Chip Kelly left Oregon for the NFL following the 2012 season, having lost all of seven games in his four campaigns as Ducks head coach. Seven. In contrast, Kelly's new team, UCLA, lost seven games in 2017. The Bruins dropped one more than that in 2016.
To say Kelly takes over a much different situation than what he left at Oregon is an understatement. After two years as Mike Bellotti's offensive coordinator, Kelly became head coach of a program that, in 2009, was already showing signs of becoming a player on the national stage. The Ducks won Pac-10 titles in 1994 and 2001, and behind Heisman Trophy finalist Joey Harrington in that latter campaign, really should have played for a national championship.
In contrast, 2018 marks the two-decade anniversary of UCLA's last time realistically contending for a title, as well the Bruins' last conference title.
UCLA has never quite been a traditional college football power -- that label applies more to the hardwood Bruins -- but the program has rarely gone long without competing. Jim Mora's arrival in 2012 knocked some cobwebs off UCLA's potential, resulting in a division championship and three consecutive nine-win seasons. But despite success on the recruiting trail, injuries and coaching changes combined to drop the Bruins below .500 in consecutive seasons.
And while Mora recruited well consistently, turnover up and down the roster shrouds Year 1 of the Kelly era in mystery. Add a brutal schedule, and this fall will surely test UCLA's new coaching staff. Athlon asked a few editors and college football contributors to share their realistic win/loss projection for the Bruins in 2018.
UCLA Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2018
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Chip Kelly’s arrival in Westwood is great news for UCLA over the long haul. However, it may be a struggle in Year 1. The Bruins face a tough schedule and return just 10 starters from last season’s six-win team. Additionally, Kelly is making a significant scheme change, starting with a high-powered, up-tempo offense. Michigan transfer Wilton Speight was brought in to compete with Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Devon Modster for the starting quarterback job. However, the problems on offense extend beyond the quarterback position. UCLA needs to find a spark for its ground game and solidify a thin offensive line. The outlook on defense isn’t much better. The Bruins should be better by default after giving up 36.6 points and over 285 rushing yards a game last fall. The back seven is the strength of this unit, but the front is retooling under a new 3-4 approach. With a brutal schedule and question marks on both sides of the ball, Kelly’s first year will be viewed as a success if he just gets the Bruins to a bowl game.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Chip Kelly's first year at UCLA could be a struggle. Scanning the schedule, I found myself saying, "Yeah, they could lose that one," to almost every game. In fact, other than the opener against Cincinnati, I'm not sure there is a sure win on the schedule. They don't play Washington State or Oregon State, the two teams we are picking to finishing fifth and sixth in the Pac-12 North. The best guess here is that the Bruins find a way to win enough games to become bowl eligible.
Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer)
Chip Kelly will do wonders for the Bruins football program... just not in the first season, which could see him lose as many games in 2018 as he did during his entire stint in Eugene. There is enough talent on the roster to make some waves against the weaker or non-Power 5 opponents but even if he figures out a solution at quarterback, but the roster just isn't talented or deep enough to make noise in the Pac-12. The non-conference slate is surprisingly brutal and there might not be a single gimme on the league slate either. It's shaping up to be a rebuilding year to say the least in Westwood.
Kyle Kensing (@kensing45)
Chip Kelly certainly adds new-found enthusiasm for UCLA football, but excitement in the offseason does not always translate to immediate results on the field. The competition to replace Josh Rosen spotlights the many changes to UCLA's starting lineup -- and with six quarterbacks on the roster, it's a wide-open competition -- but quarterback play may be a secondary concern to the woeful rushing output each of the previous two seasons.
Oregon teams ran the ball well and with multiple options through Kelly's time in Eugene. UCLA needs a complete overhaul to emulate even a fraction of that success. More concerning is the anemic defensive effort that plagued the Bruins in 2017, costing them in games that Rosen and the offense shined.
The defense features plenty of new faces, which could be a positive given last year's struggles. At the same time, there's far too much uncertainty to project a breakout season with UCLA playing a killer schedule.
(Top photo by Don Liebig/UCLA Photography, courtesy of uclabruins.com)