Kelly is back, Love, too: 2018 is Pac-12 Year of the Return
Chip Kelly, who haunted opposing teams with his blur offense for the Oregon Ducks a few years ago, returns to the Pac-12 this season as head coach at UCLA. He’ll make his season debut with the Bruins this Saturday at home against Cincinnati.
But Kelly is not the only one who is back this season. Stanford’s Bryce Love bucked popular opinion by sticking with the Cardinal rather than declaring early for the NFL draft. Quarterback Jake Browning similarly decided to play out his final year of eligibility at Washington.
And of course Jonathan Smith has returned to Oregon State as coach after a stellar playing career for the Beavers.
So perhaps it’s the Year of the Return in the Pac-12.
Kelly, who left the league four years ago to try his hand at the NFL, joked about the changes since his tenure with the Ducks.
“I think when I first came into this league there weren’t many spread offenses and we were the only team that had shiny helmets, and now everybody runs the spread offense and everybody has shiny helmets,” he said at the league’s annual media day.
Kelly was in charge of the Ducks from 2009-12, during which Oregon went 46-7, won three conference titles and reached four major bowl games — including the BCS championship game following the 2010 season.
He took over a UCLA program that hasn’t won a conference title since 1998. But his addition, along with the Bruins’ new $65 million training center, has Westwood excited.
Kelly was given a five-year, $23.3 million deal to replace Jim Mora, who went 46-30 and twice tied UCLA’s single-season wins record. But the Bruins had slumped in recent years, winning just 10 of their last 27 games.
Away from the college game, Kelly went 28-35 with the Philadelphia Eagles and the San Francisco 49ers from 2013-16, getting fired from both teams after losing seasons. He was an ESPN football analyst last fall.
Since opposing teams have pretty much adapted to the up-tempo spread offense that Kelly popularized, he’s no doubt looking for a new way to stump the league.
“I think the game itself has changed. So I think you have to change with it. I’ve had great experience since I left Oregon from a football standpoint,” he said. “So being in the NFL for four years, and then last year being out and getting a chance to study the game was — I think will help me.”
BACK TO WHERE HE STARTED: Originally a walk-on, Smith was a four-year starter at quarterback at Oregon State and helped lead the Beavers to a Fiesta Bowl victory following the 2000 season. He returns to Corvallis after a stint at Washington, where he was an assistant to head coach Chris Petersen.
He has a challenging task at Oregon State, which won just one game last season and saw coach Gary Andersen depart unexpectedly in the middle of the season. He also has a challenge in the team’s opener: the Beavers start at Ohio State on Saturday.
LOVE WINS: The Heisman runner-up returned to the Cardinal for his senior season with lofty goals, but not necessarily on the field. He wants to graduate with a Stanford degree in human biology, with hopes that he could someday be a doctor.
Love rushed for 2,118 yards last season, most ever for an FBS player who returned to school the following year.
ATOP THE QB CLASS: Browning revealed his decision to stay at Washington last December after having what some said was a lackluster season. He finished with 2,719 yards passing and 19 touchdowns, falling well short of the 43 TDs he had his sophomore year.
Petersen said Browning needs to show consistency.
“That’s what we’re looking for in Jake, to play the most difficult position in all of sports at a really high, elite level play after play after play,” Petersen said.
ALSO STAYING: Washington also sees the return of Myles Gaskin, who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards and at least 10 touchdowns in each of the last three seasons. … The Trojans have three seniors who considered the draft before ultimately staying: linebacker Cameron Smith, safety Marvell Tell and cornerback Iman Marshall.
MOST INSPIRATIONAL: Probably the best “return” of the season is Stanford inside linebacker Ryan Beecher, who is back with the team after fighting non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. His last chemotherapy session was on June 4.
Beecher appeared in 13 games last season as a junior and made three tackles for the Cardinal.