Week 13: UCLA routs USC to move closer to playoff berth, Perine, more

BY foxsports • November 23, 2014

It may be that the College Football Playoff selection committee knows more about football than its skeptics want to acknowledge. After all, no team has soared higher since the panel’s initial rankings than UCLA.

In Saturday night’s 38-20 rout of rival USC, the No. 9 Bruins — 22nd back on Oct. 22 — looked every bit the part of a top-10 team. Jim Mora’s 9-2 squad finally put together the type of complete performance that many pundits (myself included) envisioned when making UCLA their trendy preseason playoff team. It may be too late for the Bruins to achieve that lofty goal, but then again, there still could be chaos elsewhere the last two weeks of the season.

UCLA’s third straight win over the Trojans — a complete reversal from the Pete Carroll-USC era dominance of the rivalry — puts the Bruins in position to clinch the Pac-12 South next week against 6-5 Stanford. Pac-12 North champ Oregon dealt UCLA its last loss, 42-30 on Oct. 11 in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score. The Bruins were 4-2 and reeling at that time, their offensive line a mess, their defense underachieving.

Since that time, though, UCLA has rolled off five straight wins, shutting down a top-15 Arizona team 17-7 on Nov. 1 and rolling up 44 points at Washington two weeks ago. USC got an early pick-six off Brett Hundley, but that was about the extent of the Trojans’ resistance. Benefitting from much better protection than early in the season, Hundley spread the ball around to 10 receivers, finishing 22 of 31 for 326 yards and three touchdowns.

More impressively, UCLA’s defense suffocated previously torrid Trojans QB Cody Kessler, sacking him six times and limiting him to 214 yards. That unit never has been lacking for talent with standouts like Myles Jack, Eric Kendricks, Eddie Vanderdoes and Ishmael Adams but underachieved over the first six games. They’ve been dominant since, which gives at least some reason to think a Pac-12 championship game rematch with Oregon might go differently. (Again, UCLA needs to beat Stanford first. If the Bruins lose, the winner of Arizona State-Arizona will advance to Levi’s Stadium.)

As for the playoff, UCLA will be no lower than No. 8 come Tuesday after Ole Miss, the one two-loss team currently above it, lost to Arkansas. There’s been talk all season about a two-loss SEC team making the field; what about a two-loss Pac-12 champ with wins over current No. 2 Oregon, No. 13 Arizona State, No. 15 ASU, No. 19 USC, 8-3 Memphis and 6-5 Texas? That last one, mind you, came with Hundley out for most of the game.

It’s still a long-shot, but if all hell breaks loose — if Georgia or Missouri upsets the SEC West champ in Atlanta, or Ohio State falls in the Big Ten title game — then a two-loss UCLA team that ends its season by beating one-loss Oregon would have a solid case for the top four.

On the flip side, 7-4 USC’s stay in the CFP rankings likely will end after one week, and first-year coach Steve Sarkisian figures to take no shortage of heat in LA’s soap opera media climate this week. While UCLA was the more touted team coming into the season, USC fans had reason to believe the game would be at worst a toss-up. Instead, the Bruins enjoyed their third straight double-digit win in the series.

“UCLA owns LA,” Hundley said after the game.

USC still can salvage some redemption by handling reeling rival Notre Dame next week to get to eight wins, but UCLA is playing for far loftier goals.

— Stewart Mandel

MORE FROM WEEK 13

BEST WIN: Arizona. Aside from perhaps UCLA's rout of arch-rival USC, Arizona's win at No. 17 Utah was very impressive. The Cats, despite being one of the youngest teams in the country, moved to 9-2 after running for almost 300 yards against one of the best D-lines in the country. 'Zona also forced four turnovers while budding star Nick Wilson ran for 218 yards and three TDs.

WORST LOSS: Miami. The Canes showed a lot of positives last week against defending national champion FSU, but then turned around and got mauled on the road against a mediocre UVA team, 30-13. It was UM's fourth road loss by double digits and third against an unranked opponent. The performance adds more doubt to whether Al Golden ever will get UM turned around.

COACH OF THE DAY: Bret Bielema, Arkansas. His Hogs crushed No. 8 Ole Miss, 30-0, by forcing six turnovers. It made Arkansas, 3-9 in Bielema's debut season in the SEC, 6-5 and bowl eligible as the Hogs became the first unranked team in 72 seasons with multiple shutouts of AP ranked opponents in the same season.

STOCK UP: Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma. The bruising true freshman smashed Melvin Gordon's week-old FBS single-game rushing record by running for 427 yards and five TDs. The powerful 240-pounder is evoking some comparisons to former Oregon star Jonathan Stewart and has run for an eye-popping 640 yards and eight TDs in the Sooners’ past two games.

STOCK DOWN: Notre Dame. The Irish, who were in the playoff’s top 10 just a few weeks ago, have plummeted. This week they lost to Louisville, 31-28, their second home loss in the past two weeks. Notre Dame's shaky D faced a freshman backup QB, Reggie Bonnafon, who accounted for three TDs. Coach Brian Kelly's team has dropped three in a row and four of their past five.

OFF THE RADAR: Appalachian State went to ULL and gave the Ragin' Cajuns their first loss in the Sun Belt this season in a 35-16 romp. The win was App State's fifth in a row and enabled the Mountaineers to become the first team since FIU in 2010 to beat Sun Belt powers Arkansas State and UL Lafayette in back-to-back games. It also means they are guaranteed to finish at .500 or better in their first NCAA Division I FBS season.

FELDMAN’S HEISMAN TOP FIVE

1) Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

2) Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin

3) Tevin Coleman, RB, Indiana

4) J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State

5) Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA

MANDEL’S HEISMAN TOP FIVE

1) Marcus Mariota

2) Melvin Gordon

3) Tevin Coleman

4) J.T. Barrett

5) Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama


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