Turns out, UCLA has made it to Santa Clara after all.
The Bruins had hoped to be playing there for the Pac-12 title. Instead, they’ll have to settle for the Foster Farms Bowl on Dec. 26 in Santa Clara.
The bowl organizers announced Sunday that UCLA will play Nebraska in what is the Pac-12’s No. 4 bowl, behind the Rose, Alamo and Holiday bowls. Both teams finished unranked in the final College Football Playoff ranking.
“Not only will it be fun to get back to a place my family called home for many years, facing a storied program like Nebraska presents our young men with a tremendous challenge,” UCLA Coach Jim Mora said in a statement. “We are looking forward to putting the pads back on, competing hard and making the most of this opportunity.”
UCLA (8-4) needed a win in its regular-season finale, against USC, to advance to the Pac-12 championship, where it would’ve had a shot at a New Year’s Day bowl. What it gets instead is a second-tier game, albeit one that will feature two schools with long football histories.
Nebraska has stumbled in Coach Mike Riley’s first season in charge. Riley spent 14 seasons, over two separate stints, with Oregon State before leaving for Nebraska this off-season. His first season with the Cornhuskers was the program’s worst since the 2007 season.
Nebraska showed occasional flashes of competence — it was the only team to beat Michigan State this season — but lost a series of close games. Against Brigham Young, the one opponent it shares with UCLA, it lost on a Hail Mary pass. It lost by three to Miami, two to Wisconsin and Northwestern and one to Illinois.
In a normal season, the Cornhuskers, at 5-7, wouldn’t have been bowl eligible. But this season’s record 40 bowl games ran out of eligible teams to fill out the schedule. Before Saturday’s conference championship games, the NCAA approved a plan to fill bowls with 5-7 teams, based upon their most recent Academic Progress Ratings. Nebraska had the highest available, so it received a bid.
UCLA is 6-6 all time against the Cornhuskers. The teams last played each other in 2013, when UCLA erased an 18-point deficit to run away with a 41-21 victory on the road.
Pac-12 teams are 6-0 all time in all iterations of the Foster Farms Bowl — except for UCLA, which is winless in two tries. In 2006, when the bowl was called the Emerald Bowl, the Bruins lost, 44-27, to Florida State. And in 2011, after the name had changed to the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, they lost, 20-14, to Illinois.
UCLA did not make Mora available for an interview.
Follow Zach Helfand on Twitter @zhelfand