UCLA football is on top of the world right now. Not on top of the polls, mind you — No. 15 in AP and No. 17 in the BCS standings — but who honestly cares about that right now? Certainly not Jim Mora, who hammers in the “one game at a time” philosophy with relentless efficacy. Every single player on the roster has absorbed that mindset, and they’re headed to the Rose Bowl if they win out.
Vegas opens with the Cardinal as 1.5-point favorites. Flip a coin.
Why Stanford will win: Start with the defense that held Oregon below 40 the first time all season, and to its lowest point total since Nov. 13, 2010. Linebacker Shayne Skov looks like he never tore his ACL. This is far and away the biggest test for UCLA’s offense.
Stanford also has a redshirt freshman quarterback its own. Kevin Hogan isn’t close to the player Brett Hundley is, but he’s plenty capable in his own right. Keeps plays alive with his feet and doesn’t make costly mistakes. Also, this is a team that should have extended overtime against now-No. 1 Notre Dame, only to be thwarted by a poor call. (Although Stepfan Taylor’s four straight first-and-goal runs do speak to uninspired playcalling.)
Why UCLA will win: Picking against UCLA gets harder with each passing week. Hundley has been poised regardless of circumstance, and can do everything from eluding sacks to zipping fourth-and-long completions. There’s a reason USC defensive tackle George Uko compared the quarterback to Vince Young. Lane Kiffin said the Trojans missed 23 tackles on Saturday, and 12 were attempts on Hundley. Johnathan Franklin is 131 yards away from breaking Karim Abdul-Jabbar’s single-season rushing record. The defense has issues, but can make big plays in crucial spots. And special teams? Killer in the past two weeks, what with the bevy of blocked punts and kicks to go along with Jeff Locke’s automatic leg.
Right now, the most likely scenario is still the Bruins in the Alamo Bowl, which has second pick of the Pac-12 after the Rose Bowl. If UCLA loses to Stanford on Saturday and again in the Pac-12 Championship: the Cardinal would go to the Rose Bowl while Oregon — assuming it beats Oregon State — still gets an at-large BCS bid. If UCLA beats Stanford, then loses to the Ducks, the conference gets just one BCS bowl team. That leaves the Bruins, again, with the Alamo Bowl.
Which, by they way, might include West Virginia.