Best- and worst-case scenarios for 2022 UCLA Bruins football

The running back could enter the Heisman Trophy race halfway through the first game. The quarterback will likely set school records. The twin edge rushers could grab a wallop that doubles their goals.

You don’t have to squint to notice how UCLA, under coach Chip Kelly, could not only contend for the Pac-12 conference title for the first time, but also win the thing in a breakaway.

The Bruins are experienced in critical positions, they can score points, they could be much better defensively.

And yet …

More questions remain than a week of “Jeopardy!” as the team nears their season opener against Bowling Green on September 3 at the Rose Bowl.

The depth at Linebacker is shockingly shallow. The offensive line replaces three starters. The defense, while promising, is unproven.

So will the Bruins be 11-1 and play for the Pac-12 title in early December? Or 7-5 with renewed calls for Kelly’s head?

Here are the best and worst case scenarios for UCLA heading into the season:

Best case scenario

UCLA running back Zach Charbonnet runs into the end zone for a touchdown.

UCLA running back Zach Charbonnet runs into the end zone for a touchdown against Hawaii on Aug. 28, 2021 at the Rose Bowl.

(Ashley Landis/Associated Press)

Apart from the injury report, there should be little drama in the first few weeks.

An out-of-conference schedule featuring Bowling Green, Alabama State and South Alabama will only test fans’ patience.

Feel free to draw the Bruins 3-0 into their first conference game, on the road against Colorado followed by a home game against Washington. Considering that the Buffaloes’ early success under coach Karl Dorrell seems like an aberration and the Huskies remain in rebuild mode under first-year coach Kalen DeBoer, they’re going 5-0.

That brings up what is arguably the biggest game of the Kelly era — the undefeated Bruins against defending Pac-12 champion Utah on Oct. 8 at the Rose Bowl. A fight of the undefeated would be so big that UCLA might even have to remove the tarp covering the top of an end zone section to accommodate more fans.

At this point, running back Zach Charbonnet has joined Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud and the other usual suspects in the Heisman Trophy chatter. Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson will have continued his climb up the school record charts, nearing the marks set by Cade McNown, Brett Hundley and John Sciarra.

New names emerge as stars. Twin-edge rushers Gabriel and Grayson Murphy stack so many sacks that they make name, image and likeness deals with Albertson’s. Wide receiver Jake Bobo almost single-handedly — well, he usually uses both hands — makes up for lost production from late passers Kyle Philips and Greg Dulcich. Linebacker Darius Muasau turns the middle of the field into a danger zone for anyone who ventures into his territory.

Remember the terrible-to-mediocre UCLA defense, the only lingering weakness in Kelly’s first four seasons? It’s gone.

Not only are the Bruins getting strong against the run, but they’re also screwing up opposing pass attacks thanks to a runner-up with playmaking cornerback Devin Kirkwood. New defense coordinator Bill McGovern, whose resume is eerily reminiscent of his predecessor’s, turns out to be a Renaissance man with an aggressive plan.

The profits are piling up. Much more than the city’s rights are at stake when the Bruins take on USC in the Rose Bowl on November 19.

Another win over the Trojans — albeit a much narrower one — will set the stage for UCLA’s return to the Pac-12 championship game on Dec. 2 at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, the Bruins’ first appearance in the title game since 2012.

Everything turns pink. After an endless wait, the Bruins get their first chance to return to their home turf in early January for the first time in almost a quarter of a century.

Worst case scenario

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson is tackled by a USC defenseman.

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson is tackled by a USC defenseman on November 20, 2021 at the Coliseum.

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

The road to disappointment begins with three victories but ominous forebodings.

An out-of-conference game is unexpectedly close, and a few injuries show how thin the team is at linebackers and along the offensive line.

Thompson-Robinson spends the early season moving away from defenders who fly into the backfield with little resistance.

Meanwhile, no one has emerged as a capable contender for Charbonnet in the Bruins’ two-back system. The tight ends are solid but unspectacular, nobody remembers what a force Dulcich has become over his last two seasons.

An early stumble in the Pac-12 game takes significant shine off what should be a showdown against Utah. The Utes bolstered their Conference dominance with a resounding win at the Rose Bowl, effectively eliminating the Bruins from the Pac-12 race by early October.

The defense in need of rejuvenation runs like a 250,000-mile car that hasn’t been tuned in five years but has had a fresh coat of paint. Pass defenses continue to lose yards and late UCLA leads are lost due to an inability to generate critical stops. McGovern turns out to be Jerry Azzinaro 2.0.

A year after being embarrassed by his home rival, USC retaliates with a three-touchdown triumph in the Rose Bowl. As the Bruins trudge off the field in defeat, they are serenaded by the Trojans band’s “Conquest.”

Media’s picking of UCLA for fourth place in the Pac-12 was proven correct. UCLA finally makes it to Allegiant Stadium… for the Las Vegas Bowl on December 17th.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/ucla/story/2022-08-27/ucla-bruins-football-rose-bowl-best-worst-case-scenarios Best- and worst-case scenarios for 2022 UCLA Bruins football

Emma Bowman

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