When Chip Kelly was hired by UCLA in November, I reacted similarly to Michael Scott on The Office when his arch nemesis Toby Flenderson returned from Costa Rica.
I’m assuming I wasn’t alone among the USC faithful. During Kelly’s last stint in the PAC-12, he transformed Oregon from a school known for its wacky uniforms into a national powerhouse… also known for its wacky uniforms (some things never change).
Before he bounced to the NFL in 2013, Kelly went 46-7 with an appearance in the National Championship in 2010. He added victories in the Rose Bowl and Fiesta Bowl. His high-powered offenses consistently ranked among the best in college football, despite him landing just one top-ten recruiting class during his tenure (according to Rivals).
On paper, UCLA and Kelly is the perfect marriage. UCLA has long been considered one of college football’s sleeping giants alongside the likes of Texas and Michigan, due to their fertile recruiting base and high-budget athletic department. Meanwhile, Kelly no longer has to overcome a dearth of talent in order to be successful. He’ll have some of Los Angeles’s best talent at his disposal. Sound scary yet?
The Bruins may still be a year or two away from competing for the Pac-12 South. They have to replace 3-year starter Josh Rosen at quarterback, and departed coach Jim Mora didn’t exactly leave the program in the healthiest place. But the next five years look bright for UCLA with Kelly at the helm.
And this could end up being a positive development for crosstown rivals USC.
It sounds counterintuitive and especially contradictory to my earlier GIF, but a return to national prominence for UCLA could actually help USC in the long term.
In a broad sense, Kelly’s return to the Pac-12 strengthens a conference in desperate need of credibility. Last year, Pac-12 teams went 1-8 in bowl season, which was the “the worst record ever for a Power-5 Conference,” according to Sports Illustrated. It doesn’t help that the conference underwent six coaching changes this off-season. The PAC-12’s place within the Power 5 hierarchy is as tenuous as ever.
After defeating Stanford to win the PAC-12 Championship last season, USC was ranked No. 8 in the College Football Playoff poll, behind three at-large teams who didn’t win their respective conferences. The Playoff Committee is clearly docking the Pac-12 for its lack of quality. The conference can’t become deeper overnight, but a UCLA comeback would certainly help.
Iron tends to sharpen iron in college football. For evidence, look no further than the Iron Bowl (see what I did there), where the winner of Alabama-Auburn went on to compete for the National Championship for eight consecutive years from 2009-16. The Crosstown Showdown is nowhere near the Iron Bowl’s level of importance. But with time it could become the Pac-12’s closest equivalent.
Chip Kelly returning to UCLA may seem like a daunting new reality for USC fans. It’ll be a tough challenge for sure, but competing with a renewed Bruins’ team will only force the Trojans’ to rise to the occasion. The two LA schools reaching their full potential — as opposed to much of the last eight years where one or the other was always underachieving — benefits the entire west. USC head coach Clay Helton has gone unbeaten at the Coliseum the past two seasons. He’s won a Rose Bowl and a Pac-12 Championship. But Kelly represents his biggest challenge to date.