Look what the NCAA has done. Look what the Pac-12 done. Look what Rick Neuheisel has done.
Actually, UCLA’s coach-for-now might be the least culpable in the farce that has turned into the first Pac-12 championship game. Start with the fact that there is every reason to believe the best team might not be playing in it. And that one of the league’s worst is playing in it.
USC has the same record as and has beaten North Division champion Oregon (both 10-2). The Ducks will be the prohibitive favorite in the conference’s first championship game that looks more like a September conference opener. It’s hard to argue against the Trojans playing the best Pac-12 football at the moment. Actually, some of the best football in the country.
The Trojans all but shouted that from the top of the Coliseum Saturday night routing UCLA, 50-0. That would be the UCLA that is the South Division “champion” facing Oregon Friday in Eugene. There may not be a worse league title game in history. And, yes, I’m counting the MAC and Conference USA.
At least teams from those conferences had earned their way to their championship games. UCLA is the back-up date to the prom after the head cheerleader said no. Take away the divisions and UCLA finished in a tie for fourth. But in this age of divisional formats, paper heroes can be created. UCLA was that Back-Up Plan because, well, you might have read somewhere that USC is ineligible for postseason play. The Trojans, Pac-12 and NCAA went into this season knowing that was the case.
What they didn’t know is that the second-place team in the South would be 6-6 UCLA, coming off a skunking by the Trojans. What they didn’t know is that UCLA would “clinch” the South when Colorado, a team that had lost 23 straight road games, would win at Utah.
They couldn’t have conceived that only that championship game is keeping Neuheisel from being fired right now. Should be quite a celebration in Eugene, and a funeral dirge in Westwood once the plane lands. Among other sins, UCLA’s coach actually had the temerity to suggest that UCLA had “closed the gap” on USC in the last four years. Bad move, Slick Rick. That probably explains why Matt Barkley was still in the game in the fourth quarter chucking his sixth touchdown pass.
USC got hammered with the one of the worst penalties in NCAA history. In terms of closing that gap, UCLA couldn’t even kick down a door that was left wide open.
Neuheisel being fired after Friday’s Eugene beating is a given. AD Dan Guerrero can’t tap dance fast enough around the issue. If the Bruins somehow won and got to – wait for it – another home game in the Rose Bowl, that would only heighten the urgency. The Bruins would be playing in the Rose Bowl but they’re not nearly a Rose Bowl team.
Call it one of the unintended consequences of a postseason ban. Surely, the NCAA infractions committee couldn’t have conceived of these circumstances when it banned USC: A team ineligible for a bowl would be replaced by a team about to be ineligible for a bowl.
An explanation: A UCLA loss would drop the Bruins to 6-7, making the Pac-12 South Division “champions” (love using those quotes) ineligible for a bowl. The Bruins could then could seek a bowl waiver from the NCAA if the Pac-12 can’t fill its seven bowl slots.
Great. Nothing says “bowl experience” than a team with a losing record. Though, using that logic, if Ohio State is going to be allowed in the Sugar Bowl because of some unknown rule, UCLA at least has played by the rules to get to 6-7. Those rules being set by the NCAA when it banned USC.
You’re way ahead of me if you’re thinking that Alabama can play for a national championship without winning its division, but UCLA can’t play in a bowl after “winning” its division. (Check the standings. USC is two games better than UCLA.)