My grandpa always told me it was better to be lucky than good.
At this juncture in the season, the Bruin football team seems to be both.
Sitting at 6-2 overall and 3-2 in the Pac-12 conference race, UCLA finds itself in a tangled mess atop the Pac-12 South division, a half game behind USC and tied with Arizona State.
But how on Earth did the Bruins get here? Forgive me for trying to make sense of this. Tracking UCLA in a conference title race is uncharted territory.
As coach Jim Mora has said many times this season, he can’t control who lines up on the other side of the ball, and he’s 100 percent correct, but his team has caught its opponents at just the right time as of late.
Someone in the Bruin locker room must have a lucky horseshoe or a very effective voodoo doll. Of course, given UCLA’s injury history in recent years, perhaps the Bruins had a little luck coming to them.
When Utah came to the Rose Bowl over two weeks ago, UCLA escaped with a 21-14 win. In the preseason, many thought the Utes would contend for the South’s crown but their struggles this season can be attributed to their inability to find a quarterback.
When senior Jordan Wynn injured his shoulder in Week 2 and retired from football entirely, Utah went to Jon Hays ““ a glorified scout teamer. When he wasn’t cutting it, coach Kyle Whittingham threw freshman Travis Wilson into the mix. If Wilson hadn’t thrown an interception to UCLA cornerback Andrew Abbott to open the game, who knows how that one would have unfolded?
Last weekend, UCLA fled the desert with a narrow 45-43 win over Arizona State. The win gave UCLA the edge over ASU in a tiebreaker, if such a method is needed to sort things out when the dust settles. Here again, the Bruins were aided by some good timing.
The Sun Devils were without the conference’s leading sack man, defensive tackle Will Sutton, who missed the game to nurse a right knee injury he suffered a week prior against the Oregon Ducks. Two more ASU defensive starters missed the second half with injuries. Perhaps Brett Hundley’s 60-yard game winning drive would have went slightly differently if the Sun Devils were at full strength.
This week, the Arizona Wildcats come to Pasadena, attempting to ruin UCLA’s homecoming. The Bruins may have been lucky enough to dodge yet another bullet.
Arizona may be without starting quarterback Matt Scott, a senior who appeared to have played through a concussion in a 39-36 win over USC last week.
Bruin fans should be very familiar with Scott as he pulled fill-in duty for former Wildcat quarterback Nick Foles in 2010 when Arizona crashed homecoming with a 29-21 win.
“He’s a great player,” Mora said of Scott. “He’s having a tremendous year but we need to prepare for their scheme. They won’t change what they’re doing whether he’s in there or not.”
Scott’s current backup ““ junior B.J. Denker ““ doesn’t appear to be up to the same task. Mora didn’t recognize Denker’s name in his weekly press conference and said he was hard-pressed to find film on the junior college transfer, not the sign of a capable gunslinger.
Make no mistake, UCLA has held up its end of the deal by taking advantage of teams who have been hurting. The Bruins have created some luck of their own and have stayed relatively healthy to put themselves in a good spot going into November.
The team is already bowl-eligible and these final four games will actually mean something for the first time in a long time: UCLA’s last outright conference championship came in 1998.
Technically, last year’s team won the South division title, but USC’s postseason ineligibility had a hand in that. Somehow, 50-0 blowouts don’t inspire a feeling of authenticity, especially when the Trojans had shirts manufactured that read “south division champions.”
A lot can happen between now and season’s end, but UCLA had better hope its luck doesn’t run out. Three of the team’s final four opponents are ranked, with the only easy win expected to come next week at Washington State.
Anyone have a rabbit’s foot?
Email Sam Strong at firstname.lastname@example.org