By his fourth season as Oregon head coach, Chip Kelly had led the Ducks to their best season ever — 12-1 and coming within a last-second field goal of winning the national title. His record in four years at Oregon was 46-7.
Kelly’s return to the Pac-12 after leaving Eugene for the NFL has been dramatically different.
Sky-high expectations have not been met since he took over at UCLA. Patience in the Bruins’ fanbase is waning. His record in three years at UCLA is 10-21, but there was improvement in 2020. The Bruins were much better on both sides of the ball as the players have become fully acclimated to Kelly’s system and the roster has been turned over. Still, a 3-4 record was underwhelming. All four losses came by six points or fewer.
Inside the program, the vibe is that UCLA is very close to being very good again. It doesn’t hurt that the Pac-12 South is definitely there for the taking. Almost every key player aside from defensive lineman Osa Odighizuwa and running back Demetric Felton returns.
“Our depth is the best that it’s ever been,” Kelly told The Athletic. “If we had an injury before, there was almost a huge drop-off from the 1s to the 2s. Our entire O-line is back and we have a lot of kids who played a lot of snaps for us with a lot of three-year starters back.”
Kelly points to the fact that two years ago UCLA’s roster was comprised of 87 freshmen and sophomores. Now, almost all of those 87 players are still in the program and have a lot of experience and a much better grasp on the system and the coaches’ expectations.
There is no player who figures to epitomize what happens with UCLA football in 2021 more than Dorian Thompson-Robinson, a dynamic dual-threat quarterback whose skill set seems like an ideal fit for Kelly’s offense. The 6-2, 210-pound Las Vegas native has displayed some eye-catching talent with both arm and feet at times, but there have also been several instances where he’s gotten caught up trying to do too much.