With the Stanford game barely 60 hours away, the Bruins don't have much time to relax or enjoy the upcoming holiday. Jordan Payton talked to the media after practice this morning about the difference the team faces in having a shortened week to prepare for Stanford while the rest of us are preparing to hit the stores before the Bruins take the field on Black Friday.
As reported by Kevin Gemmell at tWWL's Pac-12 blog, Ty Montgomery will miss Friday's game due to the sprained right shoulder that he suffered last weekend at Cal. The loss of their most dynamic athlete on offense - and one of the elite receivers in the nation - gives our defense even less of a excuse for not coming out strong against a Cardinal offense that has been anemic even when at full strength.
Noel Mazzone talked a little bit about the other, stronger part of this year's Stanford squad after practice.
Over at Grantland, Matt Hinton noted that UCLA has come full circle, with the team that beat down Southern Cal on Saturday night finally looking like the Bruin team people were expecting heading into the season.
Alongside UCLA’s convincing, double-digit wins over Arizona and Washington earlier this month, it was hard to mistake Saturday night for anything but a portrait of a talented outfit finally hitting its stride.
... for the first time this season it’s impossible to deny that the Bruins look like a playoff contender, and not only according to the futures market. Depending on how things shake out over the next 13 days, they’ll have reached their appointed station either too late or just in the nick of time. In any case, it’s clear that, just as we gave up waiting for them, the Bruins have finally arrived.
Even if the Bruins win out, this Friday and next, some help will likely be required for us to see UCLA in a playoff game on New Year's Day. The football writers at SI posted a roundtable discussion after this evening's latest playoff ranking release, and Andy Staples sees opportunity for a shakeup in the places ahead this weekend.
That said, I still feel like there are more opportunities for shakeups this week than at any other time this season. All four teams above the cutline play rivals that are only a bus trip away. Of those only Oregon has a significant talent advantage over Oregon State. That means there are three games involving top-four teams in which a team with only slightly less talent -- and nothing to lose -- will pull out all the stops to try to beat its rival. I would be more shocked if all the teams in the top four emerged unscathed than if one or two lost.
Zac Ellis added his thoughts on UCLA's playoff worthiness if the Bruins win the Pac-12 and one or more of the current top-4 fall.
... UCLA, meanwhile, just needs to beat Stanford in its regular-season finale to reach the Pac-12 title game.
If the Bruins do that and then sink an Oregon squad that's currently a near-lock for a semifinal berth, that résumé suddenly doesn't look so bad. UCLA will have a good nonconference schedule that includes wins over Virginia, Memphis and Texas. It'd have victories over three teams that are currently ranked and two losses (to Oregon and Utah) to quality competition. It’d also have a league title, which the committee says it will value ...
Those three factors are why I think it'd be tough to keep UCLA out in that scenario. ... Wouldn't a two-loss UCLA with a conference title, nine league games and a top-rated nonconference schedule be more deserving than a Mississippi State that didn't win its conference, played eight league games and had a weak nonconference slate?
Stewart Mandel shares that high opinion of UCLA, and of the Pac-12 South generally. In his bowl projections for Fox Sports, he predicts that the Bruins (assuming a win over Stanford) and the Arizona/Arizona State winner will be placed in one of the Big-6 bowls by the playoff committee.
There’s so much we don’t know yet about how the selection committee will go about making those non-playoff pairings, and the Pac-12 provides an interesting test case. If those three teams all finish in the top 10, with Oregon going to the playoff, would division champ UCLA get first dibs on the geographically closer Fiesta Bowl? Or would the committee keep one of the two home-state schools in Arizona to help boost ticket sales and send the Bruins to Dallas? I went with the latter.
Mandel and Bruce Feldman's weekly podcast deals with the looming UCLA/Oregon battle and Miss. State's lukewarm case for a playoff spot among topics in the college football world. But really, all you should need to know is Bruce Feldman, Stewart Mandel, and college football in order to give up an hour of your day to take a listen.
In SPTR news, the Pac-12 admitted that its replay crew incorrectly took away would-be Cal touchdowns twice in a three-play span in the 3rd quarter of their loss to Stanford last weekend. The Bears host BYU on Saturday in hopes of becoming the conference's 9th bowl eligible team this season.