Pac-12 Championship - UCLA at Stanford
Posted Nov 28, 2012

Pac-12 Championship Fearless Prediction - UCLA at Stanford

UCLA (9-3) at Stanford (10-2) Nov. 30, 8:00, Fox

Here's The Deal … UCLA and Stanford are hooking up for the second time in six days. And this time, a berth in the Rose Bowl will be the victor's prize.

The Cardinal had few problems with the Bruins last Saturday in Pasadena, pulling away for a comfortable 35-17 win. However, extenuating circumstances did exist. Stanford needed the game to capture the Pac-12 North. UCLA had already wrapped up the South Division with an emotional win over USC a week earlier. Oh, and a Bruins win would have meant a trip to the Autzen Zoo instead of the Farm. Devil you know is better than the one you don't.

What's made Stanford's run so special is that it's happened the year after All-American QB Andrew Luck left school early for the NFL. The Cardinal can't possibly maintain its recent level of success without their linchpin behind center, right? Maintain? Nope. Instead, it has actually raised the bar behind David Shaw's coaching staff, the play of a veteran D and the tough running of Stepfan Taylor. Up to No. 8 in the BCS rankings following back-to-back road wins over Oregon and UCLA, Stanford is having the kind of season that will serve as a foundation for many years to come.

UCLA. Absolutely no one saw this coming. Not even the most optimistic member of the program. In his first year in Westwood, Jim Mora has transformed the way the Bruins practice, play … and think. It's been one year since Rick Neuheisel was at the helm. It feels like 10. Practically overnight, UCLA has surpassed crosstown rival USC on the field, which will pay handsome dividends on Signing Day in February. The program is at least a year ahead of schedule. If it wins at Stanford this Friday night, it'll be light years beyond what anyone had envisioned this early in Mora's tenure.

Just how hard is it to beat the same team twice in under a week? We're about to find out in an extremely significant game for both programs. UCLA hasn't appeared in the "Granddaddy of Them All" since 1998. Stanford? 1999.

Players to Watch: If UCLA can't figure out a way to slow down the Stanford pass rush, it has no chance of delivering an upset.

The Bruins, who start three freshmen up front, got schooled for seven sacks last week. Xavier Su'a-Filo is an All-Pac-12 guard, but UCLA needs a few more like him. Not only did QB Brett Hundley take a beating, but all-star RB Johnathan Franklin was held to just 65 yards on 21 carries. The Bruins blockers will compete with grown men, a front seven as physical and active as any in America. The Cardinal leads the country in sacks and run defense, dominating the point of attack with 275-pound ends Henry Anderson and Ben Gardner and plus-sized linebackers Chase Thomas, Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov.

Stanford's defenders are bullies. UCLA's rely more on their speed and quickness.

The Bruins want to create the kind of havoc that forces the Cardinal into third-and-long situations. While Stanford has become a better team since redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan took over at quarterback in early November, it remains a somewhat one-dimensional attack that doesn't want to lean too heavily on Hogan's arm. UCLA has a pair of guided-missiles on the second level, Eric Kendricks on the inside and Anthony Barr on the outside. The duo will need to use their range and tenacity to disrupt Hogan's rhythm, and to get a hand on Taylor before he can square his shoulders and turn upfield.

Both defenses will need to pay attention to the tight ends … again.

UCLA's Joseph Fauria and Stanford's Zach Ertz are easily their quarterback's most reliable target in the passing game, each leading the way in receptions a week ago. Fauria is a 6-7, 255-pound giant, with the long arms and huge mitts to pluck the ball out of the air. He's Hundley's best friend, allowing the quarterback to put the ball up and give No. 8 a chance to go up and get it. Ertz is one of the most polished pass-catching tight ends in the game. He's 6-6 and 252 pounds, yet leads the Cardinal with 63 grabs for 818 yards and six scores. Ertz is too big for the other guy's safeties, and often too athletic for their linebackers.

UCLA will win if … the blockers block.

The Bruins are in this position for many reasons, but Hundley and Franklin are two of the most prominent ones. When the quarterback is constantly hurried and the running back sees no daylight, UCLA becomes a rather ordinary team. Witness Act I against the Cardinal a week ago. Yeah, the Bruins harbor playmakers on defense, but Mora's success has been largely built on the shoulders of an offense averaging 36 points a game. This team does not lose shootouts. It's when it fails to score more than 20 points and keep the pocket clean that problems happen. In its three losses in 2012, UCLA has whipped at the line for 15 sacks.

Stanford will win if … Taylor controls the tempo of the game.

Contrasting styles will be on display this Friday evening in Northern California. UCLA would like to quicken the pace. Stanford has no problems slowing things down. In fact, the Cardinal is most effective when Taylor is eating up the clock and punishing defenses behind LT David Yankey, C Sam Schwartzstein and RG Kevin Danser. The Bruins can win this game relying on Hundley's arm, but the same cannot be assumed about Hogan. He's still raw and in the embryonic stages of his development. A week after barreling for 142 yards and two scores on 20 carries, No. 33 must again be the offensive catalyst, keeping the chains moving, and allowing his own defense to recharge on the sidelines.

What Will Happen: No one this side of South Bend is playing tougher defense than Stanford. And nothing that UCLA saw six days ago will help it solve that Cardinal unit.

The Cardinal is peaking around the D, the running of Taylor and the presence of Hogan behind center. Plus, it'll get to enjoy its coronation in front of a home crowd that'll treat its recent road warriors like conquering heroes. In a repeat of Saturday, Stanford will own the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. For Hundley, that means a lot of hits and throws on the move. For Taylor, it'll equal another 100-yard effort achieved behind an O-line that has gotten better as the season has progressed.

Both of these coaches have done magnificent jobs in 2012, making it to a game that everyone assumed would indeed be a rematch … between Oregon and USC. Shaw, though, will make it 2-0 over Mora, riding the shoulders of his D to a signature victory in the post-Luck era.

CFN Prediction: Stanford 30 … UCLA 17 …

ATS Consultants Line (Click for more lines and picks) Stanford -8.5 O/U: 46
Must Watch Rating (5 – Crossfire Hurricane, 1 – Comic Book Men: 4