PAC-12 Title Game Preview

WAS UCLA PLAYING "POSSUM LAST WEEK SO THEY COULD STUN STANFORD FOR PAC 12 TITLE?

Members of the local media in Los Angeles disrupted the postgame press conference last week with assertions that UCLA"laid down" vs. Stanford so they wouldn't have to play powerhouse Oregon for the Pac 12 Championship this week. That's something sports bettors have to consider very carefully when making their final call in Friday's title tilt rematch between the Bruins and the Cardinal.

  • If UCLA wasn't trying last week, then they could be primed to spring an upset and earn a trip to the Rose Bowl against the eventual Big 10 champion. Frankly, if a coach has to pick his poison between visiting Stanford or visiting Oregon for a conference championship game...it's an easy choice. You choose Stanford 100 times out of 100. Jim Mora was being angrily accused of BRILLIANCE!

  • If UCLA was trying last week, then they're in big trouble this week. If you lose 35-17 on your home field while getting clearly outplayed by a quality opponent, it's unlikely that you're going to do much better when you have to play that same team on the road. UCLA losing by 17 at home would mean a loss of 21-28 in Palo Alto.

That's pretty clear cut right there. If you can determine how hard UCLA was really trying last week, this week's play makes itself. You want the sleeper playing "possum plus the points. You fade the inferior team that went all out and was outclassed.

Let's study the key factors in our standard NOTEBOOK game analytics to see if we can solve this mystery...

UCLA at STANFORD in (8 p.m. ET on FOX)
Las Vegas Spread: Stanford by 8, total of 43.5

We've talked about the line a bit already. It's too low if Stanford owns the point of attack once again. It's too high if UCLA is going to put up a much better fight. The market is saying Stanford is five points better on a neutral field. That's consistent with last week's spread, meaning there's been no meaningful adjustment in oddsmaker or sharp Power Ratings. Note that there HAS been a big adjustment on the total because of the weather forecast. We've seen a drop of more than a touchdown because it's supposed to be rainy and windy in Northern California Friday Night...much more difficult scoring conditions than we saw last Saturday in Pasadena.

CURRENT BCS RANKINGS
UCLA: #16
Stanford: #8

One could argue that Stanford is better than that #8 ranking. They beat Oregon on the road. And, would have defeated current #1 Notre Dame on the road if not for a questionable officiating call. That's stellar! You should probably think of Stanford as a top five team right now given their recent form. Handicappers and sports bettors have to evaluate if the Bruins can hang within eight points of a top five caliber team on the road.

HEAD COACHES
UCLA: Jim Mora
Stanford: David Shaw

Both of these guys have established their big time college credentials in short order. Shaw has kept Stanford in the national discussion in the post-Harbaugh era. And, he won this year even without Andrew Luck at quarterback. Mora has brought a pro-mindset while also generating college type enthusiasm. Others making the transition have struggled to pull that off. It wouldn't surprise us at all if Mora was tanking last week to get the better matchup. It's exactly what a smart coach should do if he's trying to win a conference championship.

QUARTERBACKS
UCLA: Brett Hundley
Stanford: Kevin Hogan

Hundley has been erratic this year with some very high highs and some very low low's. He's a playmaker. He's still inexperienced enough to make poor decisions when pressured. Hundley could certainly make Stanford's defense pay if they come in overconfident after last week's easy win. Hogan has done a good job managing the Cardinal offense...which is all they've wanted him to do. Amazing that he could play so poised at Oregon with limited experience. Will championship pressure get to him? It's one thing to rise up as underdog when there's no penalty for losing. It's another to carry a team to a title and the Rose Bowl when you're SUPPOSED to.

LAST WEEK'S BOXSCORE

STANFORD 35, UCLA 17
Total Yardage: Stanford 381, UCLA 334
Rushing Yards: Stanford 221, UCLA 73
Passing Stats: Stanford 15-22-0-160, UCLA 20-38-1-261
Turnovers: Stanford 1, UCLA 2
Third Downs: Stanford 36%, UCLA 37%
Vegas Line: Stanford by 2.5, total of 50

Is there evidence of tanking in there? Mora wouldn't want to be obvious about it were he trying to throw the game...so you can't say for sure. We think the 221-73 edge on the ground is a bit extreme...and that's what triggered the media outrage. UCLA looked like it was getting pushed around in the second half rather than fighting for the game. That will be the key stat Friday Night. If UCLA gets punked like that again at the point of attack, they're going to lose another blowout.

That was just one game...and it may not have represented 60 minutes of peak intensity. Let's check the recent boxscore stats from the games each team won vs. their top opponent in the divisional races.

DIVISION WINNING BOXSCORES

PAC 12 NORTH: STANFORD 17, OREGON 14 (in overtime)
Total Yardage: Stanford 411, Oregon 405
Rushing Yards: Stanford 200, Oregon 198
Passing Stats: Stanford 25-36-1-211, Oregon 21-37-1-207
Turnovers: Stanford 3, Oregon 1
Third Downs: 35%, Oregon 24%
Vegas Line: Oregon by 19, total of 67

Oregon has been obliterating everyone this year...so this is an amazing boxscore in context. Stanford did exactly what you have to as an underdog against a juggernaut. Run the clock. Take away the rhythm of the fast break approach. And, hope you can catch a break late in a close game. You see nice balance there from the Cardinal. But, you also see three turnovers and an inability to convert third downs at a rate you'd like.

PAC 12 SOUTH: UCLA 38, USC 28
Total Yardage: USC 513, UCLA 406
Rushing Yards: USC 172, UCLA 172
Passing Stats: USC 23-43-2-341, UCLA 22-30-0-234
Turnovers: USC 3, UCLA 1
Third Downs: USC 40%, UCLA 40%
Vegas Line: USC by 4, total of 64

The Bruins were outgained...but USC has a knack for rolling up superfluous yardage totals in losses. When you pass all the time, you have big plays between the 20's that don't lead to as much scoring as expected. UCLA held their own at the point of attack, played a clean game, and brought emotion to a rivalry that had dwindled in importance. There is enough here to suggest a potential upset in Palo Alto.  But UCLA's defense needs to play better than we've been seeing in recent weeks.

BEST EXPECTATION
Did we solve any mysteries? Probably not. We've outlined the possibilities...but the additional data only confirmed what we already knew. UCLA has to play better defense if they want to spring an upset. UCLA probably isn't capable of springing an upset if they don't stop the run and force some punts. We will say this, you should at least acknowledge the possibility that the Bruins backed off in the second half last week to make sure they wouldn't have to play Oregon.

JIM HURLEY has been working closely with his Pac 12 sources to get the goods on this game. He's heard what he wanted to hear. And, that's played a big role in determining tonight's selection. You can purchase NETWORK'S big play in the Pac 12 Championship game PLUS the MAC Championship featuring Kent State and Northern Illinois right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call the office at 1-800-323-4453.

Back with you tomorrow to preview Alabama-Georgia in the SEC Championship game that will determine who faces Notre Dame for the national title. Whether it's in the Pac 12, the SEC, or any other conference...when championships are on the line, you need WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY!

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