Would going 8-4 leave UCLA football fans in a chipper mood over their embattled coach?

UCLA coach Chip Kelly looks on during a game
UCLA coach Chip Kelly looks on during a game against Washington on Oct. 16. Would an 8-4 season be enough to keep Kelly around in Westwood for at least another season?
(Steph Chambers / Getty Images)

UCLA could very well finish the regular season 8-4, a level of success the program hasn’t achieved since posting that same record in 2015.

But what would it mean?

The last time UCLA went 8-4, it was considered a wild disappointment. The Bruins got overrun by Nebraska in the Foster Farms Bowl, resulting in a new offensive coordinator and a change in philosophy designed to make the team more physical to match up with teams like the Cornhuskers and Stanford (it didn’t work).

Matching that record this season would allow UCLA to play in another mid-tier bowl while satisfying those in the save-Chip-Kelly camp. The embattled coach’s supporters could point to three consecutive wins to close the regular season as well as an upward trajectory from 3-9 to 4-8 to 3-4 to 8-4 in Kelly’s four seasons while qualifying for a bowl for the first time since 2017.


The earlier refrain still applies: What would it mean?

Where could UCLA end up playing its bowl game? With a winning record, the Bruins might have a few choices on the table.

Even if UCLA (6-4 overall, 4-3 Pac-12) defeats USC (4-5, 3-4) and California (3-6, 2-4), the Bruins are assured of completing the regular season without having beaten one opponent with a winning record.

That win over Louisiana State that felt so glorious in early September? It seems insignificant now. The Tigers could finish .500 — at best — in the regular season and have already decided to part ways with coach Ed Orgeron.

UCLA’s Pac-12 victories have come against Stanford, Arizona, Washington and Colorado, teams that have combined to go 11-29. What does it say about the Bruins that all their wins have come against losing teams and all of their losses have come against winning teams?

“It says exactly that, I guess,” Kelly said Monday, “but we just play how they come, so we can’t control what the teams we play do after we play them or before we play them.”

But can’t the Bruins control how they fare against good teams?

“Yeah,” Kelly said, “but the record is the record, so there’s nothing we can do about the teams we played in the past, so that statement you just made, there’s not any actionable things we can do.”

Given the context of UCLA having built toward this season, it’s fair to ask if this is as good as it gets under his guidance. This team has 20 returning starters, a senior quarterback and opened the season with a senior starter at every position on defense.

Next season could be at least a partial rebuild given the possible roster turnover. Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, running back Zach Charbonnet, tight end Greg Dulcich and left tackle Sean Rhyan could all depart for the NFL draft with remaining eligibility. Running back Brittain Brown, defensive back Qwuantrezz Knight, guard Paul Grattan Jr., defensive lineman Datona Jackson, defensive back Cameron Johnson and linebacker Jordan Genmark Heath are among the nine players who have no eligibility after this season.

The Bruins could break in new starters at roughly every other position next season, depending on which players leave for the NFL and decide to use their remaining eligibility.

UCLA’s struggles against Colorado showed why the Bruins will need to do a lot more to win over fans amid what has been a subpar season.

Kelly said he’s happy at UCLA, deflecting a question about a report in the Athletic that called him “a wildcard” for the Washington job that came open Sunday — “I haven’t talked to anybody,” Kelly said — and citing a late-night comedian when discussing his level of contentment in Westwood.

“Conan O’Brien said, ‘If you love what you do, you love the people you’re with, then you’re in heaven every day,’” Kelly said. “And that’s what I feel like with these players and this coaching staff.”

But how happy are the fans with Kelly? How much buzz would a partially rebuilding team coming off a mid-tier bowl game generate for a 2022 nonconference schedule featuring Bowling Green, Alabama State and South Alabama? If only 36,574 fans came to see UCLA beat Colorado at the Rose Bowl, how many would show up for a Football Championship Subdivision opponent?

If this season is considered a success inside the Wasserman Center, then expectations have changed. The 2015 Bruins beat No. 19 Brigham Young, No. 16 Arizona, No. 20 Cal and No. 18 Utah — each of whom finished with winning records — and it wasn’t deemed acceptable by coach Jim Mora.

“We need to get bigger, obviously,” Mora said after his team lost to Nebraska in its bowl game. “We need to get stronger, obviously.”

Obviously, things are different now.