It’s encore time for Stanford, UCLA
Well, at least UCLA earned its way into the Pac-12 Championship Game this year.
If you’re looking for sales pitches for staging a conference championship game, which the Pac-12 began after expanding last year, then this is as good as it’s gotten.
The Bruins, who won the South Division, play at Stanford, which won the North, for the right to go to the Rose Bowl.
It might be a compelling matchup — the surprising Bruins, the steady Cardinal, two of the country’s best running backs (Johnathan Franklin and Stepfan Taylor) and two of the nation’s most promising freshman quarterbacks (Brett Hundley and Kevin Hogan) — if it hadn’t just taken place six days ago. Stanford handled UCLA 35-17 at the Rose Bowl just last Saturday.
Whether it is rematch fatigue, sticker shock (tickets range from $80-$120 for non-students), a rush-hour kickoff time (5 p.m. locally), or a weather forecast calling for rivers of rain Friday, interest in the game has been tepid.
Though neither school has been to the Rose Bowl in more than a decade, less than 35,000 tickets were sold as of 24 hours before kickoff.
The Bruins can only hope that a change of scenery — and stakes — changes what happened in Pasadena last week.
The Cardinal defensive front punished the Bruins offensive line — one team’s strength vs. another’s shortcoming. Hundley was sacked seven times and stayed in the game until the end, even though the game meant nothing to UCLA since it had already clinched the South title. Stanford, after stunning Oregon the week before, needed to win to assure itself a spot in Friday’s game.
As for the wisdom of trying to win that game — the Bruins would be traveling to Oregon if they had won last week — coach Jim Mora was trying to instill a tougher mentality into his team. He said essentially the same thing Thursday about the weather, which would seem to favor Stanford if the field (covered the day before the game) turns mucky.
“I think if you have the mindset as a team that it doesn’t matter where you play, who you play, what the conditions are, what the circumstances are, you just go out and execute and you have the best chance to be a consistent football team,” Mora said. “That’s our approach regarding anything.”
The conference title game was supposed to be the crown jewel of the conference’s 12-year, $3 billion television contract with FOX and ESPN. But it has not turned out that way.
Last year was a dud. UCLA, which was coming off a 50-0 loss to USC and had announced the firing of coach Rick Neuheisel, was offered up as the South Division champ because USC was banned from playing because of NCAA sanctions. The lame-duck Bruins went up to Oregon and were thumped by the other Ducks 49-31.
This one is only marginally more compelling. A rematch from last week in a nearly half-empty stadium in the rain?
Those on the field or in the stands aren’t the only ones who may come away feeling all wet.