After Oregon’s loss, is UCLA the new Pac-12 favorite?

Nearly four months ago, UCLA was listed as an early favorite almost through its entire 2014 schedule. The exception? Mighty Oregon, just a year removed from four straight BCS bowls, and an early three-point favorite.

My, how things have changed.

UCLA stumbled out of the gate, collecting three uneven wins before stomping on then-No. 15 Arizona State last Thursday. The Bruins still have question marks, but they’re on the upswing, and back in the hearts and minds of at least a few national pundits. One ESPN analyst has them in the San Francisco Bowl, but another picked the Fiesta Bowl. CBS Sports has slotted UCLA back into the Sugar Bowl, as the No. 4 seed in a national semifinal against Alabama.

The No. 2 Ducks, meanwhile, might have cost themselves national title hopes with their 31-24 loss at home last night to Arizona — the most surprising undefeated team left in the country. (Earlier this week, Yahoo! Sports’ Pat Forde wrote this of the Wildcats: “Chances of being unbeaten by Halloween: zero.”)

Oregon’s hopes aren’t done yet, but it looks like a team that’s going to drop another game or two before the season is over. The Ducks’ offensive line isn’t keeping star quarterback Marcus Mariota upright, and its defense is getting gashed in embarrassing fashion. Among the Wildcats’ highlights last night: a true freshman running over an All-American cornerback, and a simple run up the middle to convert a late third-and-20.

Arizona might be for real, but it also needed a Hail Mary to beat Cal a week ago. The Wildcats don’t have inertia in the polls yet, and thus have less room for error if they drop a game or two.

By virtue of preseason hype, UCLA does have that room, though it got slimmer with Oregon’s loss. If the Bruins get past Utah tomorrow, beating the Ducks next Saturday at 12:30 p.m. on FOX won’t be as impressive given that UCLA will likely be higher-ranked.

But it’s become clear that the Pac-12 North isn’t the powerhouse that it has been since the conference expanded, with either Cal or Washington State to take the division lead by the end of the weekend. That hurts the reputation of the league a bit nationally, but it also makes the Pac-12 South winner’s task a little less daunting.

As Jon Wilner of the Bay Area News Group points out, if Stanford loses to Notre Dame, UCLA might be the conference’s last hope at making the inaugural College Football Playoff. We’ll see what happens Saturday.

  • Tommy B Low Us

    The mighty “O” has fallen. Quack quack!!

    • BruinTax

      Our defense better step it up or we are going to be following right in Oregon’s footsteps. We’ve played ONE good game. Lets not tear a rotator cuff patting ourselves on the back just yet!

      • Tommy B Low Us

        I have faith they will get it done.

      • UCLA Bleauz

        After USC’s win over Stanford, half of our fans wound up having Tommy John surgery after all the back patting and hand shaking had finally died down….

        • EncinitasBruin

          That’s funny, Bleauz. I’m cautiously optimistic about the Bruins. With TA&M trailing MSst 28-10 at halftime, and with Oregon’s loss, UCLA could move up to #6 if they win in fashion tonight. As I mentioned yesterday, I think, at this point, any team in the P12 has a shot at the conf title right now except for OSU and CO.

  • 92104bruinfan

    Solid take Jack. Most folks including myself thought the Ducks would wax the ‘Cats to avenge last year’s drubbing so the “looking ahead to next week” excuse was out the door. The struggles getting past the Cougs weren’t a mirage. While WSU and AZ are both solid teams, this is more of Oregon sliding a bit. The Bruins now have a HUGE opportunity this season and should be a favorite against Oregon. With the gigantic caveat that every Pac 12 game is a potential trap game, the toughest games on the schedule should be $C and likely back to back games against Stanford to close out the season and then again for the Pac 12 title game presuming Stanford wins the North which seems likely at least as of today. Bruins are now the hunted with the target on their backs. Wouldn’t have it any other way. Go Bruins!

    • SonOfWestwood

      Gonna be a November to remember. Let us hope it’s for good reasons.

    • EncinitasBruin

      These are heady days, and a lot of fun. As I mention below, with TA&M trailing MsSt 28-10 at half, and with the Ducks’ loss, we could move as high as #6 if we take care of biz tonight in the Arroyo. Our D makes me a bit nervous–while we are making the HUGE plays (Ish, Jack, Jefferson, etc), when the dust settles, we are giving up huge swaths of yardage. Yeah, I know CJM isn’t worried–but I am. Still remember that terrible feeling after the ’98 Hurricane Bowl… I do think, however, that our D is much better than that year’s D.
      #bruinrevolution
      #takedowntheutes

  • UCLA Bleauz

    And why shouldn’t they be? Oregon’s OL are in shambles and UCLA have the Ducks at home…and they should be able to defeat the “inertia-less” Wildcats…Stanford are pathetic in the red zone…..and USC hasn’t proven that they can stop a running QB…..

    • ProbationU

      A lot of football to be played. All teams have issues and a lot of work to do.

      • UCLA Bleauz

        Yes, of course there is still a lot of football left to be played, but that shouldn’t take away from the fact the UCLA should be looked upon as the new Pac-12 favorite, at this stage… who else would you pick?

        • SonOfWestwood

          USC has already taken down what appears to be the toughest team in the North division. I’d say that puts them in the driver’s seat right now. Yes they’ve already shown weakness, but they’ve also shown flashes of being a competitor and one of the favorites in the division.

          Tomorrow will bring us closer to finding out who the better team might be.

          • UCLA Bleauz

            Yes, but USC’s victory over Stanford was a bit of fools gold, if you ask me…..beating a pocket passer like Hogan and Mannion is one thing, but mobile QB’s have always been the Achilles heel of our defenses over the years…The team that gets their OL to gel first will have a leg up on the competition…..

          • http://amillennialist.blogspot.com Santiago Matamoros

            UCLA’s offensive line appeared to have turned a corner in the second half of the Texas game. Barring serious injury, I see only improvement.

            As for Hogan and Mannion, Stanford gave away their game against USC by self-destructing on offense; and even though OSU was missing an important playmaker on offense, Mannion did not look right at all during the game.

            Tomorrow’s games against Utah and ASU should give pretty good points of comparison between UCLA and USC.

          • SonOfWestwood

            True enough. But while USC struggles against mobile QB’s, Mora teams have had similar struggles against slow, grind it out style teams, namely Stanford. It is for that reason that I say USC has the advantage.

            Don’t get me wrong, I’m not penciling in a UCLA loss against Stanford, but having a W against a team we’ve struggled with puts USC in a good place in the division.

          • EncinitasBruin

            Here’s the rest of our sched: UT (home), UofO (h), Cal (away), Colo (away) AZ (h), UW (a), USC (h), Stan (h). So of those 8 games, 5 are at home, where we are 13-3 under Mora. Guaranteed wins? Definitely not. But SC still has to play dangerous clubs in AZ (away), Utah (they are tough in the altitude of SLC), WSU in the Palousse (very tough environment in Nov, and Leach is finally getting big results from his guys), Cal (h), UCLA (away), ND (h). That’s a tough row to hoe for the Trojans. Most likely, they will be underdogs vs AZ in Tuscon, UCLA our House, or ND at home.

  • keptycho

    The Oregon loss makes it obvious to our team and fans that Oregon is certainly beatable. After we beat Utah tomorrow, our confidence will get a major boost and we will be ready for roasted Duck. Our future looks bright. Go Bruins!

  • George Valbuena III

    …we will see..do not forget Arizona finishing strong last year… beat Oregon in late November & went to the east coast for an early game vs Boston College who was boasting the best running back in the nation & totally demolished them…they have taken that momentum into 2014

    • EncinitasBruin

      Agree. AZ is dangerous. Glad we get them at home, whereas SC has to play in Tuscon…

      • George Valbuena III

        …OK…guess UCLA likes to be pushed around on their home turf…10 sacks at home is an absolute disgrace…massive stud D-line gets pushed around like children against men…the linebacking corp was exposed as inept especial Deon Hollins…Fabian Moreau & Ishmael Adams were exposed as well…D-coordinator Ulbrich has them lined up totally out of place w/exposed gaps…PATHETIC

  • Laker Rod

    Let’s take it one game at a time. The focus is on Utah. Nothing else. Who cares if UCLA is the supposed favorite now. As far as I’m concerned UCLA/Mora has yet to beat Oregon and Stanford and the UCLA defense isn’t exactly setting the world on fire. Can’t get any sacks. The defense is pathetic right now and not championship caliber. They need to get better and Ulbrich has to scheme and coach better. Same on offense. Bruins have to get better each week.

    • EncinitasBruin

      I think this is a personality thing, Rod. Some of us just enjoy prognosticating. Kind of a hobby. Of course you are correct about not looking ahead. I can’t help but think back to our ’98 O and D. Our D kept us out of the NCG (that, and a crappy fumble call against Brad Melsby–which wasn’t actually a fumble). I don’t think our D is as bad as that ’98 squad, but if we don’t shore things up soon, we will go down, just like Oregon on Thurs.

      • Laker Rod

        Well…looks like our concerns came true unfortunately. I have confidence the Bruin team will re-group. Traditionally UCLA does not play well when ranked high. It’s something the program just needs to become more accustomed to. They are obviously not there yet.

        • EncinitasBruin

          Unfortunately, yes. Hopefully early this week Mazzone will see that just letting BH sit in the pocket is not going to work against Oregon. I know the staff is concerned about that left elbow, but what’s more dangerous: getting sacked 10 times in the pocket, or rolling out and mixing things up a bit more? AZ has turned into the team to beat in the P12S.

  • Sandy Underpants

    Okay, ummmmmm, do I think UCLA is the Pac-12 Favorite just because oregon lost? Shouldn’t Arizona be the favorite since they actually beat Oregon, in Eugene? And they’re 2-0 in conference. So far UCLA’s best win was against an unranked team without their starting QB.

    • Heather Thomas

      Arizona State was ranked #15 when UCLA beat them, moron! Check facts much?

      • Sandy Underpants

        I know. USC was ranked #1 in 2012. Doesn’t mean much. ASU is ranked #35 today and they didn’t even have their quarterback when UCLA played them, so it’s not really an impressive win. When UCLA finally plays a good team, we’ll see if they’re any good. That hasn’t happened yet, and isn’t happening today either. And it’s October already.

      • EncinitasBruin

        We’ve tried to explain this to Joe Blow (AKA Sandy). He knows you are correct. He’s a crafty fellow who simply loves to repeat misinformation to instigate and irritate us. He’s like that yippy Shih Tzu in the neighbor’s window–just walk on by and pay no attention.

    • Tommy B Low Us

      Now underpants. Why would you not say that the clown college is the favorite? The strategy to lose against BC should make them the favorite right? Better get back to your troglydote rah rah fight on song.

      • Sandy Underpants

        Because I’m a genius and even people with a diminished capacity to reason ought to see that Arizona should be considered the favorite based on the events of the season (as enumerated in my original post), thus far.

        • Tommy B Low Us

          You are like a step child we need to send to the corner. I bet your dunce cap is ketchup and mustard colored.

          • jameskatt

            I would have preferred referencing rotten tomato paste and rancid mustard.

          • Tommy B Low Us

            Haha! Either way they are still Ronald McDonald colors. Fitting for the clown college.

          • Sandy Underpants

            My dunce cap is covering my eyes. Let me know what about the the UCLA blow out of Utah proves they are the front runners for the Pac-12 championship.

          • Tommy B Low Us

            Why do clown college players get burned with Hail Mary passes? Because their dunce cap covers their eyes. Hahahaha!

        • jameskatt

          Carla Sandy Underpants, we are early in the season so loosen that wedgie. Arizona hasn’t proven anything yet other than it matches up well with Oregon and can beat Oregon, but it doesn’t match as well with Cal particularly on defense and would have lost to Cal if it weren’t for a Hail Mary pass. Further, Arizona isn’t as highly ranked as UCLA. Period. In the AP Poll, UCLA is #8. Arizona is nowhere to be found. In the USA Today’s Coaches Poll, UCLA is #9. Arizona is nowhere to be found. In ESPN’s College Football Power Rankings, UCLA is #8, Arizona is nowhere to be found. THE HIGHER RANKED TEAM IS THE FAVORITE. Obviously. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that. And I would question a person’s IQ if they don’t.

          • Sandy Underpants

            You question my IQ because none of what I said makes sense to you? Maybe you should pick up a newspaper (if they still make them) and check the rankings since you need someone else to tell you how good a team is. This is how I’m going to decide: Arizona 5-0 (2-0 in conference) and just beat the top team in the conference in their house. UCLA just lost to an unranked Utah team at home and their best win was against an unranked team with their back up QB playing. I don’t know where UCLA and Arizona will be ranked today, but I do know that today Arizona is the better team based on the events of the season.

        • EncinitasBruin

          Joe, don’t disagree that AZ is not a fresh contender for the P12 title, but looking at this dispassionately for a moment, UCLA is the #8 team in the nation, and has AZ at home. UCLA is still the conf favorite, particularly with the Trojans getting the Cats in Tuscon. Watch out for Berco tonight…the kid can sling the rock…

    • Tommy B Low Us

      Yeah ASU is over rated. But they still beat the clown college. Hahahahahaha!!!!

  • jameskatt

    UCLA has to bring their A+ game on every game. Always go for the throat to crush it.