UCLA Football 2012: Bruins' Realistic Rose Bowl Scenarios
With the Pac-12 title game less than three weeks away, the pecking order in the Conference of Champions is finally starting to take shape.
The upstart No. 17 UCLA Bruins (8-2, 5-2 Pac-12), currently sitting first in the Pac-12 South, control their own destiny for the conference championship and the Rose Bowl.
But getting to The Granddaddy of Them All will be no easy task, as the Bruins face the toughest part of their 2012 schedule over the next two (or three) weeks.
So what will it take for UCLA to make its first Rose Bowl appearance since the 1998-99 season?
Let's take a look at the possible scenarios that would give the Bruins a ticket to Pasadena on New Year's Day.
Win the Pac-12 Title Game
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This is the most obvious and most difficult way for UCLA to sneak into the Rose Bowl this season.
If the Bruins can get to the Pac-12 Championship Game and win (presumably in Eugene against No. 1 Oregon), they would earn an automatic berth to the Rose Bowl.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves.
After all, the Bruins had this very same opportunity last year, but fell flat in a 49-31 loss to the Ducks in Autzen Stadium. UCLA figures to have a better shot this season with solidity at the quarterback position, but there's plenty of work left to do.
Before UCLA can dream about upending the best team in the nation on their home turf, the Bruins will need to find a way to beat their hated crosstown rivals: the USC Trojans.
UCLA and USC are set to do battle this Saturday at the Rose Bowl, with the winner claiming the South Division crown and a trip to the conference title game.
History appears to be on the side of this year's visiting team, as the Trojans lead the all-time series 46-28-7, including 12 of the last 13. And after a jaw-dropping 50-0 rout last year, it would seem that the USC football program is light years ahead of UCLA.
But when it comes time to suit up this weekend, none of that will matter.
The 2012 Battle for Los Angeles offers a clean slate for both squads. The Bruins are searching for a program-defining victory and the Trojans are looking to get back on track in an otherwise disappointing campaign.
If UCLA can find a way to knock off USC, which would likely mean finding an answer for Heisman hopeful Marqise Lee, the Bruins would be one win away from a Rose Bowl berth.
In this scenario, UCLA's season finale against Stanford would not factor into the equation, as the Bruins can clinch the South by wrenching the Victory Bell from the Trojans.
With the divisional title in pocket, UCLA would hit the road to line up against the undefeated Oregon Ducks on Nov. 30, needing one epic upset to pave the way to Pasadena.
At-Large Pac-12 Berth
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Despite the Bruins' stellar season so far, it still seems a daunting task for such a young team to unseat the three-time defending conference champions in their house.
So operating under the assumption that UCLA will not win the Pac-12 Championship Game, could the Bruins still earn a spot in the Rose Bowl?
The short answer is yes, but there are a lot of things that need to fall in place in order for this unlikely scenario to unfold.
First and foremost, the Oregon Ducks need to run the table and earn a bid to the BCS National Championship Game.
With a 13-0 Oregon squad representing the conference on the biggest stage, the Rose Bowl would be left vacant in the Pac-12 slot.
In order to keep traditional ties in place, the selection committee would definitely consider every possible option for a replacement Pac-12 team.
For UCLA to come close to that conversation, the Bruins will need to finish the regular season 10-2, which means knocking off USC and the Stanford Cardinal over the next two weekends.
If that held true, the four-loss Trojans and the four-loss Cardinal would be out of the running for roses (assuming Stanford loses to Oregon this Saturday).
The decision would then come down to UCLA or Oregon State if both teams manage to finish in the Top 14 of the BCS standings, a requirement for an at-large bid.
If the Beavers lose to Oregon in the Civil War, they would be sitting at 9-3 overall. The Bruins, if they fall to the Ducks in the conference title game, would boast a 10-3 record.
Oregon State owns the head-to-head victory over UCLA, as the Beavs beat the Bruins 27-20 back in September. But UCLA, in this scenario, would have a better record overall and in conference, as well as a divisional championship.
Given the fact that UCLA plays at the Rose Bowl and that Bruin fans would come out in droves, the boys in blue look like the better pick to party in Pasadena.
Also, who wouldn't want to see a UCLA-Nebraska rematch?
Well, aside from USC, Stanford, Oregon State, Michigan and Wisconsin fans...
The Wild Card: Notre Dame
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Should the Ducks win out and vacate their Rose Bowl spot, another team to keep an eye on for the at-large berth is football independent, Notre Dame.
The Fighting Irish are undefeated through 10 games, with dates against Wake Forest and Southern Cal left on the schedule.
Assuming ND can handle the lowly Demon Deacons at home on Saturday, the last hurdle before a perfect regular season would be the Trojans at the Coliseum in Los Angeles.
If the Irish can close out the year with the Jeweled Shillelagh in hand, the Rose Bowl selection committee will take a hard look at Notre Dame for a spot in The Granddaddy Of Them All.
Unfortunately for 12-0 Notre Dame, the Rose Bowl would be a consolation prize for missing out on a shot at the national title.
That would likely be the case if Oregon and Kansas State, the top two teams in the BCS at the moment, finish the season without a blemish.
But if the Wildcats flop against Baylor or Texas, the Irish would likely slip into the BCS National Championship Game and KSU would make its way to the Fiesta Bowl.
In that scenario, a 10-3 divisional champion UCLA could get the nod for the Rose Bowl, which would keep the traditional Pac-12/Big Ten ties intact.