Chip Kelly

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LA sports scene is buzzing, but will USC or UCLA join the fun in 2019?


The Los Angeles Rams are coming off their first Super Bowl appearance since arriving from St. Louis. The Los Angeles Dodgers are running away with the NL West Division at the all-star break. LeBron James is welcoming Anthony Davis in a Lakers uniform on one side of the Staples Center and Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are about to suit up in Clippers uniforms on the other side of the arena. The sports scene in Los Angeles is boiling right now with a lot of excitement throughout, yet the college football enthusiasm is, shall we say, tempered at the moment.

Simply put, the past year has not been particularly kind to the Los Angeles college football scene. USC saw head coach Clay Helton keep his job after one down season, much to the chagrin of some pundits and USC faithful, while the leadership of athletics director Lynn Swann continued to draw the ire of fans left and right. Meanwhile, the Trojans failed to play in a bowl game with a 5-7 record, marking the first time USC did not play in a postseason bowl game without being on a postseason ban since 2000.

The offseason has seen some troubling moments for the Trojans as well. Offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury left the program quickly to become the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals in the NFL, but not before some messy interference was in place within USC. The Trojans also had some players leave the program, but what program doesn’t see that happen. And the situation could have been worse if not for some players ultimately deciding to stay or come back to the Trojans.

What about the other college football team in Los Angeles? UCLA won just three games and was a mess for the entire first half of the season.

UCLA is about to enter the second season under head coach Chip Kelly. the hiring of Kelly was believed to be a good move considering his success in college while at Oregon, prior to his departure for the NFL. But Kelly’s return has not gone as smoothly as UCLA may have hoped. The Bruins won just three games in his first season, three fewer than the previous season under Jim Mora (and interim coach Jedd Fisch), and it was clear there is a lot of rebuilding to do with the Bruins. But there were some signs of progress as the season played on for UCLA with the team seeming to improve and compete better the more they played together in the second half of the season. A victory over USC certainly helped the cause. UCLA still needs to make some significant moves on the recruiting trail, however. Until they do, UCLA will be little more than a bridesmaid in Los Angles no matter what is happening across town.

Entering the 2019 season, there is little expectation either USC or UCLA will make a run for the Pac-12 title, nevermind a spot in the College Football Playoff. But both teams have a chance to improve this fall and make things a bit more interesting in a crowded sports scene in Los Angeles.

The last time the UCLA Bruins won the national championship…

UCLA 1954
File photo

Imagine being declared a national champion without getting a chance to play in a bowl game. In an age long before having over 40 bowl games on the postseason schedule, this oddity happened to the UCLA Bruins in 1954. After an undefeated regular season, UCLA was prevented from playing in the Rose Bowl as champions of the Pacific Coast Conference (the earlier form of what we know as the Pac-12 today) because of an old rule that did not allow a team to play in the Rose Bowl in consecutive seasons.

It didn’t matter that UCLA ran the table of a 9-0 schedule and outscored their opponents 367-40. It didn’t matter that UCLA dominated USC, who did play in the Rose Bowl, by a score of 34-0. It didn’t matter that UCLA defeated the reigning national champions from Maryland in a regular season game in October. It didn’t matter that No. 1 Ohio State was the Big Ten representative playing in the Rose Bowl, which would have given the Rose Bowl a true national championship game. The rules were the rules, and UCLA didn’t have any other bowl game to participate in at the time. As a result, UCLA claimed the national championship in a handful of polls, including the coaches poll. Ohio State, following their victory over USC in the Rose Bowl, was crowned the AP national champion.

It has been a long time since the UCLA Bruins ruled the college football world. The hiring of Chip Kelly generated some buzz for the program as Bruin fans began to envision a rise for the program similar to what Kelly experienced at Oregon as a national championship contending program. Since staking a claim to a national championship in the 1954 season, the Bruins have finished in the top 10 of the final AP standings just 12 times. The last time the UCLA program played in one of the current New Years Six bowl games was in the 1998 season’s Rose Bowl, and the last victory in a major bowl game came the previous season in the Cotton Bowl.

Perhaps there was good karma working for UCLA in 1954 as this was the season the Bruins officially unveiled their signature powder blue uniforms, a look that remains in place today. Head coach Red Sanders had his first and only undefeated season as a head coach, but the matchup the college football universe deserved to see was prohibited from happening because of archaic bowl game rules with the Rose Bowl. Thank goodness we never have to settle for such idiocy anymore.

Last National Title Season: 1954 (64 years and counting)

Who was President?

Dwight D. Eisenhower was in his second year in office at the White House. Eisenhower had a long run in the White House to go for the next handful of years, with Richard Nixon as his Vice President. Nixon, of course, would have a bit more influence in the college football world years later. As for our current Commander-In-Chief, Donald Trump was just eight years old in the Queens borough of New York City.

What was on TV?

In 1954, there were not a ton of TV options, so you were stuck with the three big networks. But for the first time, you could watch the Rose Parade in color thanks to NBC’s brand new state-of-the-art mobile color TV studio. The parade’s broadcast becomes a huge advertising opportunity for RCA, which made sure their color TV sets were in accessible areas to show off the latest and greatest in television viewing. RCA was trying to push their new big screen TV sets, bringing 15-inch color sets to the market for the first time.

This year also marked the first time you could watch the Miss America Beauty Contest on TV. A total of 27 million tuned in to watch.

Among the notable shows on the air in 1954 include “Adventures of Superman,” “American Bandstand,” “Candid Camera,” “Dragnet,” “Howdy Doody,” “I Love Lucy,” and “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Making their television debuts in 1954 were “Lassie” and”The Tonight Show.”

What movies were hot?

Forget about Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. A Star is Born hit the big screen in 1954, starring Judy Garland and James Mason. Naturally, this was also a remake of a 1937 film, so don’t be shocked if this one is remade once again in another 50 or 60 years. This one was a big deal because it marked the return of Garland to film in four years. Over in Japan, the first Godzilla movie was introduced. It would go on to become the longest-running film series in history and is still getting new movies to this day.

A few other classics took in big numbers at the box office in 1954 as well, including the classic White Christmas and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

At the Oscars, Marlon Brando took home Best Actor for his role in On the Waterfront. Brando also won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Drama. John Wayne was the big money maker at the time, however, followed by Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.

What else happened in 1954?

The Cleveland Browns won the NFL championship with a blowout of the Detroit Lions in the NFL Championship Game. The Cleveland Indians were also in the World Series, but they were swept by the New York Giants.

The Minneapolis Lakers won their third consecutive NBA championship, and fifth in six years, with a seven-game series victory over the Syracuse Nationals.

Coming into the 1954 season, the Maryland Terrapins were the defending national champions despite losing to Oklahoma the previous season. Conference champions in 1954 included Ohio State (Big Ten), Arkansas (Southwest Conference), Ole Miss (SEC), Duke (ACC) and Oklahoma (Big Seven — SEVEN!). West Virginia took the Southern Conference and Texas Tech won the Border Intercollegiate Athletic Association.

Wisconsin’s Alan Ameche took home the Heisman Trophy and Ron Beagle of Navy won the Maxwell Award.

Yankees legend Joe DiMaggio married Marilyn Monroe.

Legendary UCLA men’s basketball coach John Wooden was in his sixth season as the head coach of the Bruins and had yet to get UCLA past a fourth-place finish. A decade later, Wooden won his first national championship. He would coach UCLA to nine more during his storied career.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban was three years old. Chip Kelly was born nine years later.

The tough road back to national championship glory

UCLA is a program that has found it tough to build a national championship contender, although they have certainly had some good years. A possible shot at a national championship was washed away by the Miami Hurricanes at the end of the 1998 regular season. The No. 3 UCLA Bruins rescheduled a game at Miami for the end of the regular season and was all that stood in the way of a perfect regular season, but Miami sent the Bruins home with a 49-45 loss to eliminate the Bruins from the national championship picture. UCLA dropped from No. 2 in the BCS standings in the inaugural year of the BCS and Florida State moved into the second spot to face Tennessee in the BCS National Championship Game, which turned out to be Tennessee’s most recent national title).

Since 1998, UCLA has finished in the top 10 just once with a No. 10 finish in 2014 under Jim Mora. Mora fizzled out and was replaced by Kelly, who made his return to the college game after a rough run in the NFL. Kelly’s first season at UCLA was a tough one with a 3-9 record, but there were some signs of improvement as the season played out. Does that mean UCLA is ready to surge in the Pac-12? That may still require some work to improve the program and the roster, but things could be looking up for UCLA in the next few years.

David Shaw predicts future Stanford-UCLA Pac-12 Championship Game with Chip Kelly

Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Stanford and UCLA played a wildly entertaining high-scoring game over the weekend that largely flew under the radar given the other significant games in the Pac-12 this past weekend with USC looking to ruin Notre Dame’s playoff hopes and the Apple Cup carrying its own playoff and Pac-12 championship implications. But if you watched it, Stanford head coach David Shaw believes you got a glimpse into the future of the Pac-12 championship battles to come between the Cardinal and Bruins.

Praising his counterpart at UCLA, Chip Kelly, Shaw lauded the first-year UCLA head coach on a fine job this season after Stanford topped UCLA 49-42 Saturday in the Rose Bowl.

I truly believe this is the future of the Pac-12 Championship Game right here,” Shaw said after the game. “What (Kelly) is starting to do here, I’m really excited for him. Thankful that we won the game today, but give a lot of credit to him. It’s going to be a lot of fun watching these two teams play over the next few years.”

UCLA ended its season with a record of just 3-9, but the Bruins played better in the second half of the season and scored a highlight win against USC, which put the rival Trojans on the brink of not being bowl-eligible (which became official with a loss to Notre Dame). Despite the record, UCLA became a fun team to watch, and Shaw certainly seemed to agree with that sentiment. Of course, Shaw also is taking a shot at USC, whether he intended that to be the case or not.

Stanford and UCLA have met in the Pac-12 Championship Game once, with the Cardinal topping the Bruins 27-24 in 2012. That was UCLA’s last appearance in the game. Stanford has played in the game three times since.

As USC struggles, can Chip Kelly and UCLA seize an opportunity?

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No matter what happens this weekend, UCLA will not be going to a bowl game in the first season with Chip Kelly as a head coach. At 2-8, that end result was determined weeks ago. Despite taking a while to get things seemingly together, UCLA will meet with their crosstown rivals from USC this week, and the timing could not have been better for Kelly and the Bruins.

USC was officially ruled out of the running for the Pac-12 South Division last week as they fell to 5-5 this season. The pressure on head coach Clay Helton has seemed to be on the rise as frustrations about the Trojans continues to build this season. The possibility of a coaching change has become a bit of a popular talking point for some as college football gets the coaching carousel greased up and ready to go at full force. And with Notre Dame coming to Los Angeles next week with their own College Football Playoff hopes potentially on the line, this week against the Bruins feels like it could be a must-win game for USC.

That alone makes this a pretty important game for Kelly and UCLA as well, even more so than it already was destined to be by default. Kelly will have an opportunity to really stick it to his new rival with an opposing head coach under an increasing amount of pressure by putting USC’s own bowl hopes on the edge of a cliff, with the Irish coming to town to give the final nudge.

A win for Kelly would help give UCLA’s recruiting efforts an extra sales pitch to make. As UCLA is looking to build something, they could be responsible for potential changes going on at USC. USC is rarely going to lose out in the recruiting battles and the Trojans will always have quality recruiting hauls, but Kelly would benefit by having a head-to-head win against USC, and this year would be a great way to end his first season at UCLA.

UCLA loses third player to season-ending head injury this week

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On Wednesday, running back Bolu Olorunfunmi was added to the list of Bruins players set to miss playing time due to concussion concerns. Olorunfunmi, who will sit out for the rest of the 2018 season, was the third player this week reportedly being ruled out for the remainder of the 2018 season by head coach Chip Kelly.

Earlier this week, Kelly announced starting linebacker Jaelan Phillips and running back Soso Jamabo were out due to their own head injury concerns.

Olorunfunmi was UCLA’s leading rusher in 2017 with 565 yards and five touchdowns. Jamabo was the second-leading rusher for the Bruins after appearing in 10 games with 446 yards and a team-high six rushing touchdowns a year ago. The 2018 season has been quite a different year for both senior running backs. Jamabo has appeared in just three games with five rushing attempts for 12 yards, and Olorunfunmi has appeared in all six games with 31 rushing attempts for 85 yards; he is also tied for the most rushing touchdowns for UCLA with four this season.

Phillips appeared in four games for the Bruins, in which he recorded 20 total tackles and one sack this season. Phillips had been listed as UCLA’s starter at outside linebacker, with redshirt freshman Odusa Isibor listed as his backup at the position. Redshirt sophomore Mique Juarez has been listed as the other backup outside linebacker on the UCLA depth chart this season.

With more attention and care given to head injuries around the football world, it is not surprising to see players have to cut their seasons short, and the losses on the depth chart can never come at a good time for any program. Losing three players in the same week is especially difficult as Kelly is looking to finally build off the team’s first win of the season.

UCLA hosts Arizona this week in Pac-12 play. The Wildcats will be without starting quarterback Khalil Tate.