UCLA vs. Colorado Week 4: Storylines to Watch

Here are the three biggest narratives to keep an eye on before, during and after the Bruins’ game against the Buffaloes.

UCLA football (3-0) is scheduled to kick off its Week 4 game against Colorado (0-3) on Saturday at 11 a.m.

The Bruins narrowly won their last game against South Alabama, needing a last-second field goal to emerge with a 32-31 victory. The Buffaloes are coming off of a third consecutive blowout loss, dropping their nonconference finale to Minnesota 49-7.

Heading into the Week 4 matchup, here are the most pressing questions we want to have answered by the final whistle.

Can Zach Charbonnet break out?

The Bruins’ star running back put up solid numbers Week 1 against Bowling Green, going for 111 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

Charbonnet was dressed for, but ultimately missed, the Bruins’ Week 2 game versus Alabama State. They didn’t need him to take the field in order to blow out the FCS squad, although it did rob him of a chance to record some gaudy stats. Charbonnet returned to the field in Week 3, but had fewer attempts than Keegan Jones and fumbled at the goal line.

The dark horse Heisman campaign many had whispered about in the preseason is long gone at this point, and his chances at becoming a Doak Walker semifinalist aren’t far behind. Obviously, the wins come first, but with all the hype surrounding Charbonnet heading into 2022, it would be nice to see him make headlines and singlehandedly tear up a defense like he did all through 2021.

Colorado has the worst rushing defense in the nation by a long shot, allowing 348 rushing yards per game and 6.9 yards per carry.

Since a blowout is certainly in the cards for UCLA, they may turn to Charbonnet’s backups when they go up big, the same way they did against Alabama State. But when he is out there on the field, the future NFL running back has a chance to go for 100-plus yet again, and doing so would give him some real momentum heading into the toughest stretch of the season.

Will the Bruins get Karl Dorrell fired (again)?

The last time UCLA hit 10 wins, Dorrell was the man in charge in Westwood.

Dorrell went 35-27 with the Bruins from 2003 to 2007, never finishing under .500 and guiding the blue and gold to a bowl in each of his five seasons with the program. Still, he only broke seven wins once in that stretch, and the UCLA administration wanted a change.

The pros and cons of that firing can be debated another time, but the fact of the matter was that Dorrell was no longer a Bruin. Dorrell then bounced around from the Miami Dolphins to the Houston Texans to Vanderbilt to the New York Jets and back to the Dolphins, never really settling in anywhere else.

Colorado gave him a chance to be a head coach again in 2020, and he started 4-0 in the COVID-shortened Pac-12 season. Since then, though, Dorrell is 3-13 against Power Five opponents, and Colorado has one of the worst offenses and one of the worst defenses in the nation.

The school’s athletic director had to write a letter to the fanbase begging them to stick around, heating up Dorrell’s seat even more. Given how bad Colorado is, they’re bound to lose most of their remaining games, and Dorrell will lose his job because of it.

One Pac-12 head coach has already been fired this season – Arizona State’s Herm Edwards – and Dorrell will likely be the next. It would be kind of poetic if UCLA beating Dorrell was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and it is certainly a possibility heading into Saturday.

Nothing to gain, everything to lose?

Since UCLA is now locked into conference play, the result of Saturday’s game obviously has an impact on the year-end Pac-12 standings.

But in terms of what this can do for the Bruins’ momentum and national reputation, it doesn’t seem like a winning result will even move the needle all too much.

UCLA has won each of its first three games, yet they have slipped in the AP Poll, USA Today Coaches Poll and Sports Illustrated Pac-12 Power Rankings each and every week. They have dropped in ESPN’s Football Power Index after their last two wins, and a win over the lowest-ranked Power Five team may make it three weeks in a row.

Colorado is just so bad – statistically, analytically, reputationally and culturally – that beating them won’t do much for UCLA. There are many out there who claim a win is a win, and they certainly aren’t wrong, but the point is that it will be incredibly difficult to pull genuine and applicable takeaways from the Bruins’ first four games due to the collectively poor quality of the opponents.

UCLA may put up 50 points or hold Colorado to less than 10, and yet it still won’t really mean much when trying to extrapolate their performance to how things will go next week versus Washington or the following week against Utah.

On the other hand, if the Bruins were to somehow lose to one of the worst teams in the nation, it would be a stain so extreme that it would be hard to pick them as winners in any game for the rest of the fall.

Having little to gain and so much to lose on Saturday isn’t UCLA’s fault, since it’s not like they picked the opponent, time or place like they would for a nonconference game. It’s just part of being in the Pac-12, and it’s something every team has to deal with when they face a conference bottomfeeder.

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