2022 Pac-12 Football Preview: New Faces Key UCLA’s Hopes

Bruins return a starting QB and RB from a team that posted the program’s most wins since 2015

Posted on July 4, 2022

  By Dane Miller, SuperWest Sports

This UCLA preseason football preview is the fifth of 12 to appear over as many weeks as we count down the days to the start of the 2022 Pac-12 season on September 1st.

Pac-12Each preview consists of nine sections: OverviewBest-Case ScenarioWorst-Case ScenarioWhat Should HappenWhat Must HappenGreatest StrengthBiggest ConcernDeciding Factors, and Schedule Analysis.

Nothing is set in stone, however, as rosters and depth charts continue to evolve over the summer.

UCLA Bruins Fast Facts

2021 Record: 8-4, 6-3
Head Coach: Chip Kelly (18-25 in 4 years at UCLA)
Offensive Coordinator: Justin Frye
Defensive Coordinator: Bill McGovern
Home Stadium: Rose Bowl (91,136) Pasadena, CA
Last Conference Title: 1998, Pac-10 Champions

The Bruins made history last week by announcing their move to the Big Ten with cross-town rival USC starting in the 2024-25 season.

The shocking shift away from the Pac-12 could forever change the league, with numerous teams potentially leaving the Conference along with them.

The decision will continue to take center stage as the offseason and 2022 campaign progress, but the on-field product remains worth examining for the upcoming year.

UCLA HC Chip Kelly |Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

UCLA has arguably the weakest nonconference schedule in America, while returning its starting quarterback and running back from a team that posted the program’s most wins since the 2015 season.

On top of that, the Bruins have a recruiting class featuring six four-star prospects and the No. 8 transfer class in the country, according to 247Sports.

Yet perhaps most importantly, Chip Kelly finally showed defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro the door, and hired Bill McGovern in his place.

Combined with the returning offensive duo of Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Zach Charbonnet, the new defensive scheme could be the final piece to Kelly’s puzzle.

Best-Case Scenario
In his fifth year in Westwood, DTR leads the Bruins to a 10-win season.

The ground game doesn’t miss a beat despite the departure of three starting offensive linemen. Rutgers OL transfer Raiqwon O’Neal fits into the unit seamlessly with returning seniors Jon Gaines II, Duke Clemons, and Sam Marrazzo.

The result is a third-straight season averaging over 200 yards rushing per game and more than 35 points per contest.

UCLA QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson | Harry How/Getty Images

The strength along the line allows Charbonnet to run wild with defenses focused on Thompson-Robinson, while the veteran quarterback slices and dices opponents in the passing game.

The synergy leads to one of the most efficient offenses in the nation, with DTR posting the top Touchdown-to-Interception ratio of his career.

The lone losses on the year are to Utah at the Rose Bowl and Oregon in Eugene, while Kelly posts a second-straight victory over USC in late November.

Worst-Case Scenario
The losses at wide receiver and in the defensive secondary lead to defeats against Utah, Oregon, USC, and a shocking stumble to either Washington, Stanford, or California.

The eight-win season feels like a deflating let-down after a cakewalk nonconference schedule and home games against the Trojans, Utes, Huskies, and Cardinal.

Depth problems emerge in the backfield, with no clear second punch to spell Charbonnet, hindering the rushing attack in the second half against quality defenses.

UCLA RB Zach Charbonnet | Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

And without tight end Greg Dulcich to open up the middle of the field, the offense goes Three-and-Out too often.

But the pain is most felt in the secondary.

The Bruins lost their leading tackler in Qwuantrezz Knight, both starting corners, and Quentin Lake.

Four-star freshman safety Kamari Ramsey isn’t ready to see consistent action and Oregon transfer corner Jaylin Davies’ contribution is limited.

Although Stephan Blaylock and Wyoming transfer Azizi Hearn do everything they can, the new faces in the defensive secondary aren’t able to get the job done.

What Should Happen
Hawaii linebacker transfer Darius Muasau leads the transfer class that focused heavily on defense. Nine of the 13 transfers play “D,” emphasizing what Kelly is looking for under his new coordinator.

North Texas transfers Grayson Murphy and Gabriel Murphy should contribute from Day One, while Duke DL transfer Gary Smith III and Harvard DL transfer Jacob Sykes become part of the rotation.

Mixed with the team’s leading sacker, linebacker Bo Calvert, the line and LBs should be the defense’s strong points, with Muasau emerging as an All-Conference talent on the second level.

UCLA LB Bo Calvert | UCLA Athletics

McGovern’s scheme is somewhat of a wildcard heading into the season, and the coach may be purposefully keeping his intentions under wraps.

Reported to be consulting with the players about what to run, early accounts indicate the scheme could be similar to what the Bruins have run in the past.

That may change as the summer progresses and McGovern identifies his team’s strength and weaknesses, but the unknown factor of the base formation and overall strategy could remain a talking point heading into Fall Camp.

What Must Happen
Threats must emerge at wide receiver and tight end.

There are production holes to fill on both sides of the ball, but those particular two position groups on offense could arguably make or break the season.

Kyle Philips and Dulcich moved on to the NFL, while Chase Cota transferred to Oregon.

Kam Brown returns and could have a breakout year, and Kazmeir Allen has similar potential if he lines up as a receiver.

Bruin WR Kam Brown | UCLA Athletics

Duke WR transfer Jake Bobo and Central Florida WR transfer Titus Mokiao-Atimalala could be primed to take over starting roles, while freshmen four-star tight ends Jack Pedersen and Carsen Ryan have golden opportunities to take advantage of that open spot.

Similarly, four-star freshman receiver Jadyn Marshall has a significant opportunity to make a name for himself in his first year.

Whoever emerges must be prepared to run-block and take advantage of hesitant defenses focused on UCLA’s QB and backfield.

Greatest Strength
Kelly’s offensive system, DTR’s experience, and Charbonnet’s power combine to make a three-headed offensive juggernaut.

Sprinkle in a capable offensive line, transfer wide receivers that should be serviceable along with returning wide receivers set to breakout, and UCLA’s greatest strength is clearly its offense.

UCLA OL Jon Gaines II | Scott Chandler/UCLA Athletics

The system put up 36.5 points per game last year, leading the Pac-12 and finishing 12th in the nation.

The rushing offense was second in the league with 215.1 yards per game and the Bruins’ turnover margin was third-best in the Conference.

The efficiency promises to continue with Thompson-Robinson entering his fifth season as the starter and Charbonnet back for his second year in the scheme.

Biggest Concern
Depth problems in the offensive backfield have to scare Kelly.

Brittain Brown exhausted his eligibility, leaving Charbonnet as the only returning running back with significant numbers.

In fact, other than DTR, there isn’t a player on the roster that posted more than 100 yards rushing last season.

UCLA’s Kazmeir Allen | Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register

Allen appears primed to be the No. 2 Option, while Keegan Jones could be another horse in the stable. True freshman Tomarion Harden might have an opportunity to contribute as well.

But the lack of proven and experienced talent behind Charbonnet is a glaring problem.

On the other side of the ball, the same issue is blinking red in the secondary. Blaylock is the only returning DB with significant numbers from last year, highlighting a stark production gap that must be filled.

Deciding Factors
With over two-thirds of its production lost, UCLA’s deciding factors are multi-faceted.

On offense, the new pieces on the offensive line must come together to set the groundwork for the entire scheme, while threats must emerge at the receiver and tight end positions.

Fortunately, DTR and Charbonnet are arguably the top QB/RB duo in the Pac-12 and could go toe-to-toe with any other combination in the country.

UCLA DC Bill McGovern | BruinReportOnline

The experience and talent they bring should make the transition smooth, which figures to be made easier by an incredibly soft nonconference schedule.

On defense, the front seven should shine, but it’s the defensive backs that could decide the fate of the defense.

McGovern’s scheme could go far in tipping the scales either direction, where a more traditional set could significantly help the DB’s. Azzinaro’s odd 4-2-5 formation was fantastic at slowing down the run, but absolutely atrocious in defending the pass.

Moving to a standard 4-3 or 3-4 set could make life easier on the DB’s, potentially pushing UCLA’s defense into a strength rather than a perceived weakness.

Schedule Analysis
2022 UCLA Bruins Schedule

Sept. 3 vs Bowling Green
Sept. 1o vs Alabama State
Sept. 17 vs South Alabama
Sept. 24 at Colorado
Sept. 30 vs Washington
Oct. 8 vs Utah
Oct. 22 at Oregon
Oct. 29 vs Stanford
Nov. 5 at Arizona State
Nov. 12 vs Arizona
Nov. 19 vs USC
Nov. 25 at Cal


The Bruins have one of the weakest nonconference schedules in recent memory. All three matchups are Buy-Games in Pasadena, setting up a clear path to 3-0.

The start of Pac-12 play is relatively easy as well, with matchups against Colorado and Washington.

A 5-0 start to the year and Top 25 ranking are clear expectations.

But then it gets dicey, as UCLA hosts Utah and then travels to Eugene. A 1-1 mark over that stretch might be too much to ask, and back-to-back losses wouldn’t be surprising.

The Bruins will have their hands full with the Utes. | Rick Bowmer/AP

The next three weeks feature winnable games against Arizona State, Stanford, and Arizona. Each should end in victory.

The season ends with the showdown against USC and a potential upset against California. A split of these two matchups could happen, although a five-game winning streak to end the year appears just as likely.

In the end, eight wins appear to be the absolute floor, while 10 victories might be the ceiling. With such a favorable schedule, taking the middle ground of nine wins could be the most reasonable approach.

—More from Dane Miller—