UCLA needs two more wins but still eyeing chance to make College Football Playoff
The world is hardly ending for UCLA, but that's the theme coach Jim Mora is preaching.
Mora wants his team to buy into a theory that the world ends with every UCLA game so the Bruins don't get caught looking ahead. You know, to possible conference championship games and maybe even a College Football Playoff.
Mora wanted UCLA to believe that the world would end with Saturday’s rivalry game against USC.
And my, if that had been the end, the Bruins sure finished in style.
Mora wants the Bruins (9-2, 6-2 Pac-12) to focus elsewhere instead of that glitzy, glamorous prize of a possible berth in the College Football Playoff.
After a dominant 38-20 victory over rival USC at the Rose Bowl, UCLA very much has a shot to make the new playoff system.
UCLA's entire team danced in a big huddle on the field early in the third quarter after scoring on its first possession, a 10-yard touchdown run by Paul Perkins.
They like to have fun under Mora, who was ushering them back to the sideline and away from midfield. It was a little early for that celebration, but afterward, the Bruins celebrated five consecutive wins and dream scenarios.
UCLA owned the Rose Bowl field Saturday.
The Bruins have moxie and swagger and confidence.
But the Bruins -- ninth in the CFP rankings -- still need help in the form of losses from teams ranked ahead of them, like Baylor and Ohio State and such.
And, the Bruins must beat Stanford and Oregon. They've lost to the Cardinal the last three games under Mora. And then there's Oregon, which has already clinched the Northern Division title and a spot in the Pac-12 Championship.
Oregon beat UCLA 42-30 in October at the Rose Bowl, and the Ducks throttled UCLA in the Pac-12 Championship in 2011, 49-31. That was the last time UCLA made the conference championship game but that was before the Mora era.
UCLA has a very real shot to become one of four teams in the new playoff.
Oh, how the world is not even close to ending.
"When I say carat, I'm talking about the Pac-12 Championship. I'm talking about that. We have to win Friday. If we can win Friday we'll get another shot to win the Pac-12 Championship. That's our immediate goal. I don't mean that other stuff. I'm talking about the chance to go compete for the Pac-12 Championship. We can't think about that. We have to think about Stanford. Our world is going to end Friday and it will."
When he said "that other stuff," it came with an arm wave.
When he said Stanford, it came with his fingers hitting the podium for emphasis. And when he talked about the Pac-12 Championship, he hit both hands on the table for emphasis.
Players are saying all the right things, too.
"We honestly don't care about any of that," UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley said. "We care about Stanford on Friday. That's what we've got to focus on."
How difficult to focus and buy into that old one-game-at-a-time mantra when college football's grandest stage is not only a pipe dream, it's plausible.
Hundley became UCLA's all-time leader in total offense, surpassing Cade McNown's 11,285 total yards. Hundley is at 11,353 and had 328 total yards against USC.
Hundley -- who completed 22 of 31 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns -- threw an interception that was returned 17 yards for a touchdown by Anthony Sarao three minutes into the game against USC. It was a rare mistake, but he and the Bruins recovered quite nicely.
Lucien caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Hundley some three minutes later to tie the game. The rout was on from there.
And that CFP is still a possibility.
"USC was a big game, but our main focus is getting into the national championship bracket," Lucien said. "Our next focus is Stanford. That's our focus now."
Following consecutive losses to Utah and Oregon, UCLA -- considered a national championship contender -- faced a 4-2 record, more questions than answers.
A shaky defense -- that featured a sideline spat between Mora and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich in the Oregon loss -- and an inconsistent offense have been fixed.
UCLA has won five games in a row and has one very real dream still very much in tact.
This is so not the end of the world.
That's how Mora looks at it every week with the hopes of a focused team that could lead to the College Football Playoff.