More Overtime (cont.)
It doesn't often rain as it did at the Rose Bowl Saturday, but then, there's been a lot of change happening with college football in Los Angeles these days. In fact, there's been a changing of the guard.
For just the second time in 14 years, UCLA (9-2, 6-2 Pac-12) beat USC (7-4, 5-4), 38-28, to clinch the Pac-12 South title. Unlike last year, when a 6-6 Bruins team backed its way in to the conference title game, this 2012 team has earned it. And unlike the last UCLA win in this series, a 13-9 upset in 2006 that became the high point of the Karl Dorrell era, nothing felt fluky or temporary about this result. Jim L. Mora's Bruins, winners of five straight heading into Saturday's game against No. 11 Stanford, are trending upwards. Meanwhile, Lane Kiffin's Trojans on Sunday became the first AP preseason No. 1 team since 1964 to drop out of the rankings entirely.
UCLA got another huge game from senior running back Johnathan Franklin (29 carries, 171 yards, two touchdowns), who now ranks among the nation's top five rushers. But the future looks bright in UCLA thanks in large part to dynamic redshirt freshman quarterback, Brett Hundley, who runs coordinator Noel Mazzone's hurry-up offense with ease and helped stake the Bruins to a 17-0 first-quarter lead. Hundley finished 22-of-30 for 234 yards, a touchdown and no picks.
"We are just seeing the beginning of how great Brett Hundley can be," said Mora.
Meanwhile, USC's four-year starting quarterback, Matt Barkley, is enduring a nightmarish end to his college career. He threw two more interceptions to up his season total to 15, tying his amount from his freshman year. And his day ended with a crushing sack from star Bruins linebacker Anthony Barr that will force him to miss Saturday's Notre Dame game; he left the Rose Bowl with his right arm in a sling.
The loss raised more questions about Kiffin's job security -- which USC AD Pat Haden promptly squashed. Kiffin told reporters afterward he's been assured he'll be back next season, and Haden confirmed such to numerous media outlets.
"Lane is my head coach, 150 percent, now and hopefully for a long time," Haden told the Los Angeles Times. "I see the future. I see the potential. I know what he's been fighting through and I like what he's done."
Kiffin can still salvage some redemption if the Trojans ruin their other rival's national championship bid this week, but his job is only going to get harder the next couple of years as scholarship reductions take a heavier toll. This year was his best shot at a Pac-12 title for the foreseeable future. But another L.A team is ready to take the Trojans' place.
Each week, I'll update my projected BCS lineup (as necessary) based on the latest week's games. Here's my current edition:
Title game: Notre Dame vs. Alabama
Rose: Nebraska vs. Oregon
Fiesta: Kansas State vs. Stanford
Sugar: LSU vs. Oklahoma
Orange: Florida State vs. Louisville
A week ago, the biggest question here was whether Notre Dame could go to the Rose Bowl. Now, we know with near certainty it will not. Either the Irish will play in Miami, or if they lose to USC, they'll play in Glendale. The Rose Bowl will get a Big Ten-Pac-12 matchup. Even if Oregon works itself back into the top two, Stanford, which jumped to No. 8 in the latest BCS standings Sunday, will finish in the top 14 even if it loses to UCLA this week. (Strangely, if the Cardinal win, they would then face the Bruins again in the Pac-12 title game six days later.)
The only real mystery now is which SEC team the Sugar Bowl will take to replace the Alabama-Georgia winner. If Florida beats Florida State, it will be guaranteed that spot by finishing in the top four. As you can tell by my projection above, I'm not predicting that to happen, and my sense is that the spot will not go to the SEC title game loser, since that team will view the Sugar Bowl as a consolation prize. In this scenario, we get a rematch of the 2003 BCS title game.
Not this week. I need time to reassess.