Pac-12 power ratings: Should UCLA fire Chip Kelly? That’s asking the wrong question

The Bruins have posted three consecutive winning seasons but are stagnating at the end of 2023

The Pac-12 coaching carousel, which had been stationary throughout the regular season, began to spin Saturday morning when Oregon State’s Jonathan Smith accepted an offer from Michigan State.

Will the next twist occur in Westwood?

Following a listless loss to Cal, which followed (by two weeks) a dreadful performance against Arizona State, UCLA coach Chip Kelly’s job security is under intense scrutiny. However, a decisive victory at USC in between those defeats appears to have complicated matters.

Kelly’s tenure began slowly in 2018, but picked up steam after the pandemic. However, with the Bruins on the verge of joining the Big Ten, momentum has shifted.

Kelly has a 24-13 overall record over the last three years, but his success is based on a slew of second-tier victories both inside and outside of conference play.

This season, for example, the Bruins defeated only two winning teams: Coastal Carolina and USC.

It’s difficult to argue that the program is well-positioned for Big Ten success.

And Kelly’s contract, which was revised last winter, leaves the school with only minor buyout exposure. Kelly would receive $8.5 million if fired before December 2023 and $4.27 million if fired before December 2024, according to the Los Angeles Times.

But, in our opinion, the main issue isn’t whether the Bruins should fire Kelly. It’s whether they have better options and are willing to pursue them.

If you fire a coach after his third straight winning season… a coach who has defeated USC twice in the previous three years… a coach who effectively represents the program and is likely to maintain a reasonable level of success… You can’t possibly end up with someone worse.

Despite the high cost of living in Los Angeles, the Bruins have never paid top dollar and show no signs of doing so now.

It’s a basketball school with high academic standards that isn’t fully committed to football like USC, Oregon, Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan are.

The Big Ten move puts pressure on both ends of UCLA’s risk-reward equation with Kelly: making no change is far preferable to making the wrong change.

To the power ratings …

1. Oregon (11-1/8-1)

Last week: 2

Result: 31-7 victory over Oregon State Next up: the Pac-12 championship game against Washington (Friday).

Comment: The Hotline would like to draw your attention to the point differential in conference games in order to best explain Oregon’s placement above Washington in the final power ratings of 2023. The Ducks outscored their nine opponents by 225 points, while the Huskies only outscored them by 76. That, in our opinion, more than compensates for UW’s narrow home victory a few weeks ago.

2. Washington (12-0/9-0)

Last week: 1 Result: beat Washington State 24-21 Next up: vs. Oregon in Pac-12 championship (Friday) Comment: Given the starting points for each unit, we predicted that the defense would improve more than the offense over the course of the season. We did not anticipate the defense carrying UW to victory while Michael Penix and company struggled to score more than a few touchdowns per game.

3. Arizona (9-3/7-2)

Last week: 3 Result: won at Arizona State 59-23 Next up: TBD (bowl game) Comment: The Wildcats appeared to have relished the low-pressure ride to nine victories, which was wise. Even if every key player and coach returns in 2024, the atmosphere will be different — not because of the Big 12 switch, but because of increased focus and expectations.

4. Oregon State (8-4/5-4)

Last week: 4 Result: lost to Oregon 31-7 Next up: TBD (bowl game) Comment: Only nine days ago, the Beavers were set to face Washington for the conference championship. They’re reeling after three losses — two games and one coach. But that’s life on the periphery for programs that require so much to go right so frequently.

5. Utah (8-4/5-4)

Last week: 6 Result: beat Colorado 23-17 Next up: TBD (bowl game) Comment:Not long ago, eight wins would have been considered a perfectly respectable year for the Utes. It now takes a bizarre series of injuries to create an 8-4 reality. The ceiling has become the floor in Salt Lake City.

6. UCLA (7-5/4-5)

Last week: 5 Result: lost to Cal 33-7 Next up: TBD (bowl game) Comment: This season, the Bruins defeated six Football Bowl Subdivision opponents. Coastal Carolina (7-5), USC (7-5), Washington State (5-7), San Diego State (4-8), Colorado (4-8) and Stanford (3-9) are the leaders. That, my friends, is a bone devoid of meat.

7. USC (7-5/5-4)

Last week: 7 Result: Did not play Next up: TBD (bowl game) Comment: There are a lot of names floating around for the defensive coordinator position, but here’s a caveat: It doesn’t matter who Lincoln Riley hires for the position (Jim Leonhard, Danny Gonzales… Nick Saban) if Lincoln Riley doesn’t prioritize defense and physicality within the program’s culture.

8. Cal (6-6/4-5)

Last week: 8 Result: won at UCLA 33-7 Next up: TBD (bowl game) Comment: We’re reminded of the end of last season, when the Bears won their final three games and carried a lot of momentum into the offseason (which was quickly derailed by the pandemic). However, coach Justin Wilcox must keep tailback Jaydn Ott and playcaller Jake Spavital out of the portal.

9. Washington State (5-7/2-7)

Last week: 9 Result: lost at Washington 24-21 Next up: season complete Comment: As a result, the streak of seven consecutive bowl appearances (in non-COVID years) comes to an end. Which game prevented the Cougars from making it eight straight? You could mention the three-point loss at Cal or the three-point loss at Washington. But we’d go with the three-point home loss to Stanford, which is still inexcusable.

10. Arizona State (3-9/2-7)

Last week: 10 Result: lost to Arizona 59-23 Next up: season complete Comment: The 36-point losses to Oregon and Arizona at the end should not overshadow what was an impressive performance under difficult circumstances for 10 weeks. At the same time, let’s not sugarcoat the challenge: Kenny Dillingham faces a difficult rebuild, even if the NCAA sanctions are minor.

11. Stanford (3-9/2-7)

Last week: 11 Result: lost to Notre Dame 56-23 Next up: season complete Comment: The Cardinal had the third-worst defensive unit in the Power Five, trailing only Baylor and Cincinnati in yards-per-play allowed. Given his limited use of the transfer portal, that won’t be an easy fix for coach Troy Taylor.

12. Colorado (4-8/1-8)

Last week: 12 Result: lost to Utah 23-17 Next up: season complete Comment: The more things change, the more they stay the same: Colorado’s time in the Pac-12 concludes in the same spot — last — where it began in 2011.

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