UCLA has accomplished a lot the last three seasons.
The Bruins have won in Utah. The Bruins have won at Berkeley. The Bruins beat USC — and beat ‘em and beat ‘em.
Those were all things that had temporarily been removed from the UCLA football program’s DNA.
But now the Bruins are trying to make a case for inclusion in the four-team playoff that will determine college football’s national champion.
UCLA needs to do two more things that have been beyond its reach: defeat Stanford and Oregon.
The Bruins will try to take that first step on Friday when the Cardinal comes to the Rose Bowl. UCLA has not beaten Stanford since 2008, a six-game losing streak that includes a 27-24 defeat in the 2012 Pac-12 Conference championship game.
A victory would send UCLA back to the title game to face Oregon, a team the Bruins have not beaten since 2007, another six-game losing streak.
Since Coach Jim Mora came to Westwood, UCLA is 0-5 against Stanford and Oregon and 18-4 against the rest of the Pac-12.
“We can’t say our program is there until we beat Stanford and Oregon,” receiver Jordan Payton said. “They have been killing it the last several years. It would be a big game for us as far as our culture. We haven’t taken down the big two.”
Stanford has downsized from “big.” The Cardinal had a 46-8 record the last four seasons and won the last two Pac-12 titles, but things have changed in Palo Alto.
The Cardinal come into the game with a 6-5 overall record, 4-4 in Pac-12 play. UCLA is 9-2 overall, 6-2 in conference games, and is No. 8 in the College Football Playoff rankings.
“We haven’t beaten Stanford since I’ve been here,” UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley said. “I’d like to change that.”
Then would come Oregon.
The last time the Bruins beat the Ducks should carry an asterisk. Oregon lost Heisman Trophy candidate Dennis Dixon to a knee injury the week before and played the game with a third-string quarterback.
UCLA fans can picture the Bruins playing without Hundley and backup Jerry Neuheisel.
Mora was clear last season about what the next step was for the Bruins. After losing back-to-back games to the Cardinal and Ducks, Mora said, “It’s time for UCLA to turn the page and do something different and win these games.”
The Bruins lost again to Oregon in October, 42-30. They are one victory from a rematch.
Mora was reluctant to look beyond the Cardinal, as he tried to stick to his mantra of focusing on one game at a time.
“The bar is Stanford,” Mora said. “We’ve got to find a way to play against these guys and win. It hasn’t been easy. They have made it really difficult on us.”
Pressed, he included Oregon.
“They are two teams we haven’t beaten,” he said. “We need to find a way.”
Stanford, meanwhile, is looking for silver linings. The Cardinal lost to USC, let a game against Notre Dame get away and lost to Utah for a second consecutive season.
A Stanford win would put Arizona or Arizona State in the Pac-12 title game against Oregon.
The last four seasons, Stanford has played in two Rose Bowls, the Orange Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl. The bowl prospects are not nearly so glamorous this season, though Coach David Shaw avoided the spoiler label this week.
“I look at this in a positive way, what a win can do for us,” Shaw said. “I don’t wish ill will on the Bruins, especially Jim Mora, who I have a lot respect for, he and his family. I want to win for Stanford University.”
But he did show the rivalry card, a traditional play by an underdog trying to, uh, spoil someone’s season. UCLA is a 4 1/2-point favorite.
“We still look at each other as rivals,” Shaw said. “We feel that way about both Los Angeles schools. When the conference became the Pac-12 [and split into two divisions], we wanted to make sure we maintained this rivalry every year. This has its own unique slant.”
Lately that slant has tilted toward Palo Alto.
“I have never beaten them,” UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks said. “I’m excited to play. I can’t wait. This is what we ask for.”
Follow Chris Foster on Twitter @cfosterlatimes