Stanford vs. UCLA: Complete Game Preview and Prediction
On Saturday, the No. 8 Stanford Cardinal (9-2, 7-1) will travel to the Rose Bowl to face the No. 17 UCLA Bruins (9-2, 6-2) in a game that will decide the fate of the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Both teams are fresh off impressive wins, as the Cardinal upended then-No. 2 Oregon in Eugene and the Bruins brought the pain against USC to clinch the South Division.
Stanford's defense has been playing tremendously in recent weeks, while the UCLA offense has been continuing its consistently productive ways.
Should the Cardinal come to Pasadena and leave with the W, they would host the Bruins for a rematch six days later in the conference title game.
But if UCLA pulls out the victory, the site of the championship game will hinge on the results of Oregon vs. Oregon State in the Civil War.
Read on for a complete game preview and prediction of the marquee showdown on Saturday.
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When: Saturday, Nov. 24 at 6:30 p.m. ET
Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA
Listen: Free Football Radio
Betting Line: Stanford -2.0 (via OddsShark.com)
The oddsmakers in Vegas have this pairing pitted to be a closely-contested game, as Stanford has been tabbed as a 2.0-point favorite with the opening line. The matchup of the Cardinal's premier defense and the Bruins' potent offense, as well as Stanford's average offense against UCLA's inconsistent defense, would make it seem the betting line is spot on.
UCLA RB Damien Thigpen will miss the rest of the season
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
The injury outlook for Saturday's game appears to favor a healthy Stanford squad, per the USA Today college football injury report.
FB Geoff Meinken, OUT (Knee)
WR Darius Bell, Questionable (Ankle)
WR Kenneth Walker, Questionable (Concussion)
RB Steven Manfro, Questionable (Knee)
WR Devin Lucien, Questionable (Collarbone)
RB Damien Thigpen, OUT (Torn ACL)
Stanford players celebrate after upsetting Oregon in OT
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Record: 9-2 (7-1 Pac-12)
Standing: First in the Pac-12 North
Rankings: No. 8 (BCS), No. 11 (AP and Coaches)
Last Game: Win at Oregon, 17-14 OT
Stanford is riding high after unseating the Oregon Ducks atop the Pac-12 North and playing its way to the inside track for the Pac-12 title game.
The Cardinal defense has been the saving grace for an inconsistent offense, but don't downplay the roles of senior RB Stepfan Taylor and emerging freshman QB Kevin Hogan.
Taylor has been a tackle-breaking machine so far in 2012, rumbling his way to 1,222 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. He has also caught 29 passes for 188 yards, including two TD grabs.
Taylor's senior leadership has also been a major factor in the Cardinal's success, as he has shouldered the load on many occasions.
Under center, Hogan has been impressive in his first three collegiate starts, leading Stanford to a 3-0 record that includes nail-biting wins over Oregon State and Oregon.
Hogan has completed 74.2 percent of passes for 658 yards and seven TDs, while also racking up 150 yards and a score with his legs. If the young signal-caller continues to progress under head coach David Shaw, the Cardinal could become a perennial Pac-12 power.
On defense, Stanford has a plethora of playmakers on every level.
Defensive end Ben Gardner has been an unstoppable force in the trenches, tallying 38 tackles and six sacks to lead the Cardinal D, which ranks No. 1 in the country in TFL.
Senior LBs Shayne Skov and Chase Thomas have continued their beastly careers in Palo Alto, while sophomore A.J. Tarpley has made a name for himself as well.
The trio of linebackers have combined for 147 tackles, 6.5 sacks and nine pass break-ups. Thomas and Tarpley have both caught an interception this season too.
In the defensive backfield, sophomore safety Ed Reynolds is tearing it up with five INTs, including three that went for touchdowns. He has also defensed four passes and recorded 36 tackles.
DE Datone Jones celebrates after the Bruins' win over USC
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Record: 9-2 (6-2 Pac-12)
Standing: Winners of the Pac-12 South
Rankings: No. 17 (BCS), No. 15 (AP) and No. 16 (Coaches)
Last Game: Win vs. USC, 38-28
UCLA is coming into Saturday's showdown with high expectations after knocking off crosstown rival Southern Cal at the Rose Bowl. The win clinched the South Division for the Bruins, guaranteeing them a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game for the second-straight year.
But this time there are no asterisks, as UCLA earned its berth outright.
The Bruins were effective in all three phases of the game, gashing the USC defense for big plays and playing bend-but-don't-break defense all day long.
Offensively, UCLA was led by QB Brett Hundley and RB Johnathan Franklin, which is no real surprise.
Despite being a freshman, Hundley was poised against the Trojans, completing 73.3 percent of his passes for 234 yards and a touchdown. The 6'3", 223-pound dual threat also earned his due on the ground, rushing for two scores.
Franklin continued his dominant senior season with 174 yards rushing and two TDs on 29 carries, which works out to a solid 5.9 YPC average. The effort was Franklin's eighth 100-yard rushing game of the season, which ties him for most in a single season by a UCLA running back.
And just weeks after becoming the Bruins' all-time leading rusher, Franklin has a chance to surpass Karim Abdul-Jabbar (no not that one) for the single season rushing record. He only needs 132 more yards to overtake the 17-year-old record.
The duo of Hundley and Franklin has been electric for UCLA in 2012, but they will certainly have their work cut out for them against Stanford.
On defense, the Bruins have been making strides in every unit, improving to No. 5 in the nation in sacks and No. 12 in tackles for loss.
LBs Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks are both rampaging this season, combining for 167 tackles, 14 sacks and seven pass break-ups.
But most of those sacks belong to Barr, who ranks No. 4 in the nation with 12 QB takedowns in just his first season on the defensive side of the ball. Barr's high-level of play has his name in the conversation for Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.
Along the D-line, the Bruins have some serious bangers in defensive ends Cassius Marsh and Datone Jones. The pair of upperclassmen has combined for 9.5 sacks and have been terrorizing opposing O-lines all season.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
The biggest storyline in this game will be the match up of the Stanford run defense and the UCLA ground attack.
The Cardinal currently rank No. 2 in the country stopping the run, while the Bruins boast the second best run game in the Pac-12 (No. 28 overall).
RB Johnathan Franklin sits No. 5 in the nation with 1,441 yards rushing, one spot ahead of Oregon's Kenjon Barner. The redshirt senior has been a wrecking ball for the UCLA offense, breaking tackles and powering through would-be tacklers with ease.
But Stanford has the best defense in the Pac-12 and will definitely challenge the Bruins' offense.
Against the Ducks on Saturday, Stanford's defense was flying around making plays all night. The Card limited Barner, who has been brought up in Heisman talks recently, to 66 yards and no scores on the ground.
If the UCLA offensive line can protect the pocket and open up some holes for Franklin, the Bruins should be able to mix in the pass and move the ball.
But if the Cardinal defense does its thing on Saturday, the Bruins could be in for a long afternoon of frustrations.
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
This game is a toss up, plain and simple.
Both teams are riding five-game winning streaks that include marquee victories over highly-ranked opponents.
UCLA has been magnificent on offense and Stanford has been absolutely monstrous on defense. After the dominant performance the Cardinal put on in Eugene, it would seem that the Bruins are destined to crumble offensively.
But don't discount the importance of home-field advantage (though it didn't do much for the Ducks) and the unbelievable poise of freshman QB Brett Hundley.
If Stanford can bottle up Johnathan Franklin, Hundley will be relied on to win the game with his arm, something that he hasn't shied away from this season.
Ultimately, I think the advantage here lies with UCLA's defense against Stanford's offense. The Cardinal have been lackluster in the scoring department and the Bruin D has been showing improvement every week.
This will be a hard-fought contest that will likely come down to the turnover battle, an area that UCLA has excelled in so far.
I think the Bruins will be able to contain the Cardinal on defense, while doing just enough on offense to eke out the win and improve to 10-2.
Prediction: UCLA 24, Stanford 20