UCLA's Road Warrior Status Makes Them Gatekeeper of Pac-12 Title

Kyle KensingContributor IOctober 13, 2013

UCLA exacted revenge for its road loss against Cal last season, and the 37-10 blowout victory set up the Bruins as the Pac-12's gatekeeper to the conference championship. 

At 5-0, UCLA closes out Week 7 as the last of two undefeated Pac-12 teams along with second-ranked Oregon. With the Ducks on UCLA's schedule in the coming weeks, the Bruins play an integral role in the league's title race. 

UCLA embarks on a two-game road stretch starting next week against Stanford, which suffered a surprise setback at Utah. 

With the 27-21 loss against the Utes, Stanford heads into next week's contest against UCLA in a must-win situation if it is to pursue the league's title. 

The Bruins are now primary hurdles between the Pac-12's reigning champion and another league title. And after UCLA beat the same Utah bunch that upset Stanford, it holds an important head-to-head edge in next week's matchup.

The Cardinal beat UCLA twice last November, including in a back-and-forth conference championship game. But the Bruins have progressed since that loss, particularly with quarterback Brett Hundley's play.

The sophomore had an outstanding performance in Saturday's win over Cal, going 31-for-41 for 410 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.

Per Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Daily News, Hundley gave head coach Jim Mora reason for pause in his typically critical postgame assessment.   

Hundley poses an obvious challenge to Stanford with his dual-threat ability similar to the look Utah's Travis Wilson provided Saturday. 

UCLA now has the momentum of five straight wins heading into its showdown with the Cardinal. That, combined with Stanford's loss Saturday, might send the Bruins in with some added juice. 

But Bruin head coach Jim Mora said in his postgame press conference that taking anything for granted against the conference's defending champion is not something UCLA can afford. 

"I think you have to be careful when you make it about redemption. Then you start to get emotional," he said. "They beat us twice last year [including] in the Pac-12 Championship game. When those things become a factor, I think you are making a mistake." 

The league title hopes Stanford is still clinging to rest now on its matchup with UCLA next week. A Bruin win sends UCLA into a critical showdown with Oregon with league supremacy and a possible BCS Championship bid on the line.