The UCLA Bruins have won back-to-back Pac-12 South division titles and came into 2013 as the favorite to win a third. But as the season winds down, the Bruins are one game back in the division with two to play. If they hope to get to their third Pac-12 title game they must win out, starting this week against the Arizona State Sun Devils and then in the regular season finale at the Coliseum against the USC Trojans. The margin for error is non-existent now for UCLA. One false step and their reign over the Pac-12 South comes to an end.
Coming into the final stretch of the season, UCLA sits at 5-2 in conference play, tied with USC and one game behind ASU who are 6-1 in conference play. The Bruins have been at a disadvantage in this race from the start because of the difficulty of their schedule. They’re the only team of the three contenders out of the South who had to play both the Stanford Cardinal and Oregon Ducks, which account for both of the Bruins’ losses this season. Arizona State only had to play Stanford (a 42-28 loss) and USC avoided the Ducks as well though they won a tough matchup against the Cardinal just last week.
That back-to-back road trip to Palo Alto and Eugene may end up being the undoing of the Bruins in 2013. Dropping both games put UCLA behind in the division race and they are now scrambling to catch up. The fortunate thing for them is that the teams they are competing against are set out right in front of them on the schedule. The opportunity to get back to the conference title game is in their hands, they just need to win out.
Though that will be easier said than done at this point. Arizona State is one of only five teams in the nation to rank in the top 20 of both total offense and total defense and USC has looked like a completely different team under Ed Orgeron over the last six games. It will a hard-knock drag-out fight in the final two games if UCLA wants to continue their streak of division titles. Can the Bruins close out strong and steal the South?