UCLA Football Is Emerging as a BCS Bowl Game Wild Card

Kyle Kensing@kensing45Contributor IOctober 9, 2013

LINCOLN, NE - SEPTEMBER 14: Quarterback Taylor Martinez #3 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers takes a hit from linebacker Anthony Barr #11 of the UCLA Bruins during their game at Memorial Stadium on September 14, 2013 in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Eric Francis/Getty Images

Three Pac-12 teams enter Week 7 undefeated. No. 2 Oregon and No. 5 Stanford have combined to win the last four conference championships and account for all of the league's BCS bowl appearances since the 2009 season. 

The third unbeaten is UCLA. After surviving a Week 6 test at Utah, the Bruins are 4-0 and ranked No. 11 in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll. 

This is a team with legitimate BCS designs, a potential roadblock to other teams' own aspirations. 

UCLA plays an interesting role in the BCS landscape. Other programs harboring realistic BCS hope are directly tied to the Bruins’ performance for the rest of the season, both in and out of the conference.

The Pac-12 has landed an at-large invitation to the top-tier bowl games every season since 2010. 

In each of those three seasons, Oregon and Stanford were the conference's BCS participants. 

UCLA is just a week away from a two-game road swing that takes them to each team's home field. The Bruins are 0-5 against Stanford since their 2008 win. They're 0-7 against Oregon since last beating the Ducks in 2006. 

Despite the run of bad fortune against the Cardinal and Ducks, this year's UCLA team is best equipped to knock off the conference's heavyweights. 

Two wins put the Bruins on the inside track not only for the Pac-12 championship, but contention for the BCS title. 

STANFORD, CA - NOVEMBER 30:  Stanford Cardinal head coach David Shaw shakes hands with UCLA Bruins head coach Jim Mora after the Cardinal beat the UCLA Bruins  27-24 in the Pac-12 Championship game at Stanford Stadium on November 30, 2012 in Stanford, Cal
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

A loss in this stretch, even two, doesn't disqualify UCLA from the Pac-12 South championship and a one-game play-in for the Rose Bowl.  

For BCS at-large consideration, a split is absolutely necessary. That also creates a potentially sticky situation.

Should UCLA, Stanford and Oregon all end the regular season with one loss, the loser of the Pac-12 Championship Game is the odd team out for BCS consideration, even with a head-to-head win in the series.

See Florida receiving last year’s Sugar Bowl bid over Georgia for precedent.

The Pac-12’s BCS at-large race will be as interesting as the conference championship competition—don’t forget that Washington still factors into the equation.

The Huskies play Oregon Saturday and UCLA next month. 

Equally vital for the Bruins is handling business against the opponents they should beat. They did that last week at Utah, and must do so again Saturday vs. Cal. 

"Going up to Utah and playing what I think is a very, very good football team...in a game where it was back-and-forth and you have to win at the end in a tough environment, I think that's a character builder," head coach Jim Mora said on Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches teleconference call. 

"That said, we have to keep handling it. We have to keep going. We have to keep getting better. We can never be satisfied," he added.  

Nebraska will also be watching UCLA closely for the rest of the season. Despite the turmoil that followed the Cornhuskers' 41-21 loss to the Bruins in Week 3, they remain in BCS contention.

Running the table for the remainder of the regular season with a Big Ten title game loss would have Nebraska at 11-2. It needs UCLA to play well for added points—just not well enough to finish ahead of the Huskers in the BCS standings. 

Losing sight of its task at hand might be easy for UCLA with such potentially huge implications tied to its performance. But last season, the Bruins learned firsthand the consequences for taking off a week against their Week 7 opponent.

Cal routed UCLA last October, 43-17. That confounding loss was the difference between nine and 10 regular season wins for the Bruins. The latter may have been enough to put them in the conversation for the final at-large BCS bid with Oklahoma and Northern Illinois.  

Right now, Mora said avenging is all that matters. 

"Cal took it to us pretty good last year," Mora said. "Our focus is on Cal and only Cal." 

Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. All quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Follow Kyle on Twitter: @kensing45.


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