By the time UCLA’s football team hit the tarmac Saturday, hours after hitting the wall in Utah, things were a whole lot better for the Bruins.
Electronic devices were clicked on and faces lighted up. By virtue of Washington State’s 37-27 victory over Arizona State late Saturday night, the Bruins still controlled their destiny in the Pac-12 Conference South Division.
Never had the sound of water being bailed sounded so good.
"[In] the transition from plane to bus, there was murmuring going on,” Coach Rick Neuheisel said. “The players certainly knew.”
So the best call for the UCLA football team this season was made by the conference. When the two-division format was created, top-10 Stanford was sent north to battle it out with top-10 Oregon.
With USC ineligible to play in the conference title game, the South Division was an easier road.
UCLA and Arizona State are 4-3 in the conference, making them the cream of a thin crop with USC sidelined. Utah is 3-4.
“We are in it, and we are excited about staying in it,” Neuheisel said.
Oregon and Stanford each could finish 8-1 in conference play, and 11-1 overall, yet only one plays for the conference title. Oregon all but wrapped up that spot by beating Stanford on Saturday.
UCLA versus Oregon in Eugene, Ore., remains on the table, though Neuheisel said, “We are not deviating from our one game at a time” mantra.
Yet, facts are facts. UCLA needs to win only its remaining two games to go to the conference title game.
Arizona State was in control of the division but lost consecutive games, one against UCLA, giving the Bruins the tiebreaker if the two teams finish tied.
“I don’t know if it’s surviving, but all we have to do is survive the next two weeks,” linebacker Patrick Larimore said.
That was a decent parting gift from a painful visit to Salt Lake City, where the Bruins lost to Utah, 31-6.
But in a division where no one goes home a loser, UCLA is right where it needs to be, provided the Bruins are done rolling over and playing dead.
“I think there is parity in this league,” Neuheisel said. “ ‘SC is a talented team, but there were two teams that went out and ran away from everyone else.”
He added that in the South Division “everyone can beat everyone else.”
That was the result of conference officials’ putting Stanford and California in the North Division, allowing new members Utah and Colorado to play in the South Division.
“I thought the geographical way it was broken up was the logical way to do it,” Neuheisel said. “That’s where my thinking stopped.”
The news that two top-10 teams went north slipped under his radar, though he acknowledges, “I was aware that they were good teams.”
Running back Derrick Coleman left Saturday’s game because of a hip injury. Neuheisel sounded less than optimistic, saying, “I think he’ll be fine. We’ll wait and see and have our fingers crossed.” … In their last three visits to the state of Utah, the Bruins have not scored a touchdown and have been outscored 134-12, including losses to Utah (44-6 in 2007) and Brigham Young (59-0 in 2008).