UCLA can only hope its football players are as prepared for USC as they were Monday for the questions of a larger-than-usual media contingent.
Players followed strict guidelines: No inflammatory comments about the Trojans. No talk about possibly being among the four teams selected for the College Football Playoff.
The first was a direct order from Coach Jim Mora. The second was from hard-learned experience.
After USC defeated California on Thursday, Trojans offensive lineman Zach Banner turned his thoughts to UCLA, saying, “They got us the last two years, but they don’t own it. They’ve just been renting it for a couple weeks.”
Mora brought that quote to the attention of his team during meetings Monday morning.
“He said, ‘Don’t do this,’” defensive back Ishmael Adams said.
Of course, it was Mora who told the Bruins, “We own this town” outside the locker room at the Coliseum after beating USC last season.
Mora extended the no-nos beyond brash statements to the media.
“He told us to be extra careful with Instagram and Twitter posts,” Adams said. “Everyone is aware of who we’re playing and people can twist comments.”
Mora has taken that to heart. In the past, he occasionally referred to USC as “Southern Cal,” a moniker Trojans loathe. But it has been a year since he last uttered that phrase.
His team is following his example.
“Be smart, don’t get into a war of words,” linebacker Myles Jack said. “We’ll see them on Saturday. That’s how we’re going to handle things.”
The No. 11 Bruins also handled the playoff talk.
UCLA was written off after back-to-back home losses to Utah and Oregon, but Arizona State opened a door for the Bruins by losing to Oregon State on Saturday.
“A couple of weeks ago, it was quiet, no one was bugging us,” receiver Jordan Payton said. “Now we’re back in play.”
UCLA no longer needs another team’s help. If the Bruins can defeat USC and Stanford in their final regular-season games, they would earn a rematch against No. 2 Oregon in the conference title game, and a win there would make UCLA appealing to the College Football Playoff selection committee.
“We went through the expectations and the hype at the beginning of the season, where everyone wanted us to win by 60,” quarterback Brett Hundley said. “We’ve grown. We learned we just have to play football and not worry about the rankings. We sit in pretty good position, but it doesn’t matter right now.
“All we want is to be in the discussion at the end of the season.”
Sorting out the Pac
If UCLA defeats USC and Stanford, the Bruins would be Pac-12 South Division champions.
But there are other scenarios:
UCLA also advances if it defeats USC and loses to Stanford — if Arizona, Arizona State and Utah each lose one more game.
USC needs to beat UCLA and have Arizona State lose one of its last two games.
Arizona needs to win its two games, and have UCLA defeat USC but lose to Stanford.
Arizona State needs to win its two games, and USC has to beat UCLA. If the Sun Devils lose to Washington State and beat Arizona to finish with a 6-3 record, they need Utah to win its last two games, UCLA to beat USC and Stanford to beat UCLA.
Utah goes to the title game by winning its last two games if the other contenders each finish with 6-3 conference records, creating a five-way tie.
That last scenario makes Utah a real longshot, the Utes’ chances about the same as a Hail Mary.
But wait ... there have already been a couple of those.