medrano clean up the rest. One breakout candidate who should benefit from the staff change given his speed, athleticism and positional versatility is pass rusher Carl Jones Jr.

Related: Pac-12 Football Predictions for 2022

Previewing UCLA's Specialists for 2022

Nicholas Barr-Mira was third in the league in scoring (7.8 ppg) and nailed some big kicks in powder blue last season but must improve his consistency. Allen is a threat to house it in the kick return game, but punt returns could be a bit more challenging after the Bruins were spoiled by Kyle Philips' efforts over the years.

Final Analysis

Incremental improvement in Kelly's early tenure finally gave way to tangible results last year, but those results bring even loftier expectations on the field for 2022. UCLA boasts one of the best quarterbacks in the conference, a top-flight tailback and a defense with a much higher floor following recent staff changes. The door is clearly open for the Bruins to do more than just contend in the Pac-12 South this season, but actually delivering on that potential will require an even more meaningful step forward as a program.

National Ranking: 39

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