Pac-12 Power Rankings entering Champ Week: Is it time for UCLA to pull the plug on Chip Kelly?
It’s time for UCLA to move on from Chip Kelly.
And, no, we will not be playing the “who are they gonna get?” game. Why? There is literally always someone. Sometimes they don’t work out, but then you pivot to the next someone. Hiring coaches is far from an exact science. But finding the guy is sort of the job if you’re a major college athletic director. Shy away from that part and you won’t last long.
Any time a school is faced with the question of firing a ho-hum coach, the crowd in support of stasis jumps up from their seats and asks if the next guy will be any better. That question rarely applies because in almost every instance that’s not even the central issue the person in charge of the coaching hire has to fix.
Would UCLA like to do better than 34-34 across six seasons? Surely. Chip Kelly’s 7-28 mark against teams that finished with a winning record has been bandied about since the embarrassing 33-7 loss to Cal went final. Does UCLA want to fare better in games that matter? Absolutely.
But the far more pressing issue for UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond — and others who find themselves in these situations — is that everyone who matters seems to have lost interest in supporting this regime any longer.
But UCLA has apparently decided that doing nothing is the right thing to do. Reports emerged Monday that Kelly will remain in Westwood.
Coaching changes are rarely about getting better so much as they are about resetting the base. Jarmond needs to sell season tickets. He needs interest. He needs donors to be happy.
None of those things are in place with Kelly, who doesn’t recruit high school kids with any success in an area where they’re falling off the palm trees; who doesn’t put his teams in a position to contend for conference championships now; and who doesn’t figure to put his teams in a position to contend for conference championships in the new, tougher league UCLA is walking into next season.
Coaching changes sell hope.
The people who matter seem to have lost hope in Kelly. And the situation in Westwood only grows more toxic by the day.
There was only one answer here. And UCLA appears to have gotten it wrong.
It’s once again time to update the Power Rankings, so let’s dive in.
12. Stanford Cardinal (3-9, 2-7 Pac-12)
Last week: 11
I like Troy Taylor but there is absolutely no denying this was an awful Stanford team. The Cardinal closed out the regular season at 109th in SP+ with the 118th-ranked defense by Bill Connelly’s adjusted efficiency metric. They are the lowest-ranked team in the predictive model and the second-worst Power Five, ahead of only Vanderbilt. The floor has officially been reached. Stanford played well in the Big Game and it beat Washington State, but it was thoroughly non-competitive in two of its final three games to close out the season. Oregon State was up 55-7 going into the fourth quarter. Notre Dame was up 49-16 going into the fourth quarter. I’m not totally convinced Stanford needs to go out and find a new quarterback — Ashton Daniels showed flashes and finished relatively even with Fernando Mendoza from an EPA standpoint — but the defense needs an overhaul. Stanford had the eighth-worst per-play defensive efficiency in the FBS and was the worst team in the country on third down.
11. Colorado Buffaloes (4-8, 1-8 Pac-12)
Last week: 12
The Buffs fought well without starting quarterback Shedeur Sanders, falling to Utah 23-17 to bring the season to an end with the same conference record as last year’s team. The difference is obvious to anyone who watched both CU teams, but plenty of work remains for Deion Sanders. Colorado actually looked fairly decent without Shedeur, with freshman Ryan Staub filling in and throwing for 195 yards with a touchdown against the Utes. He should have had another if not for a routine head-scratcher from Pac-12 officials.
10. Arizona State Sun Devils (3-9, 2-7 Pac-12)
Last week: 10
Arizona State just got blown off the field by Arizona, but this didn’t feel like the 70-7 game going the other way a few seasons ago. That destructive loss in Tucson said a lot about the depths to which Arizona had fallen. I don’t think a 59-23 loss to the Wildcats on Saturday included the same kind of commentary on ASU. Actually, I think this game was again a statement about Arizona — about how quickly the Wildcats have gone from awful to awesome. For a litany of reasons, Arizona State isn’t ready to compete with an awesome team, evidenced by back-to-back blowouts at the hands of such teams to end the year. What might have been if injuries hadn’t derailed this season? The parts were there for a fun offense and a gnarly defense. On to next year.
9. Washington State Cougars (5-7, 2-7 Pac-12)
Last week: 9
If you outgain your opponent on a per-play basis, you’re statistically very likely to win the football game. Washington State outgained Washington on the road in the Apple Cup, 5 yards to 4.9 yards. Slim margin, sure, but context matters. Everyone and their husky thought Washington was going to steamroll the Cougars. Except the Cougars. Cam Ward threw for 317 yards and three touchdowns and Washington State’s defense made life difficult once again for Michael Penix Jr. Penalties (10 for 85 yards) were costly and none were bigger than the controversial roughing called on Washington’s final drive that moved the ball into field goal range. As Washington State moves into the offseason, it has to find a way to reconfigure this offensive line, which has been bad for multiple seasons now.
8. USC Trojans (7-5, 5-4 Pac-12)
Last week: 8
USC was on a bye this past weekend, so this section is taking the week off as well.
7. UCLA Bruins (7-5, 4-5 Pac-12)
Last week: 5
Oof. Sorry, ooooooooooof. The Bruins were held to 4.6 yards a play, gave up six sacks, turned the football over three times, and went 1-for-5 in the red zone. If ever there was a performance that said “we don’t care anymore” it was this one on Senior Night. Maybe the most frustrating part of this season is watching what has happened to Dante Moore, a can’t-miss recruit who can’t seem to do anything but miss right now. He’s forced into the game because of an injury to Ethan Garbers and, after coming in cold, UCLA dials up a pass on third-and-8 from the red area that is tipped and picked off. The destruction of Moore’s confidence has been painful to watch.
6. Cal Golden Bears (6-6, 4-5 Pac-12)
Last week: 7
Cal lost four straight to ranked opponents and instead of throwing in the towel, it kept fighting and closed out the regular season with three consecutive wins. The reward is the program’s first bowl game since 2019. It’s hard to understate how important that is, as it affords Justin Wilcox an extra 15 practices to work with this team and build toward next season. A backfield with Fernando Mendoza and Jaydn Ott is a promising one, and those dudes made plays down the stretch to keep the push for the postseason alive.
5. Oregon State Beavers (8-4, 5-4 Pac-12)
Last week: 4
You could make the argument Oregon State should be lower. If this were a misery index, I’d agree. Oregon State got steamrolled by Oregon last Friday, 31-7. It lost its coach to Michigan State the next day, and a host of assistants are expected to follow. The Beavers will enter bowl season with a patchwork staff and whoever decides to stick around from the two-deep. This was a good team that was missing important pieces on the offensive line against the Ducks and was surely distracted. Oregon is also a great team. That’ll get you the result we saw to close out the regular season.
4. Utah Utes (8-4, 5-4 Pac-12)
Last week: 6
The Pac-12’s Coach of the Year award is going to be incredible. Kyle Whittingham absolutely deserves it. Jedd Fisch also absolutely deserves it. The coaches in the Pac-12 title game absolutely deserve it. Four-way split? That would be a cop-out. In a normal year, the job Whittingham has done with this Utah squad might see him run away with the award. They won a football game last Saturday with a fifth-string quarterback. They’ve reached eight wins despite injuries to every position of significance on both sides of the football. Utah beat Colorado 23-17. Not a flashy win, but it’s still a win.
3. Arizona Wildcats (9-3, 7-2 Pac-12)
Last week: 3
Arizona beat the Thanksgiving stuffing out of its in-state rival. On a day that just tore up the single-game section of Arizona’s record book, Noah Fifita and Tetairoa McMillan exploded. That connection was always going to blossom when Fifita took over at quarterback given their previous shared experience, but they could legitimately move into the 2024 season as one of the 10 or so best quarterback-receiver pairings in all of college football. Biletnikoff? Sure. Heisman? Put a bet on it when you get halfway-decent odds. Fifita threw for 527 yards and four touchdowns with a 12.9 yards-per-pass clip and a 73% completion rate. McMillan caught 11 of his 15 targets for 266 yards. This team is loaded going into the Big 12.
2. Washington Huskies (12-0, 9-0 Pac-12)
Last week: 1
Is something up with Michael Penix Jr.? Besides the weather? Because it feels like something is up. In Washington’s first six games, Penix averaged 10.7 yards per pass with a 72% completion rate and 20 touchdowns against only three picks. In the six games since beating Oregon, Penix has averaged 7.5 yards per pass with a 59% completion rate and 12 touchdowns against five picks. Ryan Grubb said on Monday teams are playing UW’s receivers more aggressively in man. Maybe the weight of 12-0 was weighing on him. But UW needed every bit of Penix’s magic to beat Oregon the first time and the Ducks are playing better football now than they were then. Penix has been making clutch plays for UW over the last few weeks, which is an encouraging sign, but Washington hasn’t scored a fourth-quarter touchdown since the USC game.
1. Oregon Ducks (11-1, 8-1 Pac-12)
Last week: 2
Unlike Washington, Oregon is rolling into the title rematch. And unlike Penix, Bo Nix has been obliterating defenses since the UW game in mid-October. Specifically over his last four games, Nix has averaged 11.3 yards per pass attempt with a 79% completion rate and 16 touchdowns against just one interception. He doesn’t get sacked, and pressure doesn’t really faze him — he has the best offensive grade of any qualified FBS passer when faced with pressure, per PFF — so that’s not much of an issue anyway. The Ducks shortened the game against Oregon State and completely dominated. They’re the favorite going into the title game, and it’s hard to argue against it.