UCLA Football 2012: Bruins' Wacky Road to the Rose Bowl
By knocking off crosstown rival USC last weekend, the UCLA Bruins (9-2, 5-2) clinched the Pac-12 South Division and earned a spot in the conference championship game for the second straight season.
But just who the Bruins will battle for the automatic berth in the Rose Bowl Game is still undecided, thanks to the Stanford Cardinal's overtime upset of then-No. 2 Oregon in Eugene.
Had the Ducks handled their business at Autzen last Saturday, they would have won the North, secured their spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game and still been favorites for the BCS title.
Unfortunately for the 58,000-plus fans that came out donning the green and yellow, Stanford had another thing coming, upending UO 17-14 with suffocating defense.
So with one weekend of Pac-12 football left to be played, the Ducks and Cardinal are vying for position in the North Division, setting up quite a strange scenario for the divisional champion Bruins.
UCLA, despite locking up its spot in the Pac-12 title game, still has one regular season game left to play this Saturday. And, of course, the Bruins have to take the field against the Duck-hunting Stanford Cardinal, a team that boasts one of the best defenses in college football.
If Stanford comes into Pasadena and gets the W, the Cardinal will win the Pac-12 North regardless of what happens with Oregon in the Civil War.
By virtue of the head-to-head tiebreaker, Stanford would host UCLA in Palo Alto for a rematch just six days later.
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But if the Bruins find an answer for Stanford's ferocious front seven, the fate of the conference title game will rest on the results of the Ducks' showdown with rival Oregon State.
Should the Bruins and Ducks both win, Oregon would welcome UCLA to Autzen Stadium on Nov. 30 for the championship. And if the Bruins and the Beavers both win, UCLA would host Stanford at the Rose Bowl for the Pac-12 title game.
This situation leaves UCLA with an interesting predicament, as the Bruins would either have to face the Card's unrelenting defense twice in the same week or the Ducks' explosive offense for the first time this season.
With a Rose Bowl berth on the line, who would the Bruins rather play?
Some pundits have taken the stance that UCLA will play reserved on Saturday, hoping to avoid a trip to Eugene to face the Ducks.
While this idea is plausible, especially considering the fact that UCLA is one win away from its first Rose Bowl appearance since the 1998-99 season, it just doesn't sound like the M.O. of the 2012 Bruins.
When asked about the potential to throw the game against Stanford, head coach Jim L. Mora was adamant about his team's desire to win every game, every week. From ESPNLosAngeles:
I think this team's motivation is to win as many games as they can and go out and perform at a high level every Saturday and their motivation is to win every week. I don't think their motivation ever at any point this year was just to beat USC and just to win the Pac-12 South. That's not the sense I got from being around these guys.
Will the Bruins intentionally lose to Stanford?
It's possible that Mora is evading the question with well-crafted coach-speak, but I don't think that's the case.
Based on what he has done in first year in Westwood, Mora seems like the kind of coach that demands excellence and effort in everything his team does.
As such, it seems unlikely that UCLA would intentionally lose a game in front of their home crowd, particularly a game that could give the Bruins a chance to host the conference championship.
Expect UCLA to come out fighting against Stanford, looking to make a statement and move up in the BCS Standings.
If the Bruins can beat the Cardinal, they would undoubtedly find themselves in the Top 14 of the BCS, making them a pretty pick for an at-large bid.
No one knows how UCLA's wacky road to the Rose Bowl will unfold, but you can bet the Bruins want to be the best team in the west each and every week.
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