Positive signs at the conclusion of 2018 give UCLA momentum heading into Chip Kelly's second season
When Chip Kelly left Oregon in 2012, the coach amassed an eye-popping 46-7 overall record, and 33-3 in the Pac-10/12. To say his return to the conference and college football did not go quite the same way is an understatement.
UCLA hit the seven-loss mark by its seventh game, matching the program's worst start in more than 70 years. The Bruins' 3-6 Pac-12 record doubled the number of losses from his previous Pac tenure. And yet, despite the struggles, the positives of his hire were undeniable by season's end.
UCLA showed undeniable improvement during the 2018 campaign, which should translate to a more competitive '19. Utah is a runaway favorite to repeat atop the Pac-12 South, but the other five spots in the division are considered wide open. The schedule this coming season is almost as brutal as a season ago, but UCLA should see a dramatic improvement in its final record.
UCLA Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2019
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Admittedly, seven wins might be a tad optimistic for UCLA this fall. However, the Bruins played better in the second half of 2018, and I think this team will take a step forward in coach Chip Kelly's second year. Running back Joshua Kelley was a breakout star for the Bruins last fall, and quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson should emerge in his first full season as the starter. UCLA's biggest question marks remain along the offensive line and addressing a defense that allowed 34.1 points a game in 2018. However, both areas return a lot of experience, which figures to translate into improvement.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
The Bruins' non-conference schedule is quite challenging, with a season-opening trip to Cincinnati (a team that won at UCLA last year) followed up by home dates with San Diego State and Oklahoma. Winning one during that stretch would be a bonus. Chip Kelly's club does catch a break in league player, however, avoiding both Washington and Oregon, the top two teams in the North. They key for the Bruins — as with most teams in the wide-open Pac-12 South — is to win the swing games against teams such as Arizona, Arizona State and California.
Kyle Kensing (@kensing45)
The record of Chip Kelly's debut season on its own doesn't necessarily inspire a ton of confidence. Spinning 3-9, a mark worse than any of predecessor Jim Mora's campaign, into a positive requires extraordinary context. However, UCLA's 2018 was just that. The Bruins played the nastiest schedule in college football, with three non-conference opponents that won at least 11 games, and Pac-12 matchups against every team to win at least nine games save Washington State.
The 2019 schedule isn't much easier, if at all, but the Bruins that left 2018 were significantly better than the Bruins who began it. UCLA went 3-2 on the back-half of the slate, with running back Joshua Kelley emerging as one of the best stories in college football. Youngsters on defense like Elijah Gates and Quentin Lake developed into difference-makers. All told, the adversities of 2018 should pay dividends in 2019.
UCLA isn't ready to contend for a divisional title, but a bowl game is well within reach.