Cincinnati and UCLA are separated by roughly 2,200 miles. The Bearcats are making that trek to play the Bruins in the opener for the college football season on Sautrday, but not everyone can join them. Thankfully, by the power of the internet, we can get an insider look at the Bruins, their new head coach Chip Kelly and more. To accomplish this, we solicited questions from our pals over at Bruins Nation and they certainly had answers.
What did you think of the Chip Kelly hiring?
AnteatersandBruins: I love it. I’ve been a Bruin football fan for a long time, and I don’t ever remember being this excited about the potential of a coach and what he could do for the program. It was a great move and I’m very pleased with the direction of the program so far. Chip embraces UCLA and has quoted John Wooden numerous times in interviews. He gets it — he knows how important UCLA is to the world of sports and I feel like he takes that role seriously.
Markybcool: We went out and got the most coveted college coach that did not currently have a job to replace a coach that had worn out his welcome at UCLA. How often can you hire a coach that has revolutionized a sport? Kelly developed an offense that people, including great defensive minds like [Pete] Carroll, [Lane] Kiffin and [Vic] Fangio could not figure out how to stop at the time. That’s the kind of coach that I want. I want a coach that thinks outside the box and pushes limits and gets the best out of his players. I’m excited to see how this scheme will evolve at UCLA over the years.
Andrew_goodman3: After many swings and misses, UCLA finally went out and got the hottest commodity on the coaching market last November. After the underwhelming Jim Mora era, UCLA now has a coach with a terrific track record of not only rejuvenating the football program, but also developing NFL talent. I haven’t been this excited about a UCLA football coaching hire, since, well, ever. I am eager to see how he transforms UCLA’s offensive and defensive identity.
Joe Piechowski: I couldn’t be more happy with this hire. UCLA has finally proven that it is committed to fielding a quality football team. So far, it doesn’t seem like a lot of the “experts” are on the bandwagon, but I think Chip is going to have UCLA surprising a lot of people this year.
How close to his 2013 debut with the Philadelphia Eagles will Kelly get in his first game as head coach for the Bruins?
AnteatersandBruins: It would be awesome if we could have a turnaround that fast, but I just don’t see that happening. Maybe two seasons down the road. But we’ll definitely see a decent bowl game this year and actually win it.
Markybcool: We are all familiar with the saying, “trust the process”. I think that is what UCLA fans believe when it comes to this team. That first year in Philadelphia was a success, but I am sure it wasn’t a success to Kelly as the Eagles lost in the first round of the playoffs.
Andrew_goodman3: I believe this season will be a “rebuild” year but will show flashes of what’s to come down the road. UCLA’s roster is beaming with young, talented players on both sides of the ball. However, Rome wasn’t built in one day. This will be a fun rise to the top of the Pac-12 for the Bruins.
Joe Piechowski: I don’t think a lot of people are paying attention to UCLA right now. A lot of people seem to think this will be a rebuilding year, but I don’t think that people truly understand Chip Kelly’s philosophy. Kelly’s “Tempo” philosophy isn’t just about running a lot of plays when the offense has the ball. It’s a mindset. The team is employing the “Tempo” philosophy in everything they do.
In other words, they recognize that time is their most precious commodity. Sure, come game day, there are two 30-minute halves in which they need to score as many points as possible while giving up less to their opponents, but the NCAA also limits how much time players can practice during the week. So, that time is limited too. The team also practices using the “Tempo” philosophy, meaning that they get a lot more reps done during a practice than a team that doesn’t employ that philosophy. It is basically one of the only ways that coaches can have an impact on development.
So, I think Chip Kelly’s “Tempo” philosophy is going to speed up the so-called rebuilding process at UCLA. However, another reason I think it’s going to be a good year for UCLA is the fact that UCLA still has a lot of talent. UCLA’s blue-chip ratio for this season is 43.5%. That may not be high enough to make Bud Elliott’s list of schools who have the best shot to win the College Football Playoff, but it’s still pretty high. Combine that with the player development time that the “Tempo” philosophy is providing and it’s a recipe for immediate success.
What was the best win of the Jim Mora era? What was the worst loss?
Markybcool: Without a doubt, the best win for me was the 2015 Handshake Game, I mean the 2015 Alamo Bowl. The Bruins defeated the [Kansas State] Wildcats, 40–35, and ended the season with 10 wins.
There were too many bad loses to even attempt to pick one.
AnteatersandBruins: I can’t stop watching our comeback win against A&M from last year. I’m literally replaying it on YouTube when I’m on the treadmill and it makes me burn more calories. The worst loss was the 2012 loss to Stanford in the Pac 12 Championship. I remember thinking it was a horrible decision to ask a freshman kicker to tie the game for you, and of course, we lost.
Joe Piechowski: I think I have to agree that last season’s comeback win against Texas A&M may have been the best win. There are two losses which qualify for the worst losses of the Mora era. The first came on November 28, 2015 when UCLA lost to Southern Cal. It was the first time UCLA lost to the Trojans under Jim Mora and, frankly, it was a 40-21 beatdown. It was the beginning of the end for Mora at UCLA. The other game that would qualify is the 2016 game against Stanford. The Cardinal had beaten the Bruins in seven consecutive games. UCLA trailed by three until late in the first quarter when they took a 7-3 lead. Throughout the second and third quarters and even most of the fourth quarter, the Bruins continued to lead. But, then, they gave up 13 points in the final 30 seconds to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and drop their eighth straight to the Cardinal.
Who are the players to watch for the Bruins this year?
AnteatersandBruins: On offense, we’re just as excited as you are to see who the QB is and how he does. (Editor’s note: Wilton Speight was named starter after this interview took place.) If Dorian Thompson-Robertson takes the field, he will be one of the most impressive freshmen you’ve ever seen. Couple that with Kazmier Allen, and our offense could be scary good this year and in the future. On defense, Jaelan Phillips is the next Anthony Barr.
Markybcool: I am excited to see the Bruins fully unleash the potential of Theo Howard. We have long wanted to see this talent explode at UCLA, and I think this year will be a big year for him. The other player to watch will be tight-end Caleb Wilson. In only five games last year, Wilson caught 38 balls for 490 yards. And UCLA fan will NEVER forget his performance against Texas A&M last year as he had a school-record 15 receptions for 208 yards. Tight-ends are usually young quarterback’s best friends.
Andrew_goodman3: I’m really looking forward to watching the development of wide receiver Demetric Felton. This guy has blazing speed, and is dangerous not only as a wide out, but also as a running back. Although he played sparingly, he definitely caught my attention. His athleticism is a perfect fit for a Chip Kelly-style offense.
Joe Piechowski: I think Josh Kelley is a running back that is going to surprise a lot of folks. Kelley had to sit out last season because he had transferred from UC Davis to UCLA, but he was impressive last year in training camp under Mora as well as in spring practice this year under Chip Kelly. In fact, Josh Kelley had come to UCLA as a walk-on, but he was the first walk-on to earn a scholarship after Chip Kelly became head coach. That should tell you a lot right there.
Even though we haven’t see Kelly’s Bruins on the field yet, what do you think is the team’s greatest strength? Greatest weakness?
AnteatersandBruins: I think the biggest strength IS their strength. They’re coming back stronger, healthier and more developed. Kelly has implemented tactics like using GPS monitors to track caloric consumption and speed so as to tailor a player’s eating regimen. And they’re EATING. They’re given meals to take home for dinner and on the weekends, and they’re even tracking sleep. All of these off-the-field elements that will help them on game day cannot be underestimated. I think their greatest weakness will be implementing the changes. Changes on both sides of the ball and getting to know the new playbook. Ironing out the wrinkles will be important before conference play starts.
Markybcool: I think our biggest strength is going to be the coach that they have leading them each week. I believe that Kelly will prepare the Bruins each week, identify weaknesses in defenses and exploit them, make in-game adjustments and basically out-coach and out-scheme the other team’s coach.
UCLA’s greatest weakness will be something well known to the Bearcats: youth. The Bruins are young, and there is a mix of Mora recruits with Kelly recruits. There is going to be a learning curve, a conditioning curve, and a knowledge curve that this Bruins team is going to have.
Andrew_goodman3: UCLA’s biggest strength is they finally have a leader on, and off the field in head coach Chip Kelly. Although we haven’t seen the Bruins take the field, just by observing practice, one could tell that the vibe is certainly different from previous seasons. Chip Kelly is a football savant, and will keep opponents on their heels with how many wrinkles he’ll throw out on a weekly basis. However, as stated above, their weakness is certainly their youth. There will undoubtedly be some growing pains next season, but it will 100% be worth going through the trials and tribulations.
Joe Piechowski: I agree with what was said above. UCLA’s greatest strength at least at this point is Chip Kelly. While some might say that UCLA’s problem is that they have a brutal schedule, their greatest weakness is probably youth. Playing a tough schedule is nothing new for UCLA. The Bruins are one of three teams in the FBS that has NEVER played an FCS school. Notre Dame and Southern Cal are the other two. UCLA is almost always at or near the top of the list of teams with the toughest schedules. But, the team only has seven seniors. Despite that, everything will be fine if each person does his job.
How do you think the full season is going to play out for UCLA?
AnteatersandBruins: I think we go 7-5 plus a bowl win. I truly believe we will see progress from the start, and that progress will continue throughout the season. Kelly’s mantra of taking it one day at a time, and just “having a good Monday” is a great way to look at things and make a lot of small progress that adds up to huge success.
Markybcool: I see the Bruins as a 6-6 team. They will have all the characteristics of a young team; crazy highs, and definitely some lows. There is no way this young of a team is going to come out and do anything other than be a young team. If Chip can get anything more than 6 wins, then it will be a very successful year.
Andrew_goodman3: I believe the UCLA Bruins finish this season 6-6. That is certainly not a failure. There’s a lot of talk about UCLA being in a “win now” mode, but I just don’t see why that’s the case. With a bevy of young talent on both sides of the ball, this will be a great first year for the young guys to learn. In fact, I believe six wins in Kelly’s first season will be a great success.
Joe Piechowski: When I saw that Vegas had set the win total over/under at 5.5 games, I knew taking the over was easy money. I think an average coach might go 6-6, but, at Oregon, Chip Kelly had a Coach Effect on par with the likes of Urban Meyer and Nick Saban. So, I’m expecting somewhere in the neighborhood of AT LEAST eight to nine wins.
Who wins this game and why?
AnteatersandBruins: We’ll take this one. I know you guys are still struggling with a new coaching staff as well, and Luke Fickell is still breaking things down while building it back up. I don’t doubt that the Bearcats will play tough and fast, but ultimately, we’ll win.
Markybcool: Even though we are young, Cincinnati is younger. Therefore, I would anticipate that our young talent is better than the young talent on Cincinnati. Moreover, we have Chip Kelly, and he can be a difference maker in a game like this.
Andrew_goodman3: UCLA takes this one by a decent margin. Cincinnati, like UCLA, is very young on both sides of the ball, but the Bruins are returning a decent amount of players from last season. I’m sure Luke Fickell will help rebuild the Bearcats football program, but I don’t see them winning their first game on the road.
Joe Piechowski: UCLA will cover the 17 point spread.
BONUS QUESTION: Which four teams will make the College Football Playoff this year?
AnteatersandBruins: Yikes — you all get right to it! Not necessarily in this order — Alabama (can you even talk about the CFP without saying Alabama?), Oklahoma, Washington and Clemson.
Markybcool: I actually agree with AnteatersandBruins, minus one team. I see Alabama, Georgia, Washington, and Clemson. I know it might be difficult for Georgia and Alabama to both make it, but it is part of the new system in college football in that hopefully the best four teams end up playing at the end of the year.
Andrew_goodman3: I can see Georgia, Clemson, Alabama and Wisconsin
Joe Piechowski: Ask me after UCLA plays Oklahoma and Washington. If the Bruins win both of those games, they could be looking at a year similar to Urban Meyer’s first year at Ohio State ... except for the fact that the Bruins are not banned from playing in a bowl game this year,
BONUS BONUS QUESTION: If UCLA was an Avenger, which would it be?
AnteatersandBruins: I like this question. We’d be Captain America. No one takes us all that seriously in the beginning but we kick ass in the end. And we look good doing it.
Joe Piechowski: None of the Avengers. If UCLA were any superhero, it would be Batman. The Bruins have the coolest unis in college football while Batman has the coolest costume. Batman has all the bat-gadgets in his arsenal. That’s like Chip Kelly’s offense. Batman is a pretty cerebral superhero. That fits UCLA because of the school’s academic reputation. Finally, there’s that meme about always being Batman. Well, UCLA is the most applied to college in the country. In other words, everyone wants to be a Bruin, just like everyone wants to be Batman. And, that’s probably way more of an explanation than you expected for this question! Go Bruins! Editor’s note: Down the Drive did not sanction this final proclamation.