Chip Kelly’s first UCLA Football training camp begins in less than 7 days.
Kelly is coming from the cool confines of ESPN’s studios in Bristol, Connecticut and his home in New Hampshire to sunny Southern California. So far, this July has been pretty darn hot. We’ve seen triple digit temperatures for much of this month.
That should help prepare both Chip and this year’s team for what promises to be an absolutely brutal schedule which could be one of the toughest in the country.
SB Nation’s Bill Connelly has written a very thorough preview of this year’s UCLA team for the SB Nation mothership and he agrees that this year’s schedule is tough. Last year, Connelly thought a 6-6 win season was likely and while it didn’t play itself out perfectly. He was still right. And, in last year’s Easy Bear, Hard Bear article, I thought last year’s schedule was pretty tough.
Well, this year’s calendar makes last year’s look easy. So, it won’t be very easy for Chip to get the Bruins on track, but I think he’s up for the challenge.
This year, Connelly’s S&P+ statistics give the Bruins a win probability of 51% or higher in six of the teams twelve games again. Of those six games with a win probability higher than 51%, only the Cincinnati game can be considered a “very likely win” with an 76% win probability. Colorado comes close with a 68% win probability. Fresno State comes in with UCLA having a 58% win probability, while, Arizona, Arizona State and UC Berkeley each have a win probability between 51% and 56%.
Connelly admits that his S&P+ projections have no way to “incorporate coaching changes.” Perhaps someone can come up with a new advanced stat. We could borrow one from baseball and call it “WARc” or “Wins Above Replacement Coach.” In other words, how many points per game difference can Chip Kelly and staff affect the projected S&P+ margin?
If it’s 7 points per game, than 6-6 could become 9-3. If it’s 10 points, UCLA could go 10-2 and a difference of 17 points against Oklahoma and Washington could mean playoffs.
And, yes, Jim, I’m talkin’ to you about playoffs.
It’s been done before. Urban Meyer took an Ohio State team that was 6-7 the year before and led them to an undefeated season in his first year. So, it’s possible. Is it likely? Ask me after the Oklahoma game.
There is, however, a reason they play the games on the field instead of just on paper. How will each game turn out? I don’t know, but I will tell you which games I think will be easy and which ones will be hard?
Let’s take our annual look at UCLA’s schedule in a feature we call "Easy Bear, Hard Bear".
Saturday, September 1 - Cincinnati at UCLA
The Bruins start their season at home against the Cincinnati Bearcats who are coached by Luke Fickell. Ironically, Fickell was Ohio State’s interim coach who led the Buckeyes to a 6-6 season before Urban Meyer was hired. Last year, in Fickell’s first year with the Bearcats, they looked an awful lot like the Tommy Tuberville-led squad from the year before. Both teams finished 4-8.
Why the game is winnable: After two consecutive 4-8 seasons in the AAC, Cincinnati just isn’t a very good football team. So, this one gets an Easy Bear.
Saturday, September 8 - UCLA at Oklahoma
In his first season following the retirement of Bob Stoops, Lincoln Riley led the Sooners to a 12-2 finish. Their first loss last year came at the beginning of October to Iowa State. Their second was to Georgia in the Rose Bowl in double overtime.
Why the game is winnable: Two words: Chip Kelly. The other day Chip spoke about putting players in practice situations similar to what they will face in games. He will have the team prepared and ready to go for a tough game. This is a good chance for the Bruins to make a statement on a national level. What better way to show that it’s a new day for UCLA Football than to go on the road and beat one of last year’s playoff teams?
Saturday, September 15 - Fresno State at UCLA
Former UC Berkeley coach Jeff Tedford starts his second year in Fresno. Tedford has the Bulldogs trending upward, but, given how bad they were, that’s not hard. This might have the makings of a trap game if UCLA didn’t have the following week off. But, it could still be a letdown week if UCLA is riding high after Oklahoma and doesn’t focus on the Bulldogs.
Why the game is winnable: This game almost qualified for an Easy Bear, but Tedford will probably have his team ready to play. But, realistically, the outcome of this game shouldn’t be in question.
Friday, September 28 - UCLA at Colorado
UCLA beat the Buffs last year under Mora. Colorado may be better this year, but so should the Bruins.
Why the game is winnable: After having the previous weekend off, UCLA should be ready for just about anything as Pac-12 play begings.
Saturday, October 6 - Washington at UCLA
The Huskies are the defending Pac-12 champs and are looking to repeat. They were picked as the probable champs by the media this year. Jake Browning is back again, but if UCLA is starting Wilton Speight, this could be an interesting quarterback battle.
Why the game is winnable: UCLA didn’t lose at home last year and this game is in the Rose Bowl. This has the chance to be another statement game for UCLA after the Oklahoma game. By this point in the schedule, Kelly should have the Bruins firing on all cylinders.
Saturday, October 13 - UCLA at UC Berkeley
This game gets a medium bear. The Golden Bears are on the rise behind 2nd year coach Justin Wilcox and the fact that this is a road game doesn’t make it any easier.
Why the game is winnable: The Bears will be better than they were a few years ago, but their talent level doesn’t match the Bruins.
Saturday, October 20 - Arizona at UCLA
This game is earning a hard bear due to the fact that the projected margin is just under a full point. Kevin Sumlin returns to the Rose Bowl in this one for the first time since Texas A&M blew the season opener last year. Noel Mazzone has followed Sumlin to Tucson as well.
Why the game is winnable: Two words: Noel Mazzone. OK, two more words: halftime adjustments. Bruin fans know how bad Mazzone is with those. Well, this game will introduce Arizona fans to that concept.
Friday, October 26 - Utah at UCLA
It seems like UCLA and Utah are always playing weeknight games against each other. And, of course, they are always tough games. That’s why this one gets a hard bear. Utah looks to be better this year. In fact, based on S&P+, they should edge the Bruins in this one.
Why the game is winnable: This is a game where WARc can come into play. The Bruins will win this game for one simple reason: Chip Kelly is at the helm and Jim Mora isn’t.
Friday, November 3 - UCLA at Oregon
The Bruins begin what is their toughest third of their season with a game against the Ducks in Eugene. Autzen Stadium is a very difficult place to play and this game will show that.
Why the game is winnable: This will be another game where the Bruins could “steal” a win against a very good team and, you guessed it, Chip gets the credit for it.
Saturday, November 10 - UCLA at Arizona State
This game gets a tough bear because it’s a potential trap game between Oregon and Southern Cal.
Why the game is winnable: On paper, the Bruins should win this one. The question comes down to how focused Kelly has the team when it is time to play this game. It may be a close call, but, sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good. This week, the Bruins may need to create some luck.
Saturday, November 17 - Southern Cal at UCLA
The rivalry game is always hard. The records don't matter. This game could end up deciding who wins the South.
Why the game is winnable: Every rivalry game should automatically be winnable. If you can't get up to play $c, you don't belong on a UCLA team. Southern Cal looks to continue its resurgence under Clay Helton. If things break the right way for either team, this game could have implications for the College Football Playoff. This will be a Hard Bear.
Saturday, November 24: Stanford at UCLA
Jim Mora was never able to beat Stanford. After playing a rivalry game the week before, the Bruins could be in for a let down as in years past. David Shaw will certainly have his team ready.
Why the game is winnable: This another game where coaching will matter. David Shaw will outcoach himself in this one and, unlike Jim Mora, Chip Kelly will not lower himself to Shaw’s level. That said, this game still gets a hard bear, at least until the Bruins prove they can beat the Cardinal.
So, there you have it. While I think UCLA has the talent to make most of the games winnable, it does not mean that it is what we are expecting or predicting. There is, after all, a reason they play the games. And, you’ll recall that UCLA, on paper, should have been capable of winning all twelve games two years ago.
Based on last season’s “Easy Bear, Hard Bear” article, UCLA was 1-0 in the Easy games, 1-1 in the Medium games and 4-5 in the Hard games. This year we have a tougher schedule because of the quality of the opponents and the difficulty of the final third of the season, even though there is one fewer Hard game and one more Medium game. There are eight Hard games, down from nine last year, three Medium games and just one Easy again.
How do you view each of this year's games? Sound off in the comments below.
And, as always, we hope that at the end of the season, everyone in Bruins Nation will be doing this:
I have a feeling there will be some reasons for dancing this year.