When the UCLA Bruins dispatched their cross-town rivals, the USC Trojans, last Saturday, they clinched the Pac 12 South division and secured their spot in the Pac 12 Championship game for the second straight year. Now, they find themselves in an unusual position as they get to determine who they’ll face in the title game from the Pac 12 North.
When the Stanford Cardinal beat the Oregon Ducks last week, they put themselves at the top of the division with the tie-breaker over the Ducks. Now, Stanford travels to Pasadena to face the Bruins with their Pac 12 fate in hand. If Stanford wins, they win the North and go on to the Pac 12 title game for a shot at a Rose Bowl berth. A loss, paired with an Oregon win over the Oregon State Beavers, means the Ducks win the North and would host the title game again.
That puts UCLA in the unique spot of controlling who they will play for the title. If they lose to Stanford on Saturday, they would travel to The Farm on November 30 to play the Cardinal for the second time in six days. Would Jim Mora hold back and use this game as a scouting opportunity for a rematch with Stanford?
That is unlikely, as Mora is not one to give anything but his best in order to win football games. If the Bruins are able to win, that opens the door for two possibilities. A UCLA win paired with an Oregon win would create a rematch of last year’s Pac 12 Championship game in Autzen Stadium.
However, if UCLA wins and Oregon loses, then Stanford would still win the North, but they would have to come right back to Pasadena to face the Bruins. This scenario would result in four teams with two losses in conference. Because of head-to-head tie-breaking scenarios, Stanford would win out ahead of Oregon and Oregon State, who they beat, but would finish behind UCLA, giving the Bruins the chance to host the Pac 12 title game in the Rose Bowl.
Which scenario would be best for the Bruins? Obviously hosting the game against a team they just beat would be the favored position, but going for the win against Stanford risks a trip to Autzen Stadium, which can be a very hard place to win. Would the Bruins actually benefit from losing on Saturday and using their regular season finale as a scouting opportunity?
Perhaps, but Mora isn’t the type to lay down to try and get an “easier” matchup (which it might not even be). Expect the Bruins to come out firing on all cylinders as the Pac 12 Championship picture hinges on what happens between Stanford and UCLA on Saturday.