Experienced roster could help UCLA Bruins contend in Pac-12

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES — Chip Kelly‘s arduous rebuilding job at UCLA showed positive results last season with an 8-4 record and a Holiday Bowl invitation.

The biggest question is if Kelly can continue the climb to Pac-12 contention.

The Bruins were picked fourth in the conference preseason poll but still find themselves in the shadow of rival Southern California, which is ranked No. 14 in the preseason and continues to dominate local and regional headlines following the hiring of Lincoln Riley.

Even though he had chances to channel Rodney Dangerfield and claim “no respect,” especially after the Bruins won last year’s crosstown showdown over the Trojans 62-33, Kelly isn’t trying to get caught up in who has bragging rights in LA.

“Who runs the city, who doesn’t run the city, I’ll leave that up to the voters, I guess,” said Kelly, who has an 18-25 record during his four years in Westwood.

If the Bruins are going to contend for the Pac-12 title, they will need big seasons again from quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and running back Zach Charbonnet. They were the leaders on an offense that led the conference in average points per game (36.5) and second in yards (441.3).

Thompson-Robinson surprised many by deciding to return for a fifth season. He accounted for 30 touchdowns last season (21 passing, nine rushing) and cut down on his turnovers, which plagued him his first three years.

Charbonnet led the conference with seven 100-yard rushing games and was second in rushing yards with 1,137.

“I think the biggest thing is him being able to respond to adversity, and that’s been the nature of the whole team,” offensive lineman Jon Gaines II said. “We didn’t have the best couple of seasons when we first got here, but he’s always been the face of the franchise as long as we’ve been here. And he’s the perfect example of how we’ve grown over the years.”


Bill McGovern, who was one of Kelly’s assistants when he coached the Philadelphia Eagles, was hired as defensive coordinator following the resignation of Jerry Azzinaro. His most significant task will be to fix a pass defense that gave up 260.2 yards per game last season, the worst in the Pac-12.

Safeties Stephan Blaylock and Kenny Churchwell III bring a veteran presence to the secondary. Transfers will bolster the front seven. Kelly lauded the quick adjustments by defensive lineman Jacob Sykes (Harvard), while edge rushers Gabriel Murphy and Grayson Murphy (North Texas) will apply pressure. The Bruins also added linebacker Darius Muasau, who led the Mountain West with seven sacks last season.


Wide receiver Jake Bobo, a graduate transfer, should emerge as Thompson-Robinson’s favorite target after the departures of tight end Greg Dulcich and wide receiver Kyle Phillips to the NFL. Bobo made at least five catches in nine games for Duke last season and finished with 74 receptions for 794 yards.


While fans are looking ahead to the Bruins’ move to the Big Ten in 2024, Kelly is trying to keep the focus on this year’s team until he has to go out on the recruiting trail.

“I think when I got the news that this was going to happen, that was my first question: When? Then when we found out it’s two years, I think that puts a little bit different spin on it,” said Kelly, who learned about the move while golfing with Ohio State coach Ryan Day in New Hampshire. “Our sole focus and attention is making the 2022 season as memorable as it can be for our players. It’s a unique situation. I’ve never been in it before. But I think the biggest thing is to focus on what we can control.”


The Bruins have eight home games for the first time since 1939, including what might be the easiest nonconference slate of any Power Five team – Bowling Green, Alabama State, and South Alabama. The Sept. 10 game against Alabama State replaces a road game against Michigan and marks the first time the Bruins will play a Football Championship Subdivision team.

UCLA hosts Pac-12 favorite No. 7 Utah on Oct. 8 before traveling to No. 11 Oregon two weeks later. The Bruins will host Southern California on Nov. 19.

Georgia extends contract for AD Josh Brooks, plans two new football practice fields

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ATHENS, Ga. – On the heels of a second straight national football championship, Georgia has rewarded athletic director Josh Brooks a contract extension that ties him to the Bulldogs through at least 2029.

The athletic association board, wrapping up its annual spring meeting Friday at a resort on Lake Oconee, also announced plans for a new track and field facility that will free up space for two more football practice fields.

Brooks’ new contract will increase his salary to $1.025 million a year, with annual raises of $100,000.

The 42-year-old Brooks, who took over the athletic department in 2021 after Greg McGarity retired, called the Georgia job “a dream for me” and said he hopes to spend the rest of his career in Athens.

“I am extremely grateful,” Brooks said. “I got into this business 20-plus years ago as a student equipment manager. My first job at Louisiana-Monroe was making $20,000 a year in football operations.”

The Georgia board approved a fiscal 2024 budget of $175.2 million, a nearly 8% increase from the most recent budget of $162.2 million and the sign of a prosperous program that is flush with money after its success on the gridiron.

The school received approval to move forward with its preliminary plans for a new track and field facility, which will be built across the street from the complex hosting the soccer and and softball teams.

The current track stadium is located adjacent to the Butts-Mehre athletic facility, which hosts the practice fields and training facilities for the football program.

Georgia lost a chunk of its outdoor fields when it built a new indoor practice facility. After the new track and field stadium is completed, the current space will be converted to two full-length, grass football practice fields at the request of coach Kirby Smart.

“He wants to find efficient ways to practice, and there is a lot of truth to the issues we’ve had with our current practice fields,” Brooks said. “There is a lot of strain on our turf facilities staff to keep that field in great shape when half the day it is getting shade, so that has been a challenge as well. For our football program, it is better to practice on grass fields than (artificial) turf, so to be able to have two side-by-side grass fields is huge. It makes for a much more efficient practice.”

The new track and field complex, which will continue to be named Spec Towns Track, will also include an indoor facility, the first of its kind in the state of Georgia.

Iowa AD Gary Barta announces retirement after 17 years at Big Ten school

Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa athletic director Gary Barta will retire on August 1 after 17 years at the university, the school announced Friday.

Barta, 59, is one of the longest-tenured athletic directors in a Power Five conference. He was hired by Iowa in 2006 after being the AD at Wyoming.

An interim director will be announced next week, Iowa said.

In September, Iowa hired former Ball State athletic director Beth Goetz to be deputy director of athletics and chief operating officer, putting her in position to possibly succeed Barta.

“It has been an absolute privilege and honor to serve in this role the past 17 years,” Barta said in a statement. “This decision didn’t come suddenly, nor did it come without significant thought, discussion, and prayer.”

“That said, I’m confident this is the right time for me and for my family.”

Iowa won four NCAA national team titles and 27 Big Ten team titles during Barta’s tenure. The women’s basketball team is coming off an appearance in the national championship game and the wrestling team is coming off a second-place finish at the NCAA championships.

Barta served as the chairman of the College Football Playoff committee in 2020 and 2021.

He faced heavy criticism over more than $11 million in settlements for lawsuits in recent years alleging racial and sexual discrimination within the athletic department.

Lawsuits filed by former field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum and associate athletics director Jane Meyer led to a $6.5 million payout.

Iowa had to pay $400,000 as part of a Title IX lawsuit brought by athletes after it cut four sports in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the agreement, Iowa reinstated the women’s swimming and diving program and add another women’s sport.

Iowa added women’s wrestling, the first among Power Five schools to compete this year.

A lawsuit brought by former football players alleging racial discrimination within the program was settled for $4.2 million last March, which prompted state auditor Rob Sand to call for Barta’s ouster.

“Gary Barta’s departure is a long time coming given the four different lawsuits for discrimination that cost Iowa more than $11 million,” Sand posted on Twitter.

The university did not allow taxpayer money to be used for the settlement with the former players.

Barta led Iowa through $380 million of facility upgrades, including renovation of Kinnick Stadium, the construction of a new football facility, a basketball practice facility and a training center for the wrestling teams.

Under Barta, Iowa has had just one head football coach (Kirk Ferentz), women’s basketball coach (Lisa Bluder) and wrestling coach (Tom Brands). All were in place when he arrived.

Barta has also come under scrutiny for allowing Ferentz to employee his son, Brian Ferentz, as offensive coordinator. To comply with the university’s nepotism policy, Brian Ferentz reports to Barta.