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UCLA is in control of its Pac-12 football destiny

If the Bruins defeat Colorado on Saturday, they will be one win away from a berth in the first Pac-12 football championship game. UCLA is tied in its division with Arizona State, and Utah is lurking.

November 18, 2011|By Chris Foster
  • UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin (23) and quarterback Kevin Prince will lead the Bruins into another key Pac-12 contest on Saturday against Colorado.
UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin (23) and quarterback Kevin Prince… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

UCLA had everything going its way last Saturday … after its game.

The Bruins had stumbled through a 31-6 loss to Utah and were winging west, with players working cellphones and other electronic gadgets for updates on the Arizona State-Washington State game.

"I felt bad. I had my head down and then someone came to me and said, 'Arizona State is losing in Pullman,' " linebacker Sean Westgate said. "I went, 'What?' I was so excited. All of us started tracking the game."

By the time UCLA landed, Washington State had finished off a 37-27 victory over Arizona State, giving control of the Pac-12 Conference's South division back to the Bruins — at least temporarily.

UCLA has an overall record of 5-5, 4-3 in conference play, and a victory over Colorado at the Rose Bowl on Saturday would leave UCLA one victory away from a place in the first Pac-12 football championship game. The Bruins finish their regular season Nov. 26 against USC at the Coliseum.

Arizona State (6-4, 4-3) was on track to win the South three weeks ago. The Sun Devils had beaten USC — which is ineligible for the Pac-12 title game — and had their toughest opponents in the rearview mirror.

Then UCLA pulled off a 29-28 victory over Arizona State on Nov. 5, and suddenly the Bruins were the ones with a clear path to the division title.

Then Utah buried UCLA last week. Arizona State was back in control … for a few hours.

With their loss to Washington State, the Sun Devils handed the baton back to UCLA, and Utah (6-4, 3-4) is still lurking in the background.

"There was a breath of fresh air when Arizona State lost," UCLA wide receiver Taylor Embree said. "At the same time, we want to do this by winning. We don't want to get it by other teams losing."

UCLA has a prime opportunity to move in that direction Saturday against Colorado. The Buffaloes (2-9, 1-6) have not won a game outside of Colorado since 2007, a 23-game streak. UCLA has not lost back-to-back games this season.

"We've gone back and forth all year, but we still have our shot," Westgate said. "Right now we are in first place."

Where the Bruins are a week from Sunday is what matters.

UCLA can go to the Pac-12 title game by winning two games or by finishing in a tie with Arizona State. The Sun Devils go if they finish one game ahead of UCLA, or if they are tied with Utah. Utah goes if it finishes one game ahead of both teams or in a tie with UCLA. A three-way tie gives Arizona State the title.

Things are less muddled up north, where the race was basically settled by No. 4 Oregon's victory over No. 8 Stanford last week.

"There are certainly a couple elite teams in the conference who have had their way with the rest of us," UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel said. "There are also a number of good teams. We're excited to continue in that fight."

Three weeks ago, the fight looked over. Arizona State was the clear front-runner.

"I don't think we thought we would lose against UCLA and Washington State, but that's life," Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler said. "Sometimes life throws you a curveball and it's all about how you bounce back from it."

The Sun Devils, with home games against Arizona and California left, worked through those issues behind closed doors this week. Coach Dennis Erickson closed practices to the media.

"The last two weeks were not very good," Erickson said. "We had a chance to be where we hadn't been before, but I still look at the light at the end of the tunnel."

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