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UCLA Football's Big Chance to Make the College Football Playoff

After a decisive victory over the hated Southern Cal Trojans, Jim Mora and the UCLA Bruins have a fighter's chance of making it into the inaugural four-team College Football Playoff - win the next two games, and the odds might just stand in their favor.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

While the wider Bruin fan base is still coming up for air after celebrating a complete victory over the hated Trojans from Southern Cal, Jim Mora and the UCLA football team are already focused in on the next hurdle - the Stanford Cardinal, who will come to the Rose Bowl for a day-after-Thanksgiving show down this Friday.  For the Bruins, the stakes are clear - win and they lock up the Pac-12 South division crown and a shot at redemption against the Oregon Ducks at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara on December 5; lose and they'll need some help to slide in through the back-door, but it will end the slim chance UCLA has of making it into the College Football Playoff.

As we said one week ago:

The time is now - UCLA has a golden opportunity - all we need to do is win the next three games and this season will be everything we had hoped for, and maybe, just maybe, with a bit of luck from the College Football Playoff committee, maybe even more.

It's time for Jim Mora and this coaching staff to put up or shut up - with Oregon State's help, they now have the opportunity they were hoping for - win the next three games and everything is there for the taking - there would be no better, more fitting way, for Brett Hundley - one of the all time greats at UCLA - to end his collegiate career than by winning out.

The first of those big three steps is completed and in the books - now, just Stanford and Oregon stand between the Bruins and a possible spot in the top-four College Football Playoff.  Right now, the Bruins stand at #9 in the College Football Playoff rankings and will move up to at least #8 after Ole Miss got dominated by Arkansas.  Considering that UCLA played the toughest opponent of any team in the top-10 this weekend (it was cupcake central for everyone else), the committee just might move the Bruins up more than one spot.

In short, UCLA is back in the mix for that fourth spot - nothing is guaranteed if we win out (and how much would that Utah loss burn then?) but the Bruins are definitely in the conversation now.  As Nate Silver over at FiveThirtyEight asks:

But could UCLA move up to No. 6 or No. 7 instead? Historically, voters in the Coaches Poll have not rewarded teams much for "big wins" (instead, they’ve tended to punish them for losses). The committee, so far, has been a little more aggressive about promoting teams after they secure major victories, sometimes jumping them ahead of other teams that also won. USC might or might not qualify as a "big win" for UCLA — the Bruins were favored and playing at home — but it’s impressive compared to the middling opponents the other top teams faced.

UCLA’s placement is relevant because it has a path, albeit a fraught one, into the playoff. The Bruins will need to beat Stanford on Friday and then Oregon in the Pac-12 title game on Dec. 5. If that happens, UCLA will presumably move ahead of Oregon in the committee’s pecking order. But even that will not be enough. Say that Alabama and Florida State also win out. UCLA might also need to jump ahead of potential conference champions like TCU, Baylor and Ohio State. Or imagine that Florida State loses. Would the committee take a two-loss UCLA team ahead of a one-loss Florida State team?

Considering the relative strength of the Pac-12 versus the ACC, if Florida State stumbles at all (and depending on who they lose to and how bad), if the Bruins win out, I think it's very safe to say that the committee will take a two-loss Pac-12 conference champion over a one-loss Florida State team that has underwhelmed at every possible opportunity.  The opportunity is there Jim - it's yours for the taking.

Right now, Silver's model has UCLA's chances at making it into the College Football Playoff at just 14% (which is an improvement over the 8% prior to the win over Southern Cal).  Silver crunched a lot of the numbers in a really great piece and came to the same conclusion that we pointed out last week - if the Bruins win out, they have a really great chance at making it into the College Football Playoff:

UCLA’s chances of making the playoff are 14 percent — up from 8 percent before its win against USC. That may undersell the Bruins’ chances, however. If they beat both Stanford and Oregon, their chances will be about 50 percent, according to the model.

What about Florida State? The model has the Seminoles’ chances at 59 percent overall, not much changed from 60 percent last week. But it gives them just an 18 percent chance of making the playoff if they take a loss rather than finishing the season undefeated.

And what exactly does that look like? Silver has it here:

So, what does this mean?  UCLA needs to win out, beginning with what would be Jim Mora's first career win over Stanford, and then the Bruins need to find a way to get it done at Levi's Stadium against the high-powered Ducks.  It's a tall order - two opponents that Jim Mora has yet to find a way to beat, but if there's every been the perfect opportunity, it's now - with a first-round NFL Draft talent at QB, an offensive line that is finally clicking, the Pac-12 conference rushing leader in the backfield (who can lay out some monster blocks to protect Hundley), and a defense that is finally really crushing it, led by athletic freak and QB pressure man Owa Odighizuwa, the Bruins may not get another golden opportunity like this for a while.

It also means, in a weird twist of fate, that UCLA fans need to root for the most unlikely of potential allies - the Florida Gators.  Yes, as dirty as that might feel after the Gators stopped the Bruins' aspirations of winning another hoops national title cold time and time again, if the 6-4 Florida Gators can steal a win against the Criminoles Seminoles next week in Tallahassee, the Bruins could be in the driver's seat for a spot in the College Football Playoff, assuming they get business done on their end.

In short, UCLA may only have a 14% chance on paper right now - but if they keep winning, and winning in an eye-pleasing manner, they might get the style boost they need from the College Football Playoff committee to turn Silver's 50% odds into the a spot in the Rose Bowl.

The golden opportunity is there for UCLA to take.  It's all on Jim Mora and the Bruins now - no more talk - it's time to seize the opportunity.