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UCLA will play Pitt in Sun Bowl, but will Dorian Thompson-Robinson be there?

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson celebrates after scoring a touchdown against USC.
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson celebrates after scoring a touchdown against USC. The fifth-year senior hasn’t publicly said whether he plans to play in the Sun Bowl on Dec. 30.
(Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)
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The date, location and opponent for UCLA’s bowl game are set. The Bruins will play Pittsburgh in the Sun Bowl on Dec. 30 in El Paso, Texas.

But plenty of unknowns remain. Which stars, if any, will play for the Bruins in their first bowl game since 2017? And who will be calling the defense?

UCLA coach Chip Kelly didn’t provide much clarity when he spoke with reporters after the bowl announcement Sunday, leaving a cloud of uncertainty hovering over his team. Kelly said he had not spoken with players about their status for the bowl game, though he did note that everyone had participated in the two practices held before the team’s postseason destination was known.

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After a 48-45 loss to rival USC, the UCLA football team is shifting its focus to trying to close the regular season with a win over Cal.

With final exams starting Monday, the Bruins are not scheduled to practice again until Saturday.

“I’m sure if anything comes up, we’ll discuss it between now and then,” Kelly said, “but we’ve had full participation on Saturday and Sunday this week.”

When he last spoke with reporters, the day after Thanksgiving, quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson said he had not decided whether to play in the bowl game or prepare for the NFL draft. The fifth-year senior acknowledged it would be hard to opt out of the Las Vegas Bowl that would be played in his hometown, but that possibility was taken off the (blackjack) table when the Las Vegas Bowl picked Oregon State to face Florida.

Other players who could opt out of the bowl game include running back Zach Charbonnet and wide receiver Jake Bobo, both among the team’s NFL prospects. Kelly said kicker and punter Nicholas Barr-Mira, who has entered the transfer portal, would play for the Bruins in the bowl game.

Ohio State, Michigan and TCU aim to block Georgia from repeating as College Football Playoff national champions. The Buckeyes will get their shot first.

There is also the matter UCLA defensive coordinator Bill McGovern, who has returned to the bowl practices after missing the last five games with what is believed to be a health issue. Kelly would not say whether he expected McGovern to coach in UCLA’s first Sun Bowl appearance since 2013, when it posted a 42-12 victory over Virginia Tech.

“He’s been back in the office for the last couple of days and was out on the field for the last two practices with us, so we’ll see as we move forward,” Kelly said. “He’s an integral part of our staff and we’re fired up that he’s back.”

Analyst Clancy Pendergast has filled McGovern’s spot in the press box during his absence while collaborating with a group of veteran assistants to handle the defensive playcalling.

Pittsburgh (8-4) finished tied with Duke for second place in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division after winning its last four games, including a triumph over 20th-ranked Syracuse. The Bruins are familiar with Panthers quarterback Kedon Slovis, who led USC to victories over UCLA in 2019 and 2020 while rolling up nine touchdown passes with only two interceptions.

Here’s a rundown of everything you need to know about the College Football Playoff, UCLA and USC’s bowl games will play and the Heisman Trophy race.

UCLA’s placement was not unexpected after the Bruins dropped two of their final three games to end the regular season. Fringe College Football Playoff candidates as recently as early November, the Bruins were stunned at home by Arizona before falling to USC in a 48-45 heartbreaker.

A narrow triumph over California the day after Thanksgiving assured UCLA (9-3 overall, 6-3 Pac-12) of its most victories since finishing 10-3 in 2014, when the Bruins were selected for the Alamo Bowl.

With a victory later this month, the Bruins can tie the school record for victories that was set in 1946 and matched in 1982, 1987, 1988, 1997, 1998, 2005, 2013 and 2014. College football teams added one game to their regular-season schedules starting in 2006, playing 12 games instead of 11.

Times staff writer Thuc Nhi Nguyen contributed to this report.


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