SEATTLE — Got to admit, I didn’t see the UCLA-Stanford football game last week. If I had, maybe I’d feel different about the fact they’re hooking up in a rematch tonight for the right to go to the Rose Bowl.
If I had, maybe I’d be as exercised as some are about the meeting, about a venue (Stanford) that no doubt feels lukewarm about it, about the fact that it’s not Oregon-USC, as most sane souls anticipated three months ago.
As it is, I’m OK with it. Not every league-championship game is going to be a dream matchup. But at least this is a UCLA team with nine victories, not the 6-6 outfit that went north to Eugene as a four-touchdown underdog in last year’s Pac-12 title game.
It’s something different — even if it’s not so different from six days ago. It’s not one more Matt Barkley story line or another Oregon walkover. It’s two of the bright young quarterback prospects in the league, Brett Hundley and Kevin Hogan, and two relatively new, fresh faces on the sideline in Jim Mora and David Shaw.
The setting? Well, can’t do much about that. Stanford has a perpetually insouciant fan base; it didn’t fill the stadium when Andrew Luck was at his collegiate peak. But that has nothing to do with this game, other than, by rule, the Cardinal hosts.
Given that the Cardinal had a lot more to play for last week in Pasadena in a 35-17 victory, this one ought to be more interesting. UCLA has plenty of things to reverse to make it happen — the seven sacks it allowed, Stepfan Taylor’s 142 rushing yards for Stanford, the Bruins’ 12 penalties for 135 yards.
“We certainly need to do a better job of protecting the quarterback,” Mora says. “And we need to eliminate the big runs against us. We did a fairly decent job, but they popped a couple of good ones that really made it ugly.”
As for the challenge of preparing to play an opponent so quickly, Shaw says, “Obviously, it’s fighting complacency. To think UCLA is going to come up here and roll over for us, it’s completely wrong.”
Best of the college football Saturday, chronologically:
Boise State (25) at Nevada, 12:30 p.m., ABC — Here’s a chance to see Washington’s likely opponent, Boise State (9-2), in the Las Vegas Bowl. The successor to Kellen Moore at quarterback, Joe Southwick, is a 6-foot-1, 187-pound junior who has thrown for 15 touchdowns with seven interceptions.
Alabama (2) vs. Georgia (3) at Atlanta, 1 p.m., CBS — The SEC title game might boil down to which of the nation’s 1-2 pass-efficiency leaders, Aaron Murray (177.15) of Georgia or A.J. McCarron (176.26) of Alabama, has the better game.
Murray has 9,399 career yards, 89 touchdown passes and a glowing 10-yards-per-attempt average in 2012, but McCarron has much the better of it in terms of marquee victories.
Texas (23) at Kansas State (7), 5 p.m., ABC — Surprising stat: K-State leads the series. But it’s 7-5, reflective of the fact the two rarely played before they were part of the Big 12. State needs this one for a Fiesta Bowl spot, probably opposite Oregon.
Florida State (13) vs. Georgia Tech at Charlotte, 5 p.m., ESPN — Why are Orange Bowl officials fighting upset stomachs? Imagine this scenario: Tech (6-6) beats Florida State in the ACC title game to fill one side of that BCS bowl.
Now the other nightmare possibility: If Kent State beats Northern Illinois tonight for the Mid-American title and finishes top 16 in the BCS, and no Big East team is ahead of the Golden Flashes (none would be), they crash the BCS. Get your tickets early for that Georgia Tech-Kent State matchup. (Crazily enough, Kent has a Pac-12 rooting interest, as UCLA is No. 16 in the BCS, Kent No. 17.)
Nebraska (14) vs. Wisconsin at Indianapolis, 5:17 p.m., Fox — In the Big Ten championship, the Badgers are only 7-5, Nebraska 10-2, and the Huskers came from 17 down to win the first meeting, 30-27. Wisconsin defensive end David Gilbert has been more circumspect this week after not starting that game for saying of spotty Huskers QB Taylor Martinez, “It still looks like he’s skipping rocks out there to me. He still can’t throw. I’m just going to say it.” Martinez got the last laugh, passing for 181 yards and rushing for 107.