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UCLA football has USC in sight, but Washington State comes first

The No. 17-ranked Bruins have a rare opportunity against the No. 21 Trojans, if they hurdle the Cougars, who are winless in Pac-12 games.

November 04, 2012|By Chris Foster

USC is coming. USC is coming.

UCLA players can talk all they want about Washington State, their opponent this week, but facts are facts. An opportunity that has been absent for nearly two decades is so close the Bruins can't ignore it.

Beating USC in two weeks could mean more than just beating USC.

"We can see the prize," senior cornerback Sheldon Price said.

That being?

"The Pac-12 championship game," Price said.

UCLA players talked about Washington State late Saturday night after a resounding 66-10 victory over Arizona, which beat the Trojans, 39-36, on Oct. 27. The Bruins travel to Pullman this week to face the Cougars, who have yet to win a Pac-12 game. It seems a mere formality for the team that now controls the South Division.

News of UCLA's undressing of Arizona might take a few days to drift east — the game was on the Pac-12 Networks and didn't end until 2 a.m. on the East Coast. But the victory, coupled with losses Saturday by USC and Arizona State, means the Bruins need only to win the next two games to reach the Pac-12 title game.

A victory over USC on Nov. 17 would be the clincher.

"We're not worried about 'SC now," senior safety Andrew Abbott said. But, he added, "When we play 'SC, whatever stakes are in that game, we'll attack."

UCLA has one victory over USC in 13 seasons. This could be an opportunity to trump the Trojans with a chance at the Rose Bowl on the line for both teams.

The last time that occurred was 1993, when UCLA, USC and Arizona finished in a three-way tie for first. The Bruins' 27-21 victory over USC sent them to Pasadena and exiled the Trojans to Anaheim for the now-defunct Freedom Bowl.

The Bruins are in that position again.

"This team is not familiar with this kind of success since I have been here," Abbott said.

The nobody-believes-in-us mantra the Bruins have stuck to this season seems obsolete. Expectations have been raised.

"We're going to start seeing fans who we have never had before," Abbott said. "People will be saying, 'Oh yeah, we're the Bruins and we can do it.' We can't get caught up in all the hoopla."

The hoopla will continue to build with a victory at Washington State.

UCLA has not won a conference title since 1998. But there has been a shift toward Westwood, at least in the South Division.

The Bruins are ranked 17th and the Trojans 21st this week. UCLA hasn't been ranked ahead of USC since Nov. 11, 2001. USC beat UCLA that day, relegating the Bruins to second-class status in Southern California for more a decade.

Now they are the ones looking down.

"When I signed on the line, I thought the whole time we would be in this position," Price said. "Now that we're really in it, it's great to know that you don't have to depend on anybody else."

The Bruins backed into the Pac-12 title game a year ago when Utah lost in the final week; UCLA then lost to Oregon, 49-31. There was an asterisk attached.

Conference officials allowed the Bruins to call themselves South Division "champions." USC, which was on probation, won the division and reminded UCLA of that in a 50-0 victory in the regular-season finale.

USC is eligible for the postseason this season. The Trojans win their last two Pac-12 games and they go to the title game.

"As long as we keep getting wins, what can they say?" Price said. "We will have earned it."

All it takes is victories over woeful Washington State and then USC.

"This feels amazing," senior defensive end Datone Jones said. " … This is exactly what I was recruited here for."

What he sees ahead, "is a lot of bright lights." Jones then quickly added, "I see Washington State."

And then comes USC.

chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterleatimes

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