It is very near that time of the season for guessing which teams are going to which bowl games. Right now, it's all still pretty confusing. Better take this simple multiple choice test. This is the version they're giving to everyone at UCLA:
Who seems to wind up in the Rose Bowl nearly every year and probably will again this time around? (a) UCLA.
(c) The gutty little Bruins.
(d) Terry Donahue and his worry beads.
(e) None of the above.
This year, circle (e). It seems that almost everyone already knows that Arizona State is practically a cinch to go to the Rose Bowl this time, which certainly gets the Bruins' attention because it means that they will not.
That is not yet completely certain, though, which could turn today's game between UCLA and Stanford into one of the Pacific 10 Conference's most interesting games of the season.
At UCLA, the football season is graded a failure unless one of two things happens (in addition to the mandatory win over USC). The first is to go to the Rose Bowl. Failing that, the other is to play in another New Year's Day bowl game, which is still possible. One more UCLA loss, though, and that one's probably a memory, too.
So, is Stanford out merely to spoil something for UCLA? Or does the Cardinal have something more noble in mind? A bowl bid for itself, perhaps?
"It's not necessarily a matter of being a spoiler, but of just wanting to continue to win," Stanford Coach Jack Elway said. "I know it's a goal for the players on our team to get an invitation to a bowl game, so we certainly have motivation."
The Bruins may have their own peculiar brand of motivation working again. After all, they have blindsided the Rose Bowl before. UCLA has gone to the Rose Bowl three times in the last four years, but the Bruins wouldn't have gotten there even one of those times if it had not been for unusual circumstances:
--In 1982, on the next-to-last weekend of the season, UCLA beats USC, but the only way the Bruins can go to the Rose Bowl is if Washington State upsets Washington the same day, which it does, and Arizona upsets Arizona State the next weekend, which it does. UCLA winds up in the Rose Bowl.
--In 1983, on the last weekend of the season, UCLA beats USC, but again the Bruins won't go to the Rose Bowl unless Washington State upsets Washington the same day, which, of course, happens. UCLA is in the Rose Bowl.
--In 1985, on the last weekend of the season, UCLA loses to USC. That means that unless Arizona upsets Arizona State that night, UCLA will not go to the Rose Bowl. Arizona wins. The Bruins are in once again.
Obviously, Donahue was speaking from personal experience when he said his team isn't yet ready to concede anything.
"There's no question in my mind that we're still active and definitely very much in the race," he said. "The conference race is not over yet.
"Now, if we get beat, then the conference race is over," he said.
It's all but over for Stanford, which like UCLA is 6-2 for the season, but unlike the Bruins, is 3-2 in the Pac-10. That looks like one loss too many. The Bruins are 4-1 and need to be 5-1 by nightfall so they can travel to Washington next weekend for another must-win game.
But Donahue said he believes that Stanford is less worried about UCLA than it is concerned about its own fate, so to prepare mentally for the Cardinal, the Bruins pretended they were playing Oregon State again. While they're at it, maybe the Bruins can also pretend the score will be the same.
"You get ready the same way," Donahue said. "The team we are playing is not concerned with the spoiler's role. They're thinking about success. Stanford has an opportunity to be 7-2 and get a major bowl. They're not concerned where we are, but where they are."
This season, the Cardinal has been all over the field. Senior quarterback John Paye may not have turned out to be quite like John Elway, but who could? Paye has thrown for 1,705 yards and 11 touchdowns this season, yet he hasn't had to carry the offense by himself.
Tailback Brad Muster broke a 41-year-old Stanford record set in the Rose Bowl by Ernie Nevers when Muster rushed 37 times against Washington State. Muster, who is 6-3 and 226 pounds, finished with 190 yards, but he also caught 6 passes for 93 yards and is Paye's favorite target this season. Muster has caught 49 passes for 491 yards, in addition to the 697 he has gained running the ball.
"Those two, Paye and Muster, are as good at what they do as anybody in the conference," Donahue said. "But probably the biggest difference between this Stanford team and any of their other ones in the last four or five years is that they haven't given up the big plays. They make you go long distances to score your points."
Linebacker Dave Wyman is the defensive leader with 128 tackles. Against USC, the 6-2, 235-pound senior was in on 27 tackles, a career high.