5 burning questions facing UCLA football ahead of season opener – Press Enterprise

5 burning questions facing UCLA football ahead of season opener – Press Enterprise

Even though it’s a COVID-shortened 2020 season that includes seven Pac-12 games, beginning next Saturday at Colorado, the UCLA football team is hoping to rebound from back-to-back losing seasons.

Here are the five burning questions entering next week’s season opener.


This is anyone’s guess, especially after winning just seven games combined the previous two seasons and with a team that doesn’t bring back a wealth of experience or big-time NFL prospects.

UCLA had a favorable nonconference schedule before COVID, which would have given it a good chance to win seven or eight games and finish above .500. But when the Pac-12 submitted the new six-game schedules, with a seventh game based on seedings to conclude the Pac-12 season, it made the Bruins’ chances of finishing .500 tough.

Oregon, which wasn’t on the Bruins’ schedule before, is now among their six opponents, along with Utah and crosstown rival USC. The Bruins will likely be big underdogs in those games and will need to play perfect in their three others against more winnable opponents. UCLA opens next weekend with Colorado, and games against Arizona and Arizona State are its best chances to win. So, if the Bruins finish .500 or better, that would exceed expectations by most observers.


Everyone has raved about junior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s improved conditioning when he arrived in camp. If the Bruins are to have any chance rebounding after two awful seasons, the third-year starting QB with the most experience in the Pac-12 will have to deliver.

For Thompson-Robinson, it’s all about the consistency that has made him boom-or-bust, particularly last season. Although he threw for 2,701 yards and 21 touchdowns, the dual-threat QB also was a turnover machine, tying South Mississippi’s Jack Abraham for most giveaways in the country with 19 on 12 interceptions and seven fumbles. If Thompson-Robinson can limit the turnovers and make a big third-year leap, he gives the Bruins the best chance of having a better season than most expect.


While it might not seem fair to judge Kelly during a COVID-abbreviated season that didn’t have a normal training camp, this is Kelly’s third season and these are his players, his coaching staff and his system. The time to show some progress has come.

Kelly has won just seven games in his two seasons – 3-9 in 2018 and 4-8 last year – for the worst two-year start for a Bruins coach since James Cline won just two games combined during the 1923 and ’24 seasons.

Kelly hasn’t had the greatest recruiting classes, and there are not a lot of players on UCLA’s roster projected to be high draft picks in next year’s NFL draft, but these are Kelly’s recruits and Bruins fans are tired of the losing and want to see progress.

For a lot of coaches, this might be an asterisk season, but the Bruins and Kelly can’t just punt this one away. It’s time for him to show why UCLA invested a five-year, $23 million contract in him. The Bruins were hoping to get the coach who turned Oregon into a national power, not the one who struggled in the NFL. And with new athletic director Martin Jarmond watching closely, you have to think the pressure’s on.


That is the million-dollar question. The U.S. set a single-day record for COVID-19 cases Thursday with more than 90,000. On the same day, Los Angeles County reported its highest number of new cases since late August with 1,745.

Fortunately for the Bruins, since practice began three weeks ago, the team has not reported one positive case of COVID-19, but did have a recent false positive scare. With college games around the country continuing to cancel because of positive tests or because some county and state officials have returned to harsher stay-at-home guidelines with cases rising, UCLA is taking a day-by-day, week-by-week attitude and hoping to play as many games as it can.