Acknowledging that college football's new four-team playoff could someday inch toward a larger basketball-style tournament, we continue our Super 16 countdown, with No. 5,
UCLA's periodic forays into national title contention tend to fall in years when college football unveils a new postseason plan.
Working in UCLA's favor that year was Cade McNown at quarterback and, for a while at least, the Bruins' favorable quartile rank.
As fate had it, UCLA lasted only one week on top and never again appeared at No. 1.
The Bruins were cursed that year by a porous defense and a hurricane that postponed an early-season game at Miami.
The game was rescheduled game for Dec. 5 and UCLA suffered a heart-wrenching 49-45 defeat. The Bruins could have won the game 15 times over by making something known in football parlance as a "tackle."
Victory would have put UCLA in the first BCS title game, at Tempe's Sun Devil Stadium, against Tennessee.
If only UCLA had played that game under today's rules. A ruled fumble by receiver Brad Melsby would have been overturned by instant replay review. Melsby's knee would have been ruled down and UCLA probably would have run out the clock for a 45-42 win.
UCLA finished fifth in the final BCS standings behind Tennessee, Florida State, Kansas State and Ohio State. But had there been a four-team playoff that year, the selection committee might have awarded UCLA the fourth spot.
And so here we are, 16 years later, with UCLA sitting again on the national doorstep. Nostalgically, we have started the Bruins where they finished in the 1998 BCS standings: fifth.
It puts UCLA in not-quite-playoff position, but also with directions on how to get there.
The playoff talk started when quarterback Brett Hundley decided to forgo the
Jim Mora's third year as coach sets up as UCLA's best in years. The schedule has everything a selection committee would want.
In the new system, unlike 1998, UCLA might even be able to absorb a loss and still make the playoffs.
Let's say the Bruins lose at home to
Of course, defending Pac-12 South champion
Mora is smart to downplay all this playoff talk. His dad Jim once ranted famously on that subject.
The coach is carefully couching what is possible for his Bruins. "Lot of expectations out there, as I've read, for our team," he said.
It's ultimately up to the Bruins to write their history.
UCLA's playoff dreams could be derailed by any number of issues or formidable opponents.
Doesn't the road to the Pac-12 title still run through
The Bruins' last win over Oregon was in 2007, after the Ducks lost star quarterback Dennis Dixon to a season-ending knee injury.
UCLA football has always favored the overachieving, underdog role. The Bruins have not always responded well when the spotlight shines in their eyes.
Who will ever forget that dreadful trip to
Yet, UCLA — gulp — was picked to win the Pac-12 South and is a top-10 choice nationally in all the credible preseason indexes.
It doesn't take a
Talent only matters, ultimately, if it delivers on the promise.
It's not every year, though, that you get a legitimate shot to play for all the things you play for in the first place.
In UCLA's case, that's first place.