UCLA popped up on the horizon of the college football playoff race this week. The No. 11 Bruins are seven places from the fourth and final playoff spot.
But UCLA players say they want nothing to do with any what-if scenarios.
“It’s always a goal for us, but honestly, at this point in the season, with everything that has gone on, we made a decision not to worry about it,” defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa said.
In August, television pundits predicted UCLA would win the national title. In September, people were asking why UCLA wasn’t dominating games. In October, the Bruins lost to Utah and Oregon and camera crews stopped dropping by practice.
Now expectations are on the rise.
“We’re No. 11? I didn’t know,” guard Alex Redmond said. “I don’t think it is like a huge deal. We don’t really see it as, ‘We’re No. 11 and we have to play like this now and do certain things.’ We go play to our own standards.”
UCLA remains a longshot for the playoff.
For starters, the Bruins need to win their last two games — against USC and Stanford — and hope Arizona State, the Pac-12 Conference South Division leader, takes a loss. If those things happen, UCLA would advance to the Pac-12 title game, where a victory over No. 2 Oregon would leave the Bruins with an 11-2 record.
Mississippi State, Oregon, Florida State and Texas Christian hold the four spots and many breaks would have to go UCLA’s way for the Bruins to make that big of a jump.
Odighizuwa said that UCLA’s oversized preseason expectations taught Bruins players “to calm down and just focus on winning games.”
UCLA gave up 211 yards rushing in a 44-30 victory over Washington last week. It was the fourth time in six games the Bruins had given up more than 200 yards rushing.
This time it was different, defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said.
UCLA led, 31-10, at halftime. Washington had 137 yards rushing in the second half.
“They maintained that run game and got some yards on us,” Ulbrich said. “We were dedicated at that point to keeping things in front of us and not give up the big one.”
Still, the 200 yards can be hard for a linebacker to accept.
“You feel responsible for that,” linebacker Myles Jack said. “You feel obligated to stop the run. That’s a linebacker’s first duty — run first, pass second. When they run the ball on you, you take that personally. You feel every run they break is on you.”
UCLA players said Monday and Tuesday that they were going to use their open week to focus on themselves.
That plan seemed to change Wednesday. The Bruins suited up a scout team wearing uniform numbers matching USC players.
Jake Hall was playing USC quarterback Cody Kessler and Craig Lee was running back Javorius Allen.
UCLA plays host to USC on Nov. 22 at the Rose Bowl.