The UCLA football team is coming off of its first winning season since 2015 and has all the potential to do it again this season.
The Bruins return a solid foundation led by quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, running back Zach Charbonnet and Coach Chip Kelly, who signed a two-year extension during the offseason.
But questions remain for this program ahead of Saturday’s season opener against Bowling Green at the Rose Bowl.
Here’s a look at five burning questions facing UCLA going into the season.
What are the expectations for Chip Kelly and UCLA in 2022?
The Bruins have the talent and a favorable schedule that could make this a winning season, but there is a difference between a winning record and a successful season.
UCLA should be the favorite to win its first five games (four at home and one at Colorado) before hosting defending Pac-12 champion Utah on Oct. 8.
The Bruins didn’t beat any teams with winning records while compiling their 8-4 record last season. A successful 2022 would need to include a key victory or two over teams such as Utah, Oregon or USC – the kind of wins that would make UCLA a true contender for a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game and a possible Rose Bowl berth.
The Bruins haven’t played in a bowl game since 2017. They were bowl eligible last season but their Holiday Bowl showdown against North Carolina State was canceled just hours before kickoff because of COVID-19 protocols within the UCLA program.
Does Zach Charbonnet have a legitimate chance to win the Heisman Trophy?
Yes and no. The Oaks Christian High alumnus has the talent to be considered for the prestigious award, but several factors that could keep him out of the mix.
Charbonnet received some Heisman mentions early last season after a high-profile win against LSU, but the Bruins won’t have those same opportunities this fall with their three nonconference games all being aired on the Pac-12 Network. No matter how impressive Charbonnet looks in September, games against Bowling Green, Alabama State and South Alabama do not figure to move the needle much when it comes to national attention.
Who will run the offense for the Bruins this season?
UCLA lost all three of its coordinators during the offseason, including offensive coordinator Justin Frye. While Kelly hired a new defensive coordinatior and special teams coordinator, he didn’t hire a new offensive coordinator.
Kelly appears to be reverting to his strategy from 2018, when he didn’t initially start his UCLA tenure with an offensive coordinator, and will call the plays from the sideline. Kelly is well known for his unique style on offense and with Thompson-Robinson back for a fifth season to lead the way, there shouldn’t be a lack of communication on game day.
What are the expectations for this defense?
The defense features four new coaches, including defensive coordinator Bill McGovern, and nine new starters. The Bruins had some level of consistency among their starters in each of the last two seasons, but this season will feature a new wave of players with a mix of experienced transfers. The soft early schedule could benefit this unit, giving it time to find its stride.
Linebacker Bo Calvert and safety Stephan Blaylock are the only returning starters from last season, having played in all 12 games.
What will attendance be like this season?
That remains to be seen, but there is a lot that could factor into low turnouts this season, especially this weekend. The temperature is expected to climb above 100 degrees on Saturday for the 11:30 a.m. kickoff.
The university is doing its best to provide hydration stations and misters in select areas to help relieve some of the heat for fans.
An empty-looking Rose Bowl under similar conditions last season against Hawai’i led to a discussion on social media about UCLA’s poor turnout. The university announced a crowd of 32,982 for that game, just above the program’s record low (32,513) for a home game. Temperatures were in the high 90s, and it was one of the first public college sporting events to take place after L.A. County loosened some health restrictions.
With a ranked SEC opponent and the travel-friendly LSU fan base in town the following week, attendance increased dramatically for the nationally televised night game. The Bruins do not feature any high-profile draws among this year’s nonconference opponents.