Once the season starts, there will be a number of people "coming out of the woodwork," proclaiming "I told you so" in regards to either how great the team is doing due to the experienced roster; how poorly the team is doing because Chip can’t coach or how mediocre the team still is because of sub-par recruiting and/or because Chip can’t coach. I am going to stick my neck out here before anyone sees the team perform (Chip doesn’t even allow the press to see the team practice much less scrimmage). I am going to base my opinion on what I saw last year during the Covid-reduced season, the number of returning players and the pick-ups from the Transfer Portal.
I’m gonna go against the grain from most of those who contribute here. I have bashed Chip on this site as much as anybody, but, as much as I hate to admit it, after years of futility, I think Chip finally has the team heading in the right direction. There are a few objective reasons for this change of heart on my part:
First, as frustrating as the losing season was last year (with such frustration reaching its zenith in the USC and Stanford come from ahead losses), it was very surprising to me that all of the "graduate" players (Brown, Grattan, Eboh and Knight) took advantage of the Covid - red shirt – year in 2020 and decided to return to the team this year. It was just as surprising to me that no key players made a "dash" for the Transfer Portal. As much as I blamed Chip for the Mass Exodus of talent from the program when he took over for Jim Mora, I have to compliment him here…….He has something going with his present players……They want to come back and play for him……This told me that the players believe they are on the verge of something special.
Second, although I have never been impressed with Chip’s ability to recruit/attract top high school talent, he has done an admirable job improving the team’s talent quotient by attracting players from the Transfer Portal: Charbonnet (RB) from Michigan, Garbers (QB) from Washington, Cam Johnson (DB) from North Texas, Kam Brown (WR) from Texas A & M, Jay Toia (DL) from USC, Devin Apiu (DL) and Jordan Heath (LB) from Notre Dame and Ale Kaho (LB) from Alabama to name a few. With the exception of Garber (unless DTR gets injured) all will either start or at least play significant minutes this season. In addition, Chip did add some significant freshman, including but not limited to, 4-star defensive end Quintin Somerville, 4-star athlete Devin Kirkwood and All American Bowl defensive end Tioalli Savea, all of whom may also play significant roles this year.
Third, Chip has always been good with offensive schemes. He and J. Frye have developed a stable of mobile lineman who can pull, trap block and block to the second level. (They may not be the 5 star "road grader" lineman that Ohio State recruits, but they are athletic and fit this offense). Chip has significant weapons at running back, tight end and has upgraded the wide receiver position (Kaz Allen’s speed should also contribute here and on special teams returning kicks). If DTR stays healthy (and disciplined), we should not have trouble scoring points……The real question will be whether or not we can stop opposing offenses with our defense.
Last year I was shocked (in a good way) by the overhaul of our defensive philosophy. Coaches Nansen and Norwood introduced a defensive scheme that was penetrating and made plays on the other side of the line of scrimmage. Besides leading the conference in sacks for the first time since who knows when, we had numerous tackles for loss and pressures on the QB. (I haven’t seen this style of attacking defensive philosophy since the Rocky Long days). Unfortunately, we could not apply such pressure last year without including linebackers, corners or safeties. This left one on one coverage in our secondary. Teams employing max protection with top flight wide outs killed us (see the USC and Stanford games).
This year we return all but one starter on defense and have upgraded our talent at all three levels. The defense took a big step forward last year by limiting opponents to 5.4 yards a snap after allowing 6.7 in 2019. Our offense averaged 35.4 points a game in 2020……..IF we can again take another step forward on defense, we will be in every game. IF we can limit our turnovers (UCLA was tied for 83rd in turnover margin out of 127 teams) we should win most of them. Given the maturity of this team, I believe that we will improve on both accounts. Therefore, despite the fact that our team will face its most difficult schedule since Chip took over the team, I am predicting that we will get at least 8 wins. If we have the good fortune to remain healthy, I believe that this team can win 9 games and take the Pac-12 South title. There, I said it. Now if we implode and lose to Hawaii, I will humbly accept my "tar and feathering."