Here in the Bruins Nation community, we like to deal in reality. Unfortunately, sometimes that dose of reality is a bitter tasting, gag-inducing prescription. On Saturday, we found out that UCLA Football just might indeed have a ceiling this season. The truth remains, it has been a good season, and better yet, it is far from over. While the season has wound to a close for most teams until their bowl games, UCLA still has the opportunity to achieve a great deal. It was a very interesting season for the Pac-12 conference, breaking in no less than 4 new coaches. The power poll below will be the last, until after all the bowl games for Pac-12 teams are concluded.
Player of the Week: Kalafitoni Pole, Washington State – who, you ask? Well, Pole is a defensive lineman for the Cougars. On the first play of overtime against Washington, Pole intercepted Keith Price and nearly returned it for a game-ending touchdown, but still set up the winning field goal to unleash a mad celebration and let out a lot of frustration by beating a hated rival in the Apple Cup.
Stat of the Week: 36 – combined deficit for Utah, Wazzu and ASU, entering the 4th quarter in their respective games. All three won their game. Rivalry week!
Game of the Week: UCLA at Stanford, 5:00pm PST, FOX – Coach Mora and his Bruins get another chance to prove that they belong in the upper echelon of the conference. A victory puts the winner in the Rose Bowl. UCLA’s previous appearance was in 1999, while Stanford’s was in 2000 (although Stanford will be going for its third BCS bowl in a row).
1. Stanford (10-2, 8-1): the Cardinal started the season on an unsure footing with a new QB. Since replacing Nunes with Hogan, Stanford has been rolling and improving every week, hitting its stride at just the right time, much to the misfortune of host UCLA. Most impressive is probably the fact that they win every game just about the same way: power running, passes to tight ends, great defense. It’s a recipe that’s built on, first, having big ol’ linemen, second, on discipline and execution. Stepfan Taylor was contained, except for when he wasn’t. For their effort, the Cardinal will host the Pac-12 championship at home on Friday night, and will likely play very similarly against UCLA. It certainly wasn’t broke and there wasn’t much to fix…
2. Oregon (11-1, 8-1): with a BCS bowl on the line, Oregon had to wipe off its missed opportunity from last week to take on a solid Beaver team in Corvallis in the Civil War. The first quarter was tight and ended with Oregon State leading 7-6, a lead that lasted just over 3 minutes. After that, the Ducks scored 2 TDs every quarter to put the game away easily and assure themselves of a likely spot in the Fiesta Bowl. Black Mamba had 122 yards and 3 TDs, while Kenjon Barner had 198 yards and 2 TDs and the Duck defense forced 6 turnovers. Oregon will play Kansas Sate in the Fiesta bowl after another great season, though one likely laced with regret. After the BCS bowl, the Chip Kelly to the NFL rumors will begin anew…
3. Oregon State (8-3, 6-3): concluding a remarkable conference turnaround, it was still a tough way for the Beavers to finish up against the Ducks. While that turnaround was very impressive, even more so than UCLA’s, the Beavers are still a step back from their hated rival. Mannion was back at QB but threw 4 INTs as he has not been the same since his injury. He will likely regain his form in the offseason and the Beavers should once again be solid next year. Riley’s crew isn’t quite done yet as they play the rescheduled game against Nicholls State next week, but I doubt they will pull a Cal Poly performance a la UCLA Basketball (smh…). After that, they will likely play in the Alamo or Holiday Bowl.
4. UCLA (9-3, 6-3): it was a bad time for UCLA to run into the Stanford steamroller. The game started well enough for the Bruins, but soon turnovers and penalties reared their ugly heads, a death knell against a solid opponent such as Stanford. The truth is, from a bowl perspective or conference standings, this game was meaningless for UCLA, which engendered Pac-12 conspiracy theories (UCLA losing ensured that 2 teams would go to BCS bowls), and theories about the coaches not wanting to show their hand too much as evidenced in some rather vanilla playcalling. It was however a matter of pride and of showing everyone that UCLA belonged with the elite teams in the conference and the team failed to take that opportunity. Despite eye tests and performances that show much improvement from last year, the bottom line is that UCLA only won one more conference game than last year. Be that as it may, on Friday night, they must go all out, leave it all on the field in Palo Alto to take UCLA back to Rose Bowl glory.
5. Southern Cal (7-5, 5-4): #1 to #none. Have the media learned their lesson? The Trogans were nothing but hype this year. And really, they were just an above average team with an underwhelming defense and undisciplined play. Lane Kiffin thought that he could just dial up "bomb to Lee" any time and win games, but in truth, this team would likely lose to Carroll’s very first Southern Cal team. Now, in fairness, they played without their starting QB who got Barrsoharded last week, and had to go with redshirt freshman Max Wittek, the latest in arrogant Trogan QBs, who said that they would win this game last week. For good measure, the Trogans couldn’t punch it in with 1st & goal and 8 tries in the fourth quarter against Notre Dame, their "true" rival. Now they get to go to the Sun Bowl, and we get to have Lane Kiffin around next year.
6. Arizona State (7-5, 5-4): despite a mid-season slump, Graham’s first season at ASU was not a bad one. True, their win total is only one higher, but most importantly, they beat their rival in the last game of the season after a great comeback and that has Sun Devil fans feeling pretty good. Running back Marion Grice led the way with 156 yards and 3 TDs as ASU overcame a 10 point deficit in the fourth quarter and scored 24 points. Helped by their defense which forced 4 turnovers, they overcame the hostile crowd and Arizona’s all-red uniforms. Unlike last year, ASU will get to go to a bowl game, which will likely be the Hunger bowl or the Las Vegas bowl.
7. Washington (7-5, 5-4): traveling to Pullman, the Huskies felt pretty good about themselves, sporting a 4-game winning streak after a tough slate of games. Their season included nice wins against Stanford and Oregon State. But, up by 18 against Leach’s scurvious crew, they couldn’t close the deal and allowed a mad Cougar comeback, punctuated by an interception on the first play of overtime. Turnovers and penalties undid Sark’s team, which seemingly has reached its ceiling under the coach. Although he has brought them back to respectability after some very dark years, this program is used to much better. Sark seems to do just enough to keep his job. Next up, the Hunger bowl or the Las Vegas bowl.
8. Arizona (7-5, 4-5): it’s funny how things work out. The Wildcats were riding high and looking quite dangerous after beating Southern Cal, who at the time was ranked #9. But in that game, Matt Scott took a blow to the head and vomited repeatedly, yet continued to play and denied along with his coach that he got a concussion. In the next game against UCLA, where he was clearly not playing at the same level, he got another concussion. His numbers prior to the Southern Cal game are drastically different from those after. In the finale against ASU, he threw another 3 picks. It could be coincidence, or it could be that his brain was scrambled. I hope he is fine. The Wildcats blew a 10 point lead in the 4th to ASU and ended the season on a down note, but clearly the program is much different from what Rodriguez took over. They will continue to be dangerous offensively, but their defense certainly needs work. They will still get to go bowling in the New Mexico bowl against Nevada, by all indications.
9. Utah (5-7, 3-6): Ending on a winning note should help Utah’s young QB get some motivation for next season. Helped by yet another Reggie Dunn 100-yard kickoff return, the Utes beat Colorado to concluded a subpar season. It was a year of what-might-have-been for the Utes who lost their starting QB and couldn’t recover, or it could simply be that the move to a BCS conference was much harder than anticipated. I expect a rebound next year with Wittingham at the helm.
10. Washington State (3-9, 1-8): Leach and his pirates picked a great time to come up with their first conference win, causing fans to rush the field as they came back to beat Washington in a crazy game in Pullman. Most, including myself, expected many more fireworks in Leach’s first season but he hit some hiccups along the way, repeatedly calling out his players and weeding out those he felt did not fit his program. Have they now bought in to Leach and his sword? Perhaps this dramatic victory will inspire the Cougars to work hard in the offseason. Regardless, Leach will not be able to pull the same shenanigans next year and they will have to produce.
11. Cal (3-9, 2-7): why, why did we lose to this team? After an agonizing season that still featured an incomprehensible beatdown of UCLA, Cal has fired Jeff Tedford and is currently negotiating his very expensive buyout. It was a big blow to the winningest coach in Cal football history, who was a leading force behind their stadium renovation and brand new athletic center. He probably could have turned it around but couldn’t seem to find the right QB for the job. It is still unclear who the Bears will hire, but I hear Karl Dorrell is available.
12. Colorado (1-9, 1-8): So concluded the worst season in Colorado football history, a loss against Utah, which prompted the school to fire coach Jon Embree, a year sooner than most expected. He did not leave quietly. Colorado has some deep soul-searching to do…
We’re not quite done, Bruins. I hope many of you can make it to Palo Alto for the revenge. I will be on a plane, watching on DirectTV. Yes, it was great to retake LA, to see Troy burn down in flames…but there is more out there for our boys.