Sunday, November 29, 2009

UCLA’s Bowl hopes could come down to Notre Dame decision

UCLA is currently on the outside looking in, bowl-wise.

This weekend brought mixed results for a UCLA at-large bid. Wyoming and UConn both won, closing off two open bowl slots. But the teams looking to get to seven wins in the hope of securing the other remaining open bowl slots mostly lost.

Right now there are five six-win teams looking to fill two slots.

Louisiana-Lafayette and Louisiana-Monroe are not particularly attractive options for bowl committees, especially for something like the Humanitarian Bowl.

Conference USA has a contingency agreement to fill the EagleBank Bowl should Army lose this week, allowing six-win Marshall to go bowling.

That leaves Notre Dame and UCLA.

The Irish are a more attractive option, for sure. The question now becomes: Will Notre Dame accept an invitation to a lesser bowl during a very likely coaching transition? If the Irish turn-down a bid, then it’s likely the Humanitarian will invite UCLA.

The spoiler right now is Hawaii. After upsetting Navy at home this week, they get a crack at seven wins against Wisconsin, and a guaranteed slot in the Hawaii Bowl should they pull another upset. That would leave an at-large, seven-win WAC team, which would then cascade a number of bowl changes, leaving no place for UCLA.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

10 Reasons

Every year, I give 10 reasons why the Bruins could beat the Troajans. Here's the 2009 installation!

1. Momentum

The Bruins are 3-0 in their last 3 games. USC is only 1-2. Granted, the level of competition wasn't nearly the same... but momentum can be a big thing.

2. Turnovers

We need 'em. Last week against ASU, UCLA was +6 on turnovers. We'll have to win the turnover battle at the Coliseum to come out with a victory.

3. Getting Defensive

The UCLA defense was dominant last week. The USC defense has been porous. If the Bruin defense comes to play and keeps this one a low scoring contest... then our chances of victory are much improved.

4. We're Wearing our Home Jerseys!

The game might not be at the Rose Bowl, but we'll be in our home blue. UCLA has historically done very well against USC wearing the home jersey. Maybe that streak will continue.

5. The Price is Right

Brian Price demands double teams. Brian Price still gets tackles for loss. Brian Price is sooo going to the NFL next year. But this year... he's wearing blue and gold.

6. Pick-6

Alteraun Verner and Rahim Moore have been interception machines this season. Matt Barkley has also been turnover prone this last month. A defensive touchdown for the Bruins would be a huge boost for this team.

7. The BCS is Bust

The Trojans won't be going to a BCS game this year. That's the first time that has happened in a very long while. They may not have much motivation, as in years past, to come out play. What's the difference between the Sun and Vegas bowls? Not much for the ketchup and mustard...

8. Rusty

Sometimes a bye week can help your team heal and get focused. Other times, it can let your team dwell on a poor performance. USC has been idle since the got whooped soundly by the Cardinal. They might need to shake a little rust off at the start of this game.

9. Play not to Lose

The Bruin offense and the coaching staff did a great job of sitting on a lead and riding that to victory last week. An early start to this contest would go a long way to improving our chances for a win.

10. Play to Win

Kevin Prince has been slinging the ball lately. His new found confidence to let the rock fly has been one of the key reasons this offense has been more productive. UCLA has nothing to lose today and everything to gain... play for the win!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Breaking Down UCLA's Bowl Chances

With the UCLA-USC game kicking off at 7:00 PM tomorrow, that leaves a lot for Bruin fans to do during the day. For those interested in UCLA's bowl fate, here's a break-down on who to root for and against, and why.

Scenario 1: Poinsettia Bowl

There is a small chance that UCLA could finish tied for sixth place in conference, potentially receiving an invitation to the Poinsettia Bowl, the last of the Pac-10’s six bowl tie-ins.

If UCLA beats USC, and the Trojans lose their final game to Arizona, USC and UCLA would (unbelievably) be tied. Alternately, if the Bruins beat USC, and Arizona loses its final two games, the Bruins and Wildcats would finish tied. In fact, should UCLA and Arizona State both win this Saturday, UCLA would be guaranteed a sixth-place tie with the loser of the Arizona-USC game the following week.

Even if UCLA winds up tied for sixth, however, that merely gives the Poinsettia Committee the option of selecting UCLA. There is no tie-breaker rule for the lower-level bowls like there is for the Rose Bowl. The Poinsettia can choose whomever they like among any teams tied for sixth in the Pac-10, presumably based on which one they feel would provide the better TV ratings and ticket sales.

Root against Arizona

The Poinsettia would almost surely pick USC over anyone else, since they are a huge draw. But the Bruins would likely get a nod over Arizona. So we want to be tied with the Wildcats. After two big, disappointing loses, Arizona is only three-point favorites on the road this week against Arizona State, and will finish the season at USC.

Scenario 2: Seven wins, At-large bowl bid

The Poinsettia is a long shot. UCLA is most likely facing an at-large bowl bid. There is, of course, no guarantee the Bruins get an invite, so several things need to work in our favor.

First things first, though. NCAA rules require bowls looking for at-large replacements to select seven-win teams ahead of six-win teams. Bragging rights aside, beating USC this week gets UCLA to seven wins, and therefore puts them at the front of the line for any open bowl slots.

In fact, it would all but guarantee UCLA an invite, likely from the Humanitarian.

Scenario 3: Six wins, At-large bowl bid

This is probably the most likely scenario anyway, so let’s focus on it. It’s still possible for UCLA to land a bowl game with six wins. But it would be a steep climb.

The formula is simple: We need as many conferences as possible to not fill their bowl obligations, opening up potential slots for UCLA to play. And we need as few teams with seven wins as possible, keeping them from bumping UCLA out of those spots.

Potential slots

Up to eight bowl slots could become available this season for at-large teams. The ACC will definitely not fill two of its obligations, the EagleBank and GMAC Bowls. Depending on how things turn out, up to six additional bowls – the Humanitarian, New Mexico, St. Petersburg, Pizza, Texas, and the GMAC (in search of a second team) -- might be looking for replacements as well.

Cheer for TCU and Boise State

The best thing working for UCLA right now in terms of an at-large bowl bid is TCU and Boise State. If both the Horned Frogs and the Broncos win their final games, they can get at-large BCS bowl invites.

Not only does that open-up additional bowl spots, but, more importantly, it opens up western bowls, as the WAC and Mountain West would have two fewer teams to fill their bowl tie-ins. Bowls in the west would naturally prefer to have western teams in order to maximize interest and attendance. UCLA is much more likely to get an invite to the Humanitarian or New Mexico Bowl than any bowl game east of the Mississippi. These are prime spots for the Bruins.

Both TCU and Boise State are at home this week. TCU has an almost guaranteed win against New Mexico – they are 44 point favorites! Boise State faces a much tougher test in Nevada, although are 14-point favorites.

Root against Wyoming, Hawaii, Army, Kansas, and UConn

All of these schools have five wins right now. Those that get to six (in Hawaii’s case seven) will receive automatic bowl berths by virtue of their conference tie-ins.

A Wyoming loss is the most important, since a win would put the Cowboys in the New Mexico Bowl, one of the two available bowls out west. Wyoming finishes their season against a Colorado State team still looking for its first conference win. This is a rivalry game, though, and the Rams are at home. The Cowboys are actually three-point dogs.

Hawaii is also important, since a seven-win Hawaii team gets an automatic invite to the Hawaii Bowl. They face a tough contest this week at home against Navy, who are 10-point favorites, and would need another win over a very good Wisconsin squad the following week at home to qualify. If they lose either game, the WAC would fill their spot with another eligible team, which would leave no additional at-large WAC teams to fill those western bowls.

Kansas, UConn, and Army losses are helpful in that at-large eastern schools would likely fill these bowl spots before coming out west. Kansas is three-point underdogs against rival Missouri in their season finale. Connecticut has two games left on their schedule. They face a likely win against Syracuse at home this week, and are 14-point favorites. They have a second (although more difficult) chance for a win next week at home against South Florida. Army takes on Navy in two weeks, and will be underdogs.

Teams to fill them

There are a number of at-large teams with six wins or better right now. Some teams are virtually guaranteed bowl slots by virtue of contingency contracts – Bowling Green will probably go to the GEAC and Middle Tennessee to one of the SEC’s unfilled bowls, assuming the SEC sends two teams to the BCS. There are also a handful of teams at five wins that could become bowl eligible this week.

But we’ll focus on the most likely competition to fill the above bowl slots.

Northern Illinois is already at seven wins, with an outside shot at getting to eight. They are almost certainly going bowling, it’s just a question of where.

Notre Dame is an almost certain lock to get a bowl, too, since they are such a huge television draw. They will be the first six-win team chosen, if they can’t get to seven, you can bank on that. Stanford should handle them on the Farm this week in any case.

Cheer against UAB, SMU, and Marshall

Conference USA has contingency contracts to fill Army’s spot in the GMAC and the Big-12’s spot in the Texas Bowl should those become available. They can fill Army’s spot now, but don’t (currently) have a seventh team to take the Big-12 slot. UAB can get there with a win over Central Florida at home this week. The Blazers are three-point dogs.

In a worst case scenario -- should Army and Kansas win their final games -- all three of these C-USA teams will be at-large. SMU and Marshall have six wins. Keeping both at that mark means less seven-win teams looking for an invite. Southern Methodist is heavily favored (-17) at home this week against a perennially terrible Tulane team. Marshall plays at UTEP in a toss-up.

Cheer against Louisiana-Monroe and Louisiana-Lafayette

These two schools have six wins, but the Sun Belt has already filled its lone bowl obligation, and will likely put its second-place team into the SEC’s open spot. If these teams get to seven wins, they would get invites over a six-win UCLA squad.

This is an exciting weekend for the Sun Belt, as their best teams go toe-to-toe. Monroe will be at home against second-place Middle Tennessee, who is only favored by three. Lafayette is nine-point dogs at home against the conference leader, Troy. Bowling Green is eight-point favorites in their MAC finale at home against Toledo.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

One Step Forward...

You have to wonder. Just when it looks like UCLA has found a quarterback, he gets hurt. That pretty much sums up the last decade of Bruin football.

If Kevin Prince didn't break his jaw against Tennessee, missing the next two games, where would this offense be right now? If Prince went for a slide instead of putting his head down and getting that helmet-to-helmet hit yesterday, where would the offense have finished yesterday?

It was great to get a win yesterday. It was even better watching the offense roll on it's first two drives of the game to touchdowns.

If we could just find some consistency and health at the quarterback position, that could be the regular state of affairs on Saturday.

Let's just hope that Kevin Prince gets a clean bill of health this week and can play out the rest of the season. If he can finish strong, it will really boost the confidence of this team for next season.

If he can't get back out there then this team might be starting over at QB. Again. For like the bazillionth time.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Must Win

The month of October was a house of horrors for the Bruins. The offense was anemic, the defense couldn't tackle, and the play calling was conservative. Standing at second to last in the conference and still 3 wins away from a Bowl bid, the Bruins must win... and must win now.

The good news, if you can find that silver lining in the Oregon State game, was an offense that seemed to come alive in that 4th quarter. Nelson Rosario made some huge plays and UCLA has desperately needed a play maker like that at receiver.

Kevin Prince looked like a gunslinger as well. We finally got a glimpse of why the coaches were excited about Prince coming into the season.

The question is will that offensive juice keep flowing the rest of the season?

November lines up nicely for the Bruins with a favorable schedule. With UW, WSU, and Arizona State up next, the Bruins are hitting the bottom half of the PAC-10. None of those games are gimmes, but each are entirely winnable.

SC has definitely fallen from their pedistal atop the conference, but they are still a very talented and dangerous team. I don't see the Bruins walking into the coliseum and having a good chance to win that game.

So that leaves the next 3 games. A short 3-game season that UCLA will have to sweep if any post season dreams are going to come true.