The No. 8 Stanford Cardinal and the No. 17 UCLA Bruins face off tonight in the Pac-12 Championship Game, just six days after meeting in their final regular season game earlier this week – the first time two FBS schools have played each other in the same week.
Stanford has won its last four against the Bruins, including a 35-17 victory on Saturday that locked in a rematch for the conference title. The winner of this game will represent the Pac-12 in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.
It’s just the second time the Pac-12 has held a championship game, and UCLA represented the South Division both seasons, although this year, it seems like the Bruins have actually earned it. Last season, the team went to the title game by default (USC was ineligible) to play punching bag for the Oregon Ducks.
This year, they’ll attempt to revenge last week’s result, when the Cardinal made quick work of the Bruins.
Stanford, the nation’s top rushing defense, held UCLA to just 73 rushing yards and limited Bruins’ running back Jonathan Franklin to just about 3 yards per carry. Meanwhile, Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor rushed for 142 yards and more than seven yards per carry. Cardinal head coach David Shaw was able to pull Taylor partway through the game, so he should be fresh this week. He’ll need just 35 yards to surpass Stanford’s school record for carrer rushing yards (4,169) set by Darrin Nelson.
Cardinal QB Kevin Hogan got his third straight win, over three straight ranked opponents, as he threw for 160 yards and a touchdown. He was more mobile than UCLA’s gifted, athletic redshirt freshman QB, Brett Hundley, who was sacked seven times in the game.
Stanford’s tenacious defense will again put pressure on UCLA’s young offensive line (which features three freshman and a sophomore), but how similar will tonight’s game be with what we saw on Saturday?
If you’re a Cardinal fan, you’re hoping for the same outcome, but head coach David Shaw will have to come out with some new ideas to keep the Bruins from exacting revenge. And if you’re the Bruins, you have motivation to come back and beat Stanford, to win your first conference title since 1998.
Two key differences that could factor into a close game: the weather, and special teams. It’s expected to be windy and rainy at game time in Palo Alto, which could require both teams to rely even more heavily on their strong running games. Stanford punter Daniel Zychlinkski won’t play this time after injuring his shoulder against UCLA last week. Zychlinski is also the holder on field goals, and a combination of bad weather and a backup holder could have an impact on the outcome if the score’s close.
The game will be televised on FOX at 7 p.m. ET.