NCAA FB

UCLA in a no-win situation?

Gus Johnson and Charles Davis recap UCLA's win over USC
Gus Johnson and Charles Davis recap UCLA's win over USC
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Billy Witz

Billy Witz has contributed to The New York Times and covered a multitude of sporting events. A Tulane University grad, Witz has won Associated Press Sports Editor awards for investigative reporting, feature writing and game stories. He covered the Lakers' every move last season for FOX Sports West.

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The one unassailable, undeniable truth about college football is supposed to be that every game matters.

It mattered last Saturday for Oregon and Kansas State. It mattered the Saturday before to Alabama (until it didn’t).

And this Saturday, it most certainly will matter to Notre Dame when it travels west to its own historical house of horrors, the Los Angeles Coliseum, to earn a spot in the BCS title game with a win over battered, beleaguered USC.

But just up the road, at the Rose Bowl, this foundational theorem of college football, the one that is supposed to separate it from other sports, might have football-sized holes poked in it.

When UCLA, 17th in the BCS standings, takes the field against No. 8 Stanford, it might have the most to win by not showing up — literally or figuratively.

The Bruins have clinched a berth in the Pac-12 championship game. If Oregon, which kicks off 3-1/2 hours earlier, beats Oregon State, then UCLA will have lost any chance of hosting the game.

And this is where the Bruins can win by losing.

If they beat Stanford, their reward is a trip to Oregon six days later. If Stanford wins, the Bruins would play them for real on The Farm. Neither would be a picnic, but playing the Ducks for the right to go to the Rose Bowl is a more daunting prospect.

Losing to the Cardinal would also make dollars as well as sense.

If Oregon is shut out of the Pac-12 title game and finishes its regular season 11-1, it almost assuredly will earn an at-large berth in a BCS game. A second BCS team would be worth $6.1 million to the Pac-12, or about $500,000 per school — enough for UCLA to jump-start a Keep Kiffin campaign.

So, really, maybe it would make sense to pull quarterback Brett Hundley after a couple series. And there seems little sense in star tailback Jonathan Franklin taking some unnecessary shots or revealing too much of the game plan.

It could be a day to let pragmatism rule, to Doze for the Rose, as it were.

When UCLA coach Jim Mora was asked about this Sunday by beat writers, he was as incredulous as his father was when once upon a time he was asked about the playoffs.

“Are you serious?” Mora asked. “No. Are you talking about thinking about losing this game Saturday? No, no, no. Come on. Jiminy Christmas. If I thought that way, I should never be in this business.”

Oh, right. The business that is about the purity of athletic competition, the amateur ideal and giving it the old college try — the one that served Matt Barkley so well.

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The point is, if seemingly everyone is trying to game the system — be it USC with its underinflated footballs, Oregon with its overinflated budget (thanks, Uncle Phil!) or Nick Saban getting around the Nick Saban Rules — why not the Bruins?

The Suck for Luck campaign that the Colts embarked on last year once it became clear that Peyton Manning was out for the season may have been mocked. But who’s laughing now?

The Colts clearly have a franchise quarterback, and Andrew Luck has them back in the playoff chase much more quickly than anyone — even the Colts themselves — might have imagined.

Two years ago, the Memphis Grizzlies seemingly tanked games at the end of the regular season to set up a playoff series with top-seeded San Antonio because they liked the matchup. Sure enough, the Grizzlies pulled off the upset.

And last summer, several badminton teams lost during the Olympics to set themselves up with a better draw. But as fans began to express outrage — yes, they take their badminton seriously in England — the Badminton World Federation, fearful that the shuttlecock would hit the fan, stepped in and kicked eight badminton players out of the Olympics.

Thus came to an end the Fold for Gold campaign.

It’s unlikely anyone would take such action against UCLA. Certainly, their fans, so used to seeing losing football and wondering what it would be like to play at their home stadium on New Year’s Day, would certainly not object if the Bruins failed, in fact, to give it the old college try.

And let’s face it, the Bruins would not just be helping themselves, they would be providing a public service: a nationally televised example that everything we love about college football — the passion, the pageantry and the unpredictability — rings true.

Until it doesn’t.

Tagged: Stanford, UCLA, USC, Oregon, Matt Barkley

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