Out of Bounds: UCLA Football Season Projections, Oregon Preview
In the season’s seventh football episode of “Out of Bounds,” Daily Bruin’s sports podcast, Sports editor Sam Settleman and senior staff writer Jon Christon look big picture at No. 9 UCLA football’s season and discuss the team’s matchup at No. 10 Oregon on Saturday.
Jon Christon: Hi, my name is Jon Christon, and this is Out of Bounds, Daily Bruin’s sports podcast.
JC: Hi, hello everyone. Welcome back to another episode of Out of Bounds. I am your host, Jon Christon, a senior staff writer here at the Daily Bruin. We’re here to talk about some more UCLA football. As I am every week, I’m joined by Sports editor Sam Settleman, who has had some bad takes in the past, but new season, halfway through the season, I want to give Sam a break. Sam, what’s up?
Sam Settleman: Not much. Bye week honestly felt like a bye week for me too. so I’m feeling refreshed, ready to go, ready to have some good takes now.
JC: Finally. That would be a first for Sam this season. But again, we’ve turned a corner. Not going to make fun of Sam for his bad takes from the first half of the season. As Sam said, it’s a bye week this week. We’re here to take a breath, look at the big picture, see what’s going on because this is a big-picture season for UCLA. So let’s talk big picture. Right now, me and Sam are going to talk about best case, worst case for the rest of this UCLA football season halfway through. Sam, I’m going to be the optimist this week, honestly because he kind of needs it right now. He has not had some good takes. I’ve always called him a hater. Let’s see what optimist Sam is like. Sam, what is the best-case scenario?
SS: The sky is truly the limit for this team right now, and you have that luxury when you’re a Power Five team and you’re undefeated. But this UCLA team, that’s 6-0 right now, and they can really do no wrong. I mean, you win out the rest of this year and you win the Pac-12 championship game in Vegas, you’re in the College Football Playoff. And it sounds insane to say, and if you had brought that up to me at the beginning of this year, I would have called you insane and rightfully so. And I still think I’m insane saying it right now. But yeah, best-case scenario truly is UCLA wins their next six games, wins the Pac-12 championship game and they’re in the College Football Playoff. Is that going to happen? Probably not, but it’s a realistic scenario that’s on the table right now and there’s no denying that.
JC: If you would have told me at the start of the season that UCLA had a chance to make the College Football Playoff – halfway through the season, not even at the end – six games in, Sam, I would have called you crazy. You are crazy but, like, I would have called you more crazy. That’s absolutely absurd that that’s a real possibility.
JC: Let’s just look ahead to UCLA’s final six games this season. They’re at Oregon next week, versus Stanford at home, at Arizona State, at home against Arizona and USC and then at Cal. That’s a lot of winnable games. But that at Oregon game, at home versus USC, those games are going to be big, big tests for UCLA. Those are the make-or-break games of the season. And right now, worst case is if they lose to both of those, both to Oregon and USC – fall flat on their face against Oregon, USC, who are both going to be top 10. Those games are going to national TV. If they lose both of those in embarrassing fashion, I don’t think anyone’s going to be talking about UCLA like they are now. But that’s not the worst worst-case scenario. I know I said Oregon, USC are the big tests, but Stanford, Arizona State, Arizona, Cal – all winnable games. Worst case is if they fall to one of those teams because that is, that shouldn’t happen at this point. UCLA is better than all those teams. All those teams are bad. Arizona is probably the best of those four, which is a lot to say considering Arizona almost went winless last year. Cal just lost to Colorado who loyal listeners know, Colorado sucks. Stanford beat Notre Dame this week, but they’re bad too. Arizona State fired their coach halfway through the season. If UCLA loses any of those games and finishes 9-3, which again, at the start of the season 9-3 could have been the best-case scenario and you wouldn’t have been crazy. But at this point, if they finished 9-3, that is bad. They need to at least go 10-2. Anything lower than 9-3, that’s a whole nother conversation. But I don’t think that’s possible. I think 9-3 is their floor right now. That’s worst case. At that point, you look at Alamo Bowl, you look at Vegas Bowl, Holiday Bowl maybe, which has a lot to say that that’s the worst case right now. But I think Sam and I would agree that that’s the floor.
SS: Before the year, I predicted the best-case scenario for UCLA this year was 10-2. And that was a reasonable take, you know, they didn’t have the hardest schedule in the world. And now that’s more or less their floor. I mean, I think you said at 9-3 is probably their realistic floor, but 10-2 is very much within the realm of possibility and might even be a step down from where their trajectory is headed right now. So that’s crazy to say, considering that was my best case at the beginning of this year. But that’s the kind of season UCLA is putting together right now.
JC: We’ve talked about best case, we’ve talked about worst case – Sam, what is your prediction for this season?
SS: I’m going say exactly that: 10-2, what my best case was coming into this year. I think it might not come in the same fashion that everybody’s expecting, Oregon and USC losses. I think maybe they get a win at Oregon in Eugene this weekend and then lose that crosstown showdown to USC and maybe drop, you know, an unexpected loss to Arizona or Arizona State, whatever it might be. We’ve seen it happen before with this team. And I don’t think it’s necessarily to say anything negative about this team and Chip Kelly and where they’re at right now. But teams lose trap games all the time. I think it might happen. And then USC, obviously you can’t fault them for a loss to USC. So I’m going to say 10-2. And yeah, we’ll see where that leaves them in terms of bowl opportunities.
JC: You mentioned trap games. I think Arizona State – we’ll get to them when that week rolls around – I think that’s the biggest trap game on the schedule. New coach, they look like they have more energy. They’re coming off a win against Washington. That’s a scary matchup at Arizona State in Tempe. We’ll see. But my prediction, I think they win that game. Oh, I know, I said I would be the pessimist this episode. But give me 11-1 for this regular season, make the Pac-12 championship. I think that happens. I don’t know which one they lose to. I think they probably lose one of those games. Just, you know, that’s what odds would say. But 11-1 is still, you know, may not be College Football Playoff, but you still make the Pac-12 championship game. And probably that game is going to be for the right to go to the Rose Bowl, and that is huge for this program, especially heading into the Big Ten. If you have a chance to make the Rose Bowl— you know, they play there every game, or every home game, but actually playing in the Rose Bowl is different and they haven’t done that in a while. But could you imagine a Pac-12 championship, UCLA-USC for the right to go to the Rose Bowl, UCLA versus Oregon for the right to go to the Rose Bowl? That’d be absolutely electric, Sam. That’s what I’m hoping. Maybe I’m trying to manifest that 11-1 season. Right now, one loss gets you into the Pac-12 championship game, because UCLA will have the tiebreaker over Utah, and either Oregon or USC in that scenario. That’d be huge for this program.
Storylines to watch:
JC: Sam, what is one storyline you’re going to watch out for for the rest of this season?
SS: I think this is an obvious one, and it’s been the storyline for most of this season, and it’s DTR. I think he’s put together, you know, maybe a culmination of what everyone expected when he got here. And we’ve seen it in flashes, we’ve seen it one game at a time and now we’re seeing it over a full season. And granted, we’re six games in right now. But DTR looks like, you know, the polished player that you expect out of a fifth-year guy. And you pair that with his talent, and I think he’s really putting together a special season. I know he’s getting the Heisman buzz right now. And you know, Jon, I know you think maybe it’s a little too much hype, and maybe it is, but that’s the way the media works these days, I guess. But yeah, he’s definitely in that conversation that I think if he continues to play the way he does, and they end up with an 11-1 season, like you just predicted, he’ll be in that conversation at the end of the year. And that’s crazy to say, because it hasn’t happened for UCLA in a long, long time. But DTR is playing at that level right now. And if he plays mistake-free football, and he shows off that talent that we all know he’s capable of, I think he’ll be in the Heisman conversation at the end of the year.
JC: Talk about the end of the year, he’s in the conversation right now. I see reporters from The Athletic, CBS Sports putting him second on their Heisman hype list, which is a little absurd to me, you know. I think we need to pump the brakes maybe a little bit. His numbers just aren’t as good as the other, you know— he has good completion percentage, good stats like that, but only 1,500 passing yards. I know I’m saying only, it’s a lot for him. But that’s not, you know, near the top of the top quarterbacks, the big passers, guys like Bryce Young, Hooker from Tennessee. But we’ll see, you know. He’s popular, he runs the ball well, he can get a lot of touchdowns, scores a lot. And game against Oregon, national TV “GameDay,” game against USC is going to be national TV, you know. If he performs well in front of a national audience that really could catapult him into, you know, not just conversation but into a finalist by, you know, in a few weeks’ end. People are going to write his name down for a trip to New York, which again would be huge for the program.
SS: Yeah. I mean, I think you mentioned it a little bit, but part of being in that Heisman conversation isn’t all about the numbers. It’s about, you know, showing up in the big moments, showing up on national TV. And I think with the new Pac-12 championship game format, maybe it is UCLA-USC in the Pac-12 championship at the end of the year, and DTR has a crazy game and that’s his big moment. So you never know. I mean, I think it’s more than just the numbers. And that’s maybe why he’s getting the hype that he is getting right now.
JC: We may be getting ahead of ourselves a little bit talking about UCLA-USC Pac-12 championship. I brought it up. That would be bonkers. That’d be insane. Let’s manifest that. Storyline I’m going to be looking out for starts with the defense because I think that was what a lot of people were looking for coming in here. You know, Jerry Azzinaro was not a good defense coordinator. UCLA’s defense sucked, capital-S Sucked the last four years. And so I think a lot of people were looking, you know, is Bill McGovern going to change things, like tangible changes that can actually put us in these big games? Because over the last few years, UCLA hasn’t been able to compete against Utah, against Oregon because, you know, these teams had good offenses and they would, when the big moments came, the other team would be able to score at will and, you know, Dorian would make a mistake or something like that. Pressure is on the defense this week. Oregon has a good, good offense. We’ll talk about them in a sec. USC is a really good offense. Pac-12 has a lot of good offenses. So far they’ve been good, you know. Utah, Washington both have solid offenses and they played them well. So we’ll see if that’s going to be the make-or-break thing because I think the offense is rock solid. I think you know what you’re going to get from Zach Charbonnet. At this point, fifth-year senior, you should know what you’re going to get from Dorian Thompson-Robinson. Chip Kelly, I think, is an offensive genius. But it all comes down to the defense. If they’re giving up 50 points to Oregon, if they’re giving up 50 points to USC, that’s a lot of pressure on this offense. So that’s where it’s going to come down to this season between, you know, a nice 8-4, 9-3 season versus 11-1, competing for a Pac-12 championship, is you need that defense. And right now, I still think the verdict’s yet to be decided on that, you know. Had a few good games, we’ll see.
JC: Let’s talk about UCLA’s is next game. We’ve hinted at it, but huge, absolutely huge matchup this week at Oregon. “College GameDay” will be there. It is— UCLA is ninth in the country, Oregon is 10th. First top-10 matchup for a Pac-12 game since 2018. I think that was Washington-Washington State. This is huge for the program, this is huge for everyone. But again, “College GameDay,” Sam and I will be in Eugene for that game. We’re excited. Sam, are you excited to wake up at 5 a.m. to go to “College GameDay”?
SS: Absolutely not. But I’m sure it’ll be worth it regardless.
JC: Looking like some bad weather, which may be a factor in the game. It’s going to be raining, going to be wet, going to be cold, especially for LA people like us. Oregon is a good team. I know they lost 49-3 in the season opener versus Georgia, but since then they won five in a row. They’re undefeated in conference play with wins over Washington State, Stanford, Arizona. Kind of like UCLA in that good offense, particularly good on the ground. Not so much defense, a lot of question marks on defense. So Sam, what should UCLA fans be watching for in this game?
SS: Yeah, I mean, this has been the theme of our episode today. But let’s talk big picture here a little bit.
JC: OK, Ben Bolch.
SS: Obviously, this game is huge for a multitude of reasons, and you just broke them down a little bit. But I mean, it can’t be understated enough, this is a top-10 matchup. And this completely changes, you know— you’re midway through the season, this is going to completely change the outlook for the rest of the year. You win this game, go to 7-0, three straight wins over ranked opponents. That’s a legit team that, you know, people do not want to face and people respect, and they’re going to be obviously still in the top 10 at that point. You lose this game though, then you start to question maybe, was the 6-0 start for real? You know, everybody talked about it at the beginning of the year but we’ve kind of forgot about it. UCLA played three nonconference opponents that really didn’t give them much of a challenge. And they play Colorado, one of the worst teams in Power Five, beat them handily. And then you get Washington. It’s a top-15 matchup, but now was Washington looking back on it, was Washington the 15th team in the country? Maybe not. You get Utah, that’s obviously a quality win, a quality home win. So now you gotta prove you can beat that caliber opponent on the road. And I think if they do that, that’s going to make this team gain a lot more respect than they’re already getting. And if they don’t, people are going to start to question, you know, is UCLA a top-10 team? Did they really deserve all the hype that they’ve been getting for their 6-0 start?
JC: A win really does help the resume. That’s three straight ranked opponents and, you know, College Football Playoff rankings come out in a few weeks. This is a really good resume. This could be, I don’t know about top five, but they’re in that conversation certainly. Definitely the best team in the Pac-12 if they win this. But, you know, have to watch out for Bo Nix. He had a tough game against Georgia, the Auburn transfer, but absolutely has looked electric the last few weeks, is neck-and-neck with Dorian Thompson-Robinson I think for Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year. We’ll see. Bucky Irving on the ground and then our old friend Chase Cota through the air. Definitely will be a fun game to watch. I don’t know, I could see us getting blown out, I can see us coming in there and punching them in the mouth first like we did last year versus Oregon. Sam, what are you predicting for this game?
SS: I’m going to take UCLA by a field goal maybe.
JC: Nicholas Barr-Mira hive stand up.
SS: Opposite of last year’s UCLA-Oregon game, but I think UCLA has what it takes to go into Eugene and win this one.
JC: Give me Oregon by two scores. I’m not going to put an actual number on this. I just think Oregon right now – going into Autzen, a place they haven’t won since 2004, not great weather. This team could just, you know— I still don’t know if Bill McGovern’s defense is legit yet. I think Oregon could come in, put up two touchdowns right away. Dorian Thompson-Robinson, you know – Oregon doesn’t have the best defense, but this could be right up there with Utah as the best defense he’s played. He played well against Utah. You know, UCLA played Oregon close last year, but this is a whole different environment in Autzen. Student section will be wild, “GameDay” is going to be there. A lot of pressure on this team and I just, it’s a lot to ask. I think many UCLA fans will agree with me that, you know, anytime something’s going well, something bad happens and something changes in the season. And unfortunately, I think this may be coming this Saturday in Eugene.
JC: That’s going to wrap us up here at Out of Bounds. Shout out to Sam for coming on this week. Just the two of us like the old days. But yeah, Out of Bounds is brought to you by the Daily Bruin, UCLA’s student newspaper. You can listen to this show and others by the Daily Bruin on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and SoundCloud, and a transcript for this show is always available at dailybruin.com.