UCLA Controls Its Destiny

Nov. 16 -- With ASU's loss to Oregon State last night, UCLA is in control of its own destiny in the Pac-12, and winning out could mean playoffs for the Bruins...

With Oregon State's victory over ASU last night, UCLA is in control of its own destiny in the Pac-12, needing only to win out in the regular season to have an opportunity to face Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship. Winning there will give the Bruins an 11-2 record, and a victory over what is likely going to be the No. 1 team in the country at the time, and a conference championship in what is likely going to be rated the No. 2 conference in the country.

A look at UCLA's resume, in that event:

Victories over top 15-ish ASU and Arizona and top 10 Oregon.

Losses to top 20-ish Utah and top 10 Oregon.

Easily one of the toughest strengths of schedule among contenders (given the strength of the Pac-12 and that Texas and Memphis have both put together bowl-eligible seasons, which was unexpected when they played).

UCLA DL Omamagbe Odighizuwa
So, UCLA is going to have an argument for the Playoff simply based on that, if the Bruins do somehow beat the Ducks after making it through the remainder of the regular season unscathed. But, given what we've seen out of the committee, especially in the last ranking, we'd imagine they'll take some of Saturday's craziness into account as well. Here were some general themes we saw:

1. The SEC West does not seem to be as strong as previously thought. No. 17 LSU was shut out by 4-5 Arkansas, No. 9 Auburn was blown out by No. 15 Georgia, and No. 24 Texas A&M lost to Missouri. The previous No. 1 team in the country, Mississippi State, was dominated to a much greater extent than the score (25-20) would indicate by No. 5 Alabama. The combination of those results could take the SEC West down a peg -- a small peg, to be sure, but that combination of results severely devalues Mississippi State's ranking, which was in large part what the favored impression of the SEC West was based on. A look at what Miss. State's resume might look like now:

A win over top 25-ish Auburn 
 

A loss to top 5 Alabama.


And quite literally nothing else. The Bulldogs played no one in the non-conference schedule, and two wins which built their resume (over A&M and LSU) now mean much less. So, we'd expect a small recalibration of the SEC West in the next ranking.

2. Florida State struggled mightily again, and the ACC sucks even worse.

This will be interesting, because the committee is not supposed to look at margin of victory when assessing wins, but the eye test would indicate that Florida State earned another small fall in the ranking. The Seminoles are undefeated, beating Miami last night, but they've struggled in several games this year against mediocre opponents. We'd actually expect, when the new ranking comes out on Wednesday, that Florida State will have played no ranked teams this year -- which puts them in the same boat as undefeated Marshall, which is not in the top 25. We'll be interested to see if this drops FSU to 4 or lower.

3. Exact same title, only substitute Ohio State for Florida State, and Big Ten for ACC.

See above.

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So, what does all of this mean for UCLA's Playoff chances? We'd imagine that the Pac-12's rep took a very small hit with the ASU loss to Oregon State, but we'd also guess that UCLA's overall resume remains much the same after victories for Utah and Arizona (not to mention wins for Texas and Memphis, bringing them to 6-5 and 7-3 respectively). So, when the new ranking comes out on Tuesday, we'd fully expect UCLA to be right around No. 9, maybe moving up two spots to fill Auburn's and Arizona State's vacated positions, but otherwise, remaining in about the same holding pattern (unless the committee does something really drastic with the SEC West, which we don't expect). We'd expect the top 15 to look something like this:

1. Oregon
2. Alabama
3. Florida State
4. TCU
5. Baylor
6. Mississippi State
7. Ohio State
8. Ole Miss
9. UCLA
10. Georgia
11. Michigan State
12. Kansas State
13. Arizona
14. Arizona State
15. Wisconsin


Given our expectations of what the ranking may look like on Wednesday, here's our revised impression of what needs to happen for UCLA to make the Playoff:

UCLA WR Jordan Payton
(1) UCLA needs to beat both USC and Stanford to make the Pac-12 Championship game. (2) UCLA needs to beat No. 1 Oregon to win the conference.

We still say the two steps above may be enough, on their own, to secure a spot in the Playoff. After just winning out through the regular season, we'd imagine UCLA would be ranked No. 6 or 7 heading into the game against Oregon, so they'd be within reasonable striking distance of the top four. If you say UCLA is, conservatively, about 60% likely to beat USC, 60% likely to beat Stanford, and 30% likely to beat Oregon, the chances of simply winning out are about 11%. But to make the Playoff more of a realistic possibility after that, here's what else might need to happen:

(3) Mississippi State needs to lose to Ole Miss
(4) Ohio State needs to lose to either Michigan, Indiana, or their opponent in the conference championship game.

If all four of those things happen, I think UCLA would almost certainly be in the No. 4 spot, leapfrogging one-good-win Baylor and all of those 2-loss non-champion SEC teams. But to be absolutely sure, we'd recommend that these things happen too:

(5) UCLA would like ASU to win out, giving the Bruins as close to another top 10 win as possible. (6) UCLA would like Utah to beat Arizona and Colorado, to continue to make that loss look like a "good" loss. (7) UCLA would like one or both of TCU and Baylor to take another loss, just to winnow down the sheer quantity of one-loss teams. (8) UCLA would like Alabama to lose to Auburn, setting up SEC carnage. (9) UCLA would then like whatever two-loss team wins the SEC West to lose to Missouri in the SEC Title game, setting up a reasonable, though unlikely, scenario where the SEC is shut out of the inaugural College Football Playoff.

If all of that happens, UCLA would be an absolute, complete lock for the playoffs

So, what we're saying is: the chances are better than next to nil.


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