Pac-12 stock report: See UCLA rise, now watch UCLA fade (but not that kind of fade)

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Commentary on Pac-12 developments on and off the field …

Rising: UCLA’s stature

It’s like Chip Kelly accepted the job one day and took the hammer to LSU the next day and the intervening 45 months, with all the losses and frustration and dreams unrealized, never happened.

This is what the Bruins expected when they shelled out $23 million for Kelly in late November of 2017.

This is what their fans expected, what the media projected and what the conference desperately desired.

The Bruins are relevant, nationally relevant, for the first time since the day they hired Kelly, which itself was the first time they had been nationally relevant in many years.

The hot start is no fluke, and here’s why:

UCLA has the speed and physicality on defense and the brute force along the offensive line to beat anyone in the conference.

Where the Bruins were once soft, they are now maulers — they’re beating teams at the line of scrimmage, not with fancy-pants trickery Kelly concocted in his lab over the summer.

Dare we say they are inflicting pain and carving lanes like the Oregon Ducks, circa 2010.

It’s all unfolding a few years later than we expected, but the transformation makes perfect sense.

Whether at warp or moderate speed, Kelly has always preferred ground to air, always believed open spaces on the perimeter are the offspring of matchups won in the trenches.

The success with tailbacks Zach Charbonnet and Brittain Brown takes the pressure off quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, which limits the likelihood of turnovers, which increases (greatly) UCLA’s prospects for victory.

The turnover tale in Kelly’s tenure:

2018 turnovers per game: 1.42019 turnovers per game: 1.82020 turnovers per game: 1.92021 turnovers per game: 0.5

Bottom line:

The defense is stout on every level and, barring a spate of injuries, should remain so throughout the season. (We sensed as much at the time, but the Brian Norwood hire, prior to the 2020 season, was a masterstroke.)

If there’s a weak link, it’s the offense. The Bruins have the tailbacks and the line and the tight ends to win the South … if they minimize turnovers.

We’ve all heard too much about the R0, the scientific term that entered our radar in March ’19. But let’s call UCLA’s defining metric the T0 — the ‘T naught.’

If the Bruins keep their turnovers per game close to 1, expect to see them in Las Vegas on the first Friday of December.

Falling: UCLA’s exposure

Here’s where you won’t see the Bruins: On the field this week. After the early opener against Hawaii and then the LSU affair, they are idle for Week Two.

But many college football fans won’t see them next Saturday, either. Because on Sept. 18, the Bruins host Fresno State at 7:45 p.m. on the Pac-12 Networks.

If there was ever a recipe for exiting the national radar just when your program starts to sizzle for the first time in eons, that’s it, folks:

An idle week, followed by a late game on the Pac-12 Networks.

Charbonnet could run for five touchdowns against Fresno State, and precious few fans and observers east of the Rockies would ever know it.

The game is too late, the networks are too limited in reach, and ESPN won’t bother showing the game highlights come Sunday morning because, by then, it’s all about the NFL.

Early next week, the conference will release the kickoff time and TV network for UCLA’s conference opener, at Stanford on Sept. 25.

By then, the Bruins might be ranked in the top 10 and need to introduce themselves all over again.

Rising: The bar

It was a single sentence — seven words, actually — and yet new commissioner George Kliavkoff’s response to a question about the Week One losses said so much.

“Inexcusable to lose some of those games,” he said.

He’s right. Of course he’s right. And the fact that he’s raising the bar so quickly and so publicly will surely delight Pac-12 fans everywhere.

How might it play on the campuses of North division teams that suffered the “inexcusable” losses?

They’re probably fine — Kliavkoff has strong support across the conference — especially with the comment placed in proper context.

Here’s his full answer, per deseret.com:

“I was there for the UCLA-LSU game. I probably chose the right game this weekend. It was unfortunate how the North (Division) performed. I think we’ll do better. We were coming off a COVID year. There are teams in our league that played three or four games over the last 20 months, playing against teams that have played as recently as April. Still, inexcusable to lose some of those games.”

Goodness, how things have changed.

Falling: Pac-12 holiday exposure

The TV ratings suggest college football is back, with five games on the Labor Day weekend generating at least five million viewers.

The Pac-12 wasn’t involved in any of them, although UCLA-LSU cleared the three million mark and was the sixth most-watched game.

We couldn’t help but note the Sunday night matchup between Notre Dame and Florida State did whopper numbers with 7.75 million viewers and a 4.2 rating. (Anything over four million is gold for the networks.)

Yes, it was a fabulous game with Notre Dame involved — that combination is guaranteed to generate a huge audience.

But the Sunday of Labor Day weekend is prime territory.

The Pac-12 reaped the benefits in 2017, when UCLA’s miracle comeback over Texas A&M drew an impressive 3.2 million viewers.

We addressed the issue in depth early in the week, but the Notre Dame-Florida State ratings reinforce our view that the conference must take over the holiday weekend with multiple games — conference or non-conference on both Sunday and Monday.


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