College football has changed since 2018 but there is nothing to say that history cannot repeat itself. Trevor Lawrence came to Clemson as a five-star recruit and the No. 1 nationally-ranked recruit in the country. Clemson itself, was in their 10th full season with Dabo Sweeny as their head coach and the program was doing very well having won a national championship two years earlier in 2016. Entering the 2018 season, Clemson was coming off a 12-win season that ended with a College Playoff semifinals loss to Alabama and was bringing back their starting quarterback Kelly Bryant. In the fifth game of the season in 2018, Lawrence became the starter and would lead Clemson to a national championship that season. How do the 2018 Clemson team and Lawerence compare to Dante Moore and the 2023 UCLA team?
UCLA and Moore are not Clemson and Lawrence in 2018 but it is not completely unrealistic that the Bruins and true freshmen Moore can’t shock the college football world this upcoming season. Moore like Lawrence was rated a 5-star recruit out of high school and also the 4th nationally ranked player according to 247 Sports. Now, UCLA has not won a national championship in football since 1954, unlike Sweeny and Clemson who captured a national title in 2016, two seasons prior to their 2018 national championship. Bruins head coach Chip Kelly in comparison to Sweeny, had success at Oregon as the head coach of the Ducks where his team finished ranked No. 2 twice and he took his team to the national championship game in 2010 where his team lost to Auburn and failed to capture a national championship title. Fast forward to Kelly becoming the head coach at UCLA, his best season was last year when the Bruins won nine games. However, Kelly has a proven record of being a brilliant offensive-minded coach who has proven to have developed quarterbacks such as Marcus Mariota and most recently Dorian Thompson-Robinson. Moore under the coaching of Kelly, can exceed expectations for this upcoming season. The real question is, do Moore and Kelly have the support to make a magical run this upcoming season?
The Bruins did lose their top receiver and top rusher from last season, but UCLA breaks back running back T.J. Harden who had a breakout game in the Sun Bowl and they added transfer back Carson Steele from Ball State. UCLA went into the transfer portal for help at the receiver positions in getting from USC Trojan Kyle Ford and Cal Bears transfer J. Michael Sturdivant as well as incoming four start-rated true freshmen Jeremiah McClure and Grant Gray. The Bruins also will have Oregon tight end transfer Moliki Matavao as well on offense this season. Even the offensive line who lost guards Jon Gaines II and Atonio Mafi to the NFL draft, the Bruins are bringing back Center Duke Clemens and brought in linemen from the transfer portal in Khadere Kounta from Old Dominion, Spencer Holstege from Purdue, Colorado offensive lineman Jake Wiley, and Caleb Walker from College of the Sequoias.
Kelly also made some coaching changes that should benefit the Bruins this season by bringing in Ken Niumatalolo as UCLA’s Director of Leadership. He was the past 15 seasons, the Navy’s head coach before being relieved of his duties at the conclusion of the 2022 season. Kelly also brought in D’Anton Lynn as UCLA’s defensive coordinator as he was formerly an assistant coach on the Baltimore Ravens staff last season. Lynn is only 33 years old and he specially coached the defensive backs and safeties in Baltimore. The Bruin’s previous defensive coordinator Bill McGovern will remain on Kelly’s coaching staff in an off-field role as director of football administration. Kelly also brought in former Sacramento State safeties coach Kodi Whitfield to coach the Bruin cornerbacks. UCLA is really looking to improve their defense this season, especially in the secondary and Kelly made sure that he made changes on his coaching staff this off-season.
The Bruins’ defense will look to improve their back four by bringing back junior safety Kenny Churchwell III and junior defensive back Alex Johnson as well as with incoming transfer safety Jordan Anderson from Bowling Green. Kelly and his coaching staff also brought in linebackers from the transfer portal to secure the back seven of the defense in Jake Heimlicher from Penn and Femi M. Oladejo from Cal. The Bruins are also bringing back linebacker Laiatu Latu as well. The front four of the Bruin’s defensive line should be improved as UCLA brings back Gabriel Murphy and Grayson Murphy as well as adding from the transfer portal Keanu Williams from Oregon. The defense overall should show growth and improvement from last season.
What will help Moore possibly achieve this feat of possibly achieving what Lawrence had accomplished with Clemson in 2018, is that the Bruins have a manageable schedule this season. For one, Moore will be able to get experience against non-conference opponents in UCLA’s first three games. None of their non-conference opponents are from power five conferences and no disrespect to their first three opponents but the Bruins and Moore should be able to grow together and be successful going 3-0 to start the season. Yes, UCLA must travel to play San Diego State in their new stadium, but it is still being played in southern California and not in Florida for example. In conference play, the Bruins avoid playing Oregon and Washington who are both expected to be ranked in the top 20 in preseason polls for this upcoming season. If UCLA can win on the road against Utah who they defeated last season, their last eight games are winnable with four of them being home games and two of those games being road games in the state of California. Will Moore have the supporting cast that Lawrence had to help him achieve the goal of possibly winning a national championship as a freshman? Yes and no is the simple answer and only time will tell.