Oregon overtakes Washington in Jon Wilner's Pac-12 power rankings, setting up a matchup of 1 vs. 4 in Pullman on Saturday. Meanwhile, have you seen what Chip Kelly's Bruins have done since nearly upsetting UW?
It wasn’t that long ago, actually.
Thoughts of a winless season began dancing after the awful home loss to Fresno State in Week Three, then gained steam after the second-half collapse at Colorado in Week Five.
The dread was partly rooted in reality, what with the rugged schedule and the self-destructive tendencies and the personnel flaws and the rookie quarterback and the frustrated father and the has-Chip-lost-it background radiation.
Could the unthinkables happen? Could the Bruins really go 0-12, and could Chip Kelly actually flop?
Did NFL-Chip somehow lock NCAA-Chip in a closet in Eugene?
Alas, so much for oh-fer.
In fact, the magnitude of the Bruins’ recent improvement is such that we wouldn’t be surprised if they zoomed right past 1-11 and even 2-10 and climbed all the way to … gasp! … 3-9, or even 4-8, and along the way provided a morsel of hope that the Kelly experiment Just. Might. Work.
(Psst: It will work. Trust the Hotline.)
They gave Washington more trouble than expected, then clobbered Cal and now have a home date with Arizona, one of the few teams capable of matching Cal for offensive offense.
Then comes Utah and Oregon (tough and tough), but Arizona State and Stanford await.
(Wouldn’t that be something: The UCLA team that looked like it couldn’t beat anybody anywhere, ever, ends up being the one to break the losing streak to Stanford.)
From this vantage point, improvement has come in three areas above all:
- The offensive line is no longer a turnstile, thanks in part to the return (from suspension) of center Boss Tagaloa and in part to the natural cohesion forming among a group that was patched together.
- Joshua Kelley has jumped-started the running game.A transfer from UC Davis, Kelley played sparingly against Cincinnati and Oklahoma and not at all against Fresno State, but he has been the best tailback in the conference the past three weeks (135.3 ypg, 6.5 ypr).
That, of course, has been of great value to the passing game.
Speaking of …
- The passing game has found an identity, and its name is Caleb Wilson.
The best tight end in the conference last year before a season-ending knee injury, Wilson has 13 receptions in the past two games.
He looks more comfortable in the offense, Dorian Thompson-Robinson looks more comfortable with Wilson, and Kelly looks more comfortable with both … and everybody else.
It no longer takes binoculars to see a plan of attack.
It no longer hurts the eyes to watch them play.
What’s a reasonable end-game?
Given the state of the South, fourth place is reasonable. They’d need three more wins; they can get three more.