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Pac-12 preview: Can 2021 Bruins help Chip Kelly keep his job?

Entering fourth year of a five-year contract, UCLA coach still looking for first winning season at the tradition-rich school

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UCLA Bruins head football coach Chip Kelly looks on during game against Utah in Salt Lake City on Nov. 16, 2019.

UCLA head coach Chip Kelly looks on during game against Utah in Salt Lake City on Nov. 16, 2019. Kelly was supposed to lead a UCLA resurgence when he arrived in 2017, but the Bruins have gone 10-21 in three seasons.

Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

Editor’s note: Eighth in a series of stories examining the 12 football programs in the Pac-12.

As coach Chip Kelly enters his fourth season at UCLA, he has yet to produce a winning campaign. 

The Bruins could end that dubious streak in 2021 with almost all of their players on offense and defense returning from last season.

UCLA’s offense averaged 35.4 points last season, up from a 26.7 average in 2019. 

Meanwhile, Kelly is on the hot seat. 

The Bruins return junior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and there’s depth behind him with Chase Griffin, who played well when spelling Thompson-Robinson last season, and there’s Washington transfer Ethan Garbers. 

The QBs will have talented wideouts to target, including Keontez Lewis, Texas A&M transfer Kam Brown and D.J. Justice. Tight end Greg Dulcich is one of the best in the country at that position, having caught 26 passes for 517 yards and a team-high five touchdowns last season. His 19.9 yards per catch average was the nation’s second-best among tight ends. 

While last year’s leading rusher, Demetric Felton Jr., turned pro, Brittain Brown and Michigan transfer Zach Charbonnet are expected to be among those getting the carries. 

On defense, the Bruins will have to replace defensive tackle Osa Odighizuwa, a third-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys. 

Returning are junior linebackers Caleb Johnson and Bo Calvert. Johnson topped the team with 44 tackles and 5 ½ sacks in 2020. 

UCLA improved from No. 113 in total defense in 2019 to No. 71 in 2020. 

The Bruins visit Utah on Oct. 30. 

Word on the street

“In the spirit of transparency, there are some things Kelly needs to understand about keeping his job. His 10-21 record represents the Bruins’ worst three-year stretch since the early 1920s, when they were known as the Southern Branch Grizzlies … Yes, Bruins athletic director Dan Guerrero might have written the equivalent of a blank check when he hired you, but successor Martin Jarmond will be authorized to stop payment and cover that $9-million buyout if necessary. And it’s getting close. You can’t go 3-9, 4-8 and 3-4 to start a five-year contract and expect an extension unless you expect UCLA to change its motto to ‘Chumps made here.’ ... You said it yourself in September 2019, after your team became the first in UCLA history to lose to San Diego State: You are what your record says you are. Sorry to be so blunt, but your record is pathetic. ... Start winning big now or it’s over.”

— Ben Bolch, writing for the Los Angeles Times

By the numbers

2020 record: 3-4 (3-4 Pac-12)

Returning starters: Offense: 9, defense: 10

Local ties

LB Ioholani Raass (Skyridge HS)  

2021 schedule

Aug. 28 Hawaii

Sept. 4 LSU

Sept. 18 Fresno State

Sept.  25 @ Stanford

Oct. 2 Arizona State

Oct. 9 @ Arizona

Oct. 16 @ Washington

Oct. 23 Oregon

Oct. 30 @ Utah

Nov. 13 Colorado

Nov. 20 @ USC

Nov. 27 California