Perez: Can UCLA Football Shake Up the Conference and Shock the South?

It wouldn't be the strangest event of 2020, and there are factors working in the Bruins' favor

Posted on October 26, 2020

  By Jack Perez of Dash Sports TV for SuperWest Sports

It’s a long shot, but there’s a chance nonetheless.

If 2020 has taught the world anything, it’s that crazy things can happen out of nowhere. If there’s a time for UCLA football to shock the Conference and come out on top of the Pac-12 South, it is now.

Recent history would suggest otherwise. The Bruins have not had a winning season since 2015, when Josh Rosen was a freshman quarterback and the team finished with an 8-5 record. They haven’t won the division since 2012—Brett Hundley’s first year as a full-time starter.

Chip Kelly vs. Cincinnati in 2019. | Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Coach Chip Kelly also has not inspired confidence that he has again found the formula he used to succeed at Oregon. After going 46-7 in four years in Eugene, he has gone just 7-17, while his former team won the Pac-12 last season.

The hesitation from fans is warranted. What have the Bruins done to really improve themselves since a 4-8 finish almost 11 months ago?

The first couple of things are out of UCLA’s control.

One of the advantages of a seven-game season is the high level of variance. Over a longer season, teams with higher talent levels tend to win more games. But in a shorter year, one or two lucky bounces are the difference between a 3-4 year and a 5-2 one—possibly even the difference between a Conference Championship bid and a subpar season. 

Additionally, the lack of training camp in the spring and summer might help the Bruins. With an established quarterback and a third-year head coach, UCLA should have a leg up on teams trying to work in new coaches or quarterbacks.

Speaking of new quarterbacks, the Bruins are playing opponents with a new starting quarterback in the first three weeks. Colorado, Utah and Oregon all lost multi-year starters at the most important position, and replacing them without a full spring camp, and just about six weeks in the fall, will lead to growing pains for those teams.

Kelly also does not have to face a nonconference opponent in 2020. Teams outside of the Pac-12 have been Kelly’s kryptonite in his UCLA tenure, as he currently sits at 0-6 in two campaigns.

It’s good to have all those things going for Kelly’s team, but they only help if the Bruins also improve. And they should, especially in two key areas.


The first is the new defensive system brought in by coach Brian Norwood from his time at Navy. The 4-2-5 scheme UCLA is expected to employ should help the Bruins bounce back from a woeful 2019 passing defense— one that finished second-to-last in the nation in passing yards per game.

The second thing that should help is the experience of junior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson.


While I do not believe he will be one of the top quarterbacks in the conference, he does not have to in order to lead UCLA to a division title. All he has to do is cut down his interceptions—he ended 2019 with the ninth-most in the country—and stay healthy for all seven games.

If DTR can stay healthy, the new defense can fix the persistent problems, and the wildness of 2020 continues to cause chaos, the Bruins have a good shot of competing for the Pac-12 title in Week 7.

You can watch Perez’s Bruin Dash Sports Talk Show on Dash Sports TV, and read his other sports stories and columns at the Daily Bruin.

—More from Jack Perez—