It has been a disappointing season for Pac-12 football fans.
The University of Southern California entered the season with the No. 4 ranking, the perceived 2018 first overall pick, the best quarterback in college football, Sam Darnold, and their eyes set on the College Football Playoff. The No. 8 Washington Huskies were coming off of a Pac-12 championship and playoff appearance because of 43 TDs from quarterback Jake Browning.
Even the No. 14 Stanford Cardinals were set to compete for the Pac-12 title thanks to a great coach in David Shaw and their deep group of running backs to replace Christian McCaffrey. But as soon as the games started, it became clear that no team from the Pac-12 will be in the playoff this season.
Browning has only thrown for 18 touchdowns, and a loss in Palo Alto put Stanford in the Pac-12 title game and left the Huskies at home watching. But despite scouts’ preseason love for Darnold, this season has made it clear he isn’t even the best quarterback in Los Angeles, much less the country.
That other quarterback in LA is Josh Rosen, a top-rated recruit coming out of high school, who stayed in southern California to play at UCLA. The Bruins landing a top quarterback raised their expectations from competing for a chance to represent the South in the Pac-12 title game to playoff expectations. But it quickly became clear that UCLA wouldn’t fulfill those lofty expectations.
Rosen started as a true freshman in 2015 and played well, completing 60 percent of his passes and throwing for 3,668 yards. Rosen only played six games in his sophomore season after being injured, but came back healthy for 2017 and played his best season with minimal talent around him.
But with Rosen likely leaving for the NFL and a 46-30 record from head coach Jim Mora in his tenure, the program needed a new leader. Enter Pac-12 wizard Chip Kelly, who on Saturday, signed a five-year, $23.3 million contract with a $9 million buyout to be the head coach for UCLA. By the look and feel of this, it is a match made in heaven.
Kelly returned to the Pac-12, where from 2009-12, he didn’t just win at Oregon, he dominated. Oregon placed in the top 10 in scoring in every year of Kelly’s time as head coach, and more impressively, the team boasted a 46-7 record over that span. Three straight top four rankings, a BCS Championship appearance, a Rose Bowl and a Fiesta Bowl win not only made Oregon football a winning program, but it also made the team become its own brand.
A mostly irrelevant team on the national scale before the Kelly era, Oregon became the program others looked to. From their flashy uniforms to their flashy plays, Oregon was fast and fun. This new brand of football spread across college football with schools trying to replicate what Oregon had built, and just as quickly, the NFL followed suit.
The Philadelphia Eagles seemed like a perfect fit for Kelly in the NFL at the time, and after two straight 10-6 seasons, he was run out of town in Week 16 of his third year with the Eagles. He was walking on thin ice after getting rid of fan favorites LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. But what many will forget is that Kelly wasn’t a bad NFL coach — he was a bad NFL GM.
Now Kelly is back in his element: Pac-12 football, with a team who has lacked success in recent years and the chance to turn them around and build his own program. If he decided to take a more high profile job, like the University of Florida or Tennessee, he would have had to deal with the win-now expectation of playing in the SEC — but by going to UCLA, he has time.
He also has his quarterback of the future in Dorian Thompson-Robinson, the top dual-threat quarterback in the Class of 2018 who led Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) to the NIAA 4A State title appearance this season.
The combination of Kelly and Thompson-Robinson will bring Oregon’s old warp-speed offense to Westwood and bring much-needed excitement and flashback to the Pac-12. Since he left for the NFL in 2013, college programs have been looking everywhere for someone like him, but nobody realized the next Chip Kelly was actually Chip Kelly the entire time.