When Chip Kelly was hired at UCLA, he was a part of a new wave of Pac-12 coaching hires.
With him came Kevin Sumlin to Arizona, Herm Edwards to Arizona State, Mario Cristobal to Oregon and Johnathan Smith to Oregon State.
It was a rough start of his tenure and his rebuild was an exercise in patience but five years in, with the exception of Smith, Kelly has outlasted the rest of his class.
Five years after Kelly’s hire and we’re finally getting the high stakes return to Eugene. No. 9 UCLA and No. 10 Oregon enter Saturday as the only teams in the Pac-12 that is ranked among the Top 10.
The fate of the conference’s chances of representing a team in the College Football Playoff rests on the outcome of this game. Last week, the conference was USC’s to win until the Trojans blew it at Utah in a 43-42 thriller that for sure gave gamblers heart palpitations.
The SEC will always have two teams in the 4-team CFP until expansion eventually comes to fruition. Which means the other two spots will be fought between whomever comes out of the Big 12, Pac-12 and ACC with a perfect record.
If UCLA leaves Oregon with a win and remains undefeated, the Bruins will be in position to carry the conference banner through Stanford, Arizona State and Arizona on their way to the biggest battle for LA in the 21st century.
After an non-conference slate that lacked intrigue and a soft entry to Pac-12 play in Colorado, UCLA has won shootout after shootout against ranked opponents with Oregon being the third. The Bruins have averaged over 40 points per game and have destroyed the over/under every time.
Nobody knows how far this program has come than senior Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who has been the starting quarterback throughout Kelly’s tenure. Through six games, he has thrown for 1,510 yards and 15 touchdowns against 2 interceptions. He also has also scored four touchdowns on the run and is on pace to past his career high of nine set last season.
Speed and efficiency all the hallmarks of a Chip Kelly offense and this has been the year that Thompson-Robinson has played it to perfection.
“He’s completing the ball well, and when they run the ball, he’s a threat to run it,” Oregon head coach Dan Lanning said of Thompson-Robinson during his weekly press conference. “When you don’t turn it over, that’s a big piece. They’ve done a good job in that category, especially since early in the season. They’ve gotten better and better as the season has gone on.”
The newcomers have also had a part to play in the reshaping of UCLA’s fortunes. Last season was the Bruins’ firs winning season since 2015 and it was also running back Zach Charbonnet’s first season in Westwood. The Michigan transfer ran for 1,137 yards and 13 touchdowns last year and is on pace to top that this year with 615 yards and six TDs so far.
This year’s top reinforcement is wide receiver Jake Bobo. After a four-year career at Duke, the senior transferred to UCLA and quickly became Thompson-Robinson’s top target in the end zone, catching five of his 12 touchdowns including back-to-back two TD games.
Despite the bouquet of flowers thrusted upon them, the Bruins are underdogs for the third straight week. Both teams seem evenly matched and the tie usually goes to the home team. Regardless of who wins, this should be a close and fun game.
My pick: UCLA +6.5 and O70.5. Pair them together for a single game parlay if you’re feeling crazy.
Other Top 25 picks
Iowa +30 at No. 2 Ohio State
No. 14 Syracuse (+14) at No. 5 Clemson
No. 21 Cincinnati (-3) at SMU
No. 7 Ole Miss (-1) at LSU
No. 20 Texas at No. 11 Oklahoma State (+185)
Boston College at No. 13 Wake Forest (O60)
Memphis at No. 25 Tulane (-7)
No. 24 Mississippi State at No. 6 Alabama (O61)
Minnesota at No. 16 Penn State (-5)
No. 17 Kansas State at No. 8 TCU (-3.5)