With a 45-23 victory over Colorado this past Saturday, the No. 16 UCLA Bruins are ensured to play in a bowl game. The question is, which bowl game will that be?
There are a few scenarios in which the Bruins will compete in postseason play. Unfortunately for the Bruin faithful, the BCS National Championship Game is completely out of the picture.
The Pac-12 Conference has affiliations with seven different bowl games. Oregon looks like a sure bet to snag a BCS bid, whether it be the national championship or the Rose Bowl. Should the Ducks go undefeated, they will likely play for the national championship.
Assuming that does happen, the conference will send another team to the Rose Bowl as an at-large selection. A look at the most likely bowl-game scenarios for the UCLA Bruins can be seen below.
Las Vegas Bowl: Boise State
This would be a pretty considerable disappointment for Jim Mora's team, should it compete in this contest. In this scenario, UCLA would finish as the fifth-best team in the conference.
In reality, this spot could go to the sixth-best team in the conference, should two Pac-12 teams garner BCS bowl bids. UCLA's development as a program would take a hit with an appearance in Sin City against most likely Boise State. The Broncos get a bid to this game only if Fresno State is able to run the table and go undefeated for the remainder of the season. In this case, the Bulldogs would get an at-large BCS Bowl bid.
This is the type of game that UCLA would likely lose. The disappointment of not playing in a bigger game against more of a marquee opponent would take both the edge and luster off of the matchup. Boise State would likely come in with the motivation to take down a team from a big conference. The Bruins, on the other hand, would likely just show up and not really care about the game.
Sun Bowl: Georgia Tech
This game pits the fourth-best team in the Pac-12 against the fourth-best team in the ACC. Again, this could technically involve the fifth-best Pac-12 team, should two conference teams play in BCS bowl games.
Paul Johnson and his funky "flexbone" option-laden attack would provide an immense test for a young UCLA defense. There's no team that plays anything remotely similar to what the Yellow Jackets would bring.
Again, the question about how UCLA would compete in such a game has to be questioned. Does a team based out of West Los Angeles really want to spend New Year's Eve in El Paso, Texas? (Apologies extended to natives of the city.)
If UCLA plays up to its capabilities in the last four games of the season, the Bruins will likely not be bowling to either El Paso or Las Vegas. Even a 2-2 mark in the proceeding month will likely garner a bid to a better game.
Holiday Bowl: Texas Tech
This game pits the Pac-12 No. 3 team against the No. 5 team from the Big 12. As it's currently constituted, the Red Raiders from Lubbock would fit the bill as UCLA's opponent.
If such a matchup is manifested, it could draw similarities to last year's Holiday Bowl. Like Texas Tech, Baylor was not a big-name program. Much like Texas Tech, Baylor was also equipped with an explosive offense.
UCLA didn't seem to take the preparations for the game in a serious manner. Without the name recognition of a loftier opponent, it appeared as if the Bruins would walk into Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego and win handily.
The result: UCLA thus was blown out 49-26 by a team that wanted the game more.
It was an embarrassing effort by Jim Mora's team. That alone should allow for more than enough motivation, in the event that UCLA competes against a team of similar stature again in San Diego.
Alamo Bowl: Oklahoma
Now, this is the type of game that UCLA would "get up" for.
A big-name opponent in Oklahoma would likely energize and excite the Bruins in preparation for such a game. Even if the Sooners aren't the Sooners of yesteryear, a level of cache around the program still does exist from a national standpoint.
San Antonio could be construed as a tourist destination of sorts. Although the UCLA fanbase isn't traditionally known for traveling well, a good amount of people would make the trek out from Los Angeles for the game.
Even more significant would be the implications of such a game. A win over a big-name foe could be used as a great springboard into the 2014 season for a young team. It would in theory give the team a good amount of confidence moving forward. Even if the Bruins don't face Oklahoma, a matchup against Texas or Oklahoma State would likely have same effect.
A win against Oklahoma would also help out in recruiting.
Rose Bowl: Michigan State
At this point, UCLA needs a bit of help in order to reach the "Granddaddy of Them All."
Stanford is in the driver's seat for the contest. UCLA would need the Cardinal to lose two more games to conceivably get a shot at the Rose Bowl.
Michigan State is a bit of a surprise this season. Relying on a great defense and strong rush attack, the Spartans look poised to make their first Rose Bowl appearance since 1988 (unless Ohio State does not make the national championship, slotting them for the Rose Bowl).
If UCLA is somehow able to play in the game, it would mark the first time since 1999 that the Bruins have played in a BCS game. It would also solidify the notion that Jim Mora has this program headed on a track for success.
It's likely that UCLA will be battling Washington and Arizona State for a spot in either the Alamo Bowl or the Holiday Bowl.
There is a caveat that could allow UCLA to play in the Rose Bowl. If the Bruins can run the table, the team will appear in the Pac-12 Championship Game for the third year in a row. If the team is able to defeat either Oregon or Stanford, the team will be guaranteed a spot in the Rose Bowl.
In theory, UCLA's Rose Bowl chances are in its hands.
*The possible bowl matchups are detailed here.
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