Friday, April 20

Strong Side: _UCLA just fine staying close to home_

UCLA fans cheer on their team during the third quarter.

UCLA fans cheer on their team during the third quarter.

Blaine Ohigashi

Christmas in San Diego is never a bad thing.

Any amount of time spent in San Diego is preferable to San Antonio. Well, not according to the Pac-12 Conference.

After UCLA’s rip-your-heart-out-throw-it-on-the-ground-and-stomp-on-it loss to Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship game, it was clear those were the two options ““ the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio or the Holiday Bowl in San Diego.

As far as UCLA’s players were concerned, either one they ended up at was fine by them, it just wasn’t the one played on New Year’s Day in their home stadium.

They had the Rose Parade on their minds. Anything else was a consolation prize.

“Once we didn’t win that game and go to the Rose Bowl, that was the only thing we could have controlled,” UCLA coach Jim Mora said. “After that, it was whatever decisions were made were made, and we’d be excited no matter what we were doing just to get the chance to go and play again.”

After the game, I asked junior linebacker Jordan Zumwalt (from Huntington Beach’s Edison High, just 90 miles from San Diego) which one he preferred.

“I don’t even know which one is better,” he replied while giving me the “neither one has Rose in the title” eyes. “Which one’s better?”

“Funnily enough, San Antonio is the better bowl,” I said.

“Then let’s go to Texas,” Zumwalt quipped back.

Until late Sunday afternoon, that appeared to be the case. Because the Alamo Bowl has the first non-BCS pick of the Pac-12 litter, UCLA looked to be the choice. The Bruins showed well in the title game. They are the hotter team.

Instead, the Alamo Bowl opted for the Oregon State Beavers, who have an identical conference record to the Bruins but spent championship weekend pummeling the Southland Conference’s Nicholls State Colonels, 77-3.

An Alamo Bowl official told me Monday morning their selection committee’s goal was to pair the two highest ranked teams possible. But the Beavers are just two spots ahead of the Bruins in the AP poll and haven’t beaten a ranked team since they dealt UCLA its first loss in late September. Their choice had little to do with geography. The flight from LAX to San Antonio is shorter than the one from Portland.

Instead of a rubber match against 8-4 Texas, a third meeting in as many years ““ and this one would be a true road game as Austin and San Antonio are practically neighbors ““ UCLA gets 7-5 Baylor in what ought to be a home game.

Officials from both bowls said there was no collaboration between the two, no conspiracy theory to keep UCLA close to home. Yes, the Bruins got passed over by the folks down south but they ended up in a better situation.

John Wertz, the president of the Holiday Bowl, said his goal is to “create tourism and overnight stays in San Diego.”

Mora has other ideas for UCLA fans.

“I love the idea of staying in Southern California for this game,” Mora said. “It’s a quick drive down there.”

You can bet UCLA fans won’t be booking hotel rooms in the Gaslamp Quarter. They won’t be joining the teams at Sea World or the San Diego Zoo when they could head down the 5 anytime they like.

Baylor fans will arrive early and bask in the coastal breezes, thinking they aren’t so outnumbered. But after UCLA fans hit their local Best Buy on Boxing Day, they’ll roll into America’s Finest City just in time for some jazz flute and a little football.

UCLA got the short end of the stick according to the Pac-12, but they’ll feel right at home in San Diego.

If you maintain that the translation was lost hundreds of years ago, email Strong at [email protected]

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