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UCLA Football's Golden Playoff Opportunity - Must-Win Against Stanford

Following a complete victory over the Southern Cal Trojans, and with the UCLA Bruins moving up a spot in the College Football Playoff committee's ranking, crunching the numbers on the Bruins reveal one truth for UCLA - keep winning and the odds might work out for Jim Mora and the Bruins.

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this week, we spent some time going over the Bruins' chances of making the inaugural College Football Playoff, focusing in on some great number crunching by Nate Silver over at FiveThirtyEight.  With the playoff committee updating their rankings and moving the Bruins up one spot to #8 (although you could make the argument that UCLA deserved to bumped past #7 Baylor and/or #6 Ohio State based on strength of schedule), Silver and the crew at FiveThirtyEight crunched the numbers again.  The bottom line?  The stakes are at an all-time high for most programs, especially the defending national champion Florida State Criminoles Seminoles, giving them only a 15% chance to make it to the playoff as a one-loss team:

But the committee seems to be down enough on FSU that it probably can’t afford a loss at all. Some of FSU’s problem is strength of schedule, as it has been all year. Neither Florida nor Georgia Tech is likely to impress the committee as an acceptable loss for the Seminoles, even if it wins the other game.

What does this mean for our Bruins?  First, we're still alive:

The model’s answer is that it’s slightly better for Oregon to lose this week — even against unranked Oregon State — and come back to win the Pac-12 title. The danger of losing the Pac-12 Championship is that Oregon’s Pac-12 opponent could possibly get in ahead of them, especially if it’s UCLA.

The Ducks could be hurting if they stumble against the Bruins at Levi's Stadium (assuming we take care of business today) - their chances fall from 76% to making the four-team field to just 42% if they lose the conference crown to our Bruins.

Second, UCLA has to win out if it wants to get in.  FiveThirtyEight has the Bruins odds at 13% right now, and that will get a slight bump to 18% if the Bruins win today against Stanford.  Key though is that if we keep winning and beat both Stanford and Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game, our odds jump to at least 47% - and that's just what the mathematical model used by FiveThirtyEight has.  As Silver notes, the committee appears to have a soft spot for the Pac-12 (which makes sense - the committee doesn't have a financial incentive to hype the SEC non-stop like the douches at ESPN do):

But the committee might want to find a spot for the Pac-12 champion; it seems to like the conference; the committee ranks Oregon, UCLA and Arizona higher than the AP poll has them.

It seems pretty odds-on that the committee will find a spot for the Pac-12 champion - given the huge media markets the conference has (#2 metro Los Angeles, #6 San Francisco Bay Area, #11 metro Phoenix, #14 metro Seattle, #17 Denver, #20 metro Sacramento, #23 Portland, #28 metro San Diego, and #34 Salt Lake City), there's a lot of reasons to include the Pac-12 champion (even if it's a two-loss UCLA team) because it will attract West Coast viewers.  Compare the Pac-12's geographic television market sizes to the SEC's (#9 metro Atlanta, #10 Houston - which is kind of a stretch for Texas A&M, #29 metro Nashville, #33 San Antonio - another stretch for Texas A&M, #43 Birmingham, #48 Jacksonville, #51 New Orleans, #56 metro Little Rock, #61 Knoxville, #63 Lexington) and it's pretty clear which conference has the television market that advertisers (and the event organizers) want.

So what does this translate to?  The bottom line is that today's game is an ABSOLUTE MUST-WIN for UCLA and Jim Mora. Win and we get a chance to take on the Ducks for the conference crown and a spot in the College Football Playoff.  Lose and UCLA will be watching one of the Arizona schools take on the Ducks and settling for whatever bowl the third-place Pac-12 team gets saddled with - which I believe is currently the Alamo Bowl.  Returning to San Antonio in Jim Mora's "show-me" season featuring a first-round NFL Draft quality QB in Brett Hundley will be a major underachievement.

I know many of you out there are content to finish the season strong and build for next year.  Never mind that the "next year" mentality is a loser's mentality - the same one employed by loser fan bases to justify continued mediocrity.  But this is a golden opportunity.  Brett Hundley is a special talent - he has the ability to lead this team to a very special, elite season.  I know people are already getting on the Josh Rosen bandwagon, and maybe the kid will turn out to be amazing, maybe even better than Brett - we can only hope.   But pinning our hopes on a true freshman QB next year to maybe get us back to this point - where we control our own destiny - seems foolhardy, especially for fans of a program that once thought true freshman J.P. Losman (who also early-enrolled) could replace a UCLA QB legend (a certain Cade McNown) - we all saw how that turned out.  It's as if UCLA fans have forgotten we once thought five-star, mature-because-he-was-older QB Ben Olson was going to be "the guy" to get UCLA back to the top - through no fault of his own, injuries derailed his career (and - knock on wood - it could happen to Rosen too) and UCLA bumbled through QB after QB until finding landing Hundley.

Yes, next year might be magical - Rosen might be fantastic, even as a true freshman. But to bank on it, to think that failing to capitalize on the golden opportunity we have this year because it will be there for the taking in the future is foolish - there is no way to know whether Rosen will or won't pan out - he might be the most talented and intelligent QB of all time - and for all we know, one blindside sack later - his career could be done.  In football, it could all end in one flash, so RIGHT NOW, UCLA needs to capitalize at the GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY presented.

In short, that means, starting today, the Bruins MUST take care business of Stanford. Yes, as Silver points out, beating the Trees only increases our odds to 18%, but it's the vital first step.  Beat the Ducks and not only do we get to end the year as the 11-2 Pac-12 conference champions, but we'll have at least a 47% chance of making it into the College Football Playoff, a four-team field set by a committee that has displayed a big soft spot for the Pac-12 and appears dead-set on finding a spot in that field for the Pac-12 champion, even if it is a two-loss UCLA squad.

Not next year, but NOW, UCLA needs to feel the urgency to win. There's a golden opportunity being laid at Jim Mora and the Bruins' feet - but it's up to them to reach out and seize it.  It's a must-win today.   Let's get it done.