UCLA football has been extremely impressive early on this year. After blasting Hawaii in Week Zero, 44-10, they picked up a statement victory against LSU over the weekend, winning 38-27 at the Rose Bowl.
It was hard to base anything on the 2020 season, but there were signs of improvement under Chip Kelly. The team went 3-4, but all four losses—at Colorado, at No. 11 Oregon, and vs. No.1 5 USC and Stanford, came by a total of 15 points. The Stanford loss came in double overtime.
The start of the 2021 season seems to indicate that a corner has been turned. ESPN analyst Jesse Palmer is taking things even further: he sees the Bruins as a legitimate College Football Playoff threat.
“I think UCLA is for real, and I think they are a team that has a shot to win the Pac-12 and maybe get into the College Football Playoff,” Palmer told Stephen A. Smith on his ESPN+ Show Stephen A’s World.
Palmer cites the control that Dorian Thompson-Robinson has after years in the Kelly system. He was also impressed by the Bruins’ dominant rushing attack.
Thompson-Robinson has only completed 52.8-percent of his throws, but he’s been very efficient, averaging 10.8 yards per attempt. On the year, he has 390 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception. Zach Charbonnet and Brittain Brown have proven to be a two-headed monster in the backfield, leading a team with 454 yards and six rushing touchdowns, with Charbonnet averaging over 13 yards per carry.
The most important factor may be UCLA’s favorable schedule. That may allow them to keep rolling and get into the mix.
“UCLA has the schedule. I think the two toughest games, Arizona State and Oregon, will both be at home. They have to go to USC … We’ll find out what LSU is as the season and goes on, and who knows? Maybe by the end of the year, that will look like a really good non-conference win. But I think Chip Kelly has the roster to run the table in conference play and maybe crash the College Football Playoff.”
UCLA, which is up to No. 16 in the AP Top 25 after starting the year unranked, faces a tough Mountain West opponent in Fresno State on Saturday. After that, they dive into Pac-12 play. The team draws No. 23 Arizona State (Oct. 2) and No. 12 Oregon (Oct. 23) at home, though they do have two tough road tests late in the year, at No. 21 Utah (Oct. 30) and at No. 14 USC (Nov. 20).
The Pac-12 hasn’t had a ton of luck when it comes to the College Football Playoff in recent years, but if UCLA was to run the table, it would be hard to keep the Bruins out.