PASADENA, Calif. - The math is easy. One more USC loss and four straight Arizona victories will give the Wildcats an improbable Pac-12 Conference South Division title and a spot against the North's best for the league championship.
All that in Year 1 under head coach Rich Rodriguez. Who saw this scenario coming before the season started?
The road is a bit difficult, however, but not as hectic as the stretch the 24th-ranked Wildcats (5-3, 1-3 Pac-12) just completed with losses to Stanford, Oregon and a win over the Trojans last week now out of the way. Two of the last four games on the schedule are against Colorado and at Utah, which are just a combined 4-12 this season.
But Rodriguez said he does not talk about the "big picture" with his players, and senior receiver Dan Buckner said it will not be too difficult to ignore the big prize Saturday night against No. 25 UCLA (6-2, 3-2 Pac-12).
"The way you can block it out is if think about if you lose to UCLA on Saturday, then the big picture don't matter anymore," Buckner said. "We're just trying to take it one game at a time. We can't play four in one day, and I don't think it's possible to play four in one day. So we're just looking to play this one, this week."
A win would make the Wildcats bowl eligible. Kickoff at the Rose Bowl is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
But the Bruins are in a similar position, as an undefeated mark the rest of the way will give them the division crown in a wide-open race that separates the top four teams - Arizona State included - by just 1 1/2 games. UCLA sits just one-half game back along with the Sun Devils, who they defeated last week in Tempe, Ariz., 45-43, on freshman Ka'imi Fairbairn's last-second field goal.
It was redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley, a Chandler, Ariz., native and one-time UA recruit, who led the Bruins 60 yards down the field in 93 seconds on the game's final drive. The win made UCLA bowl eligible in October for the first time since 2005.
But the 'Cats are coming off a week filled with their own drama. In the stunning 39-36 win over USC, quarterback Matt Scott tossed what proved to be the game-winning touchdown shortly after vomiting on the field. The fifth-year senior took two hits to the helmet while sliding on a run earlier in the drive, but remained in the game after Rodriguez called a pair of timeouts.
The discussion all week was about whether Scott suffered a concussion, but he said Monday that the in-game illness was a result of being "winded."
"I really don't think I got a concussion, honestly," Scott said. "I felt it coming on three or four plays before that. I just felt something come out. I was trying to hold it down but eventually it just came up."
Scott practiced without issue all week and is expected to play against the Bruins - a team he's had some past personal success against on the road. While filling in for injured starter Nick Foles, the Corona, Calif., native completed 24 of 36 passes for 319 yards - both personal bests, at the time - in a 29-21 win during the 2010 season.
But this season's key matchup will be centered around the running backs.
UA sophomore Ka'Deem Carey is 39 yards shy of reaching 1,000 for the season. The school's last 1,000-yard rusher was Nic Grigsby, who accomplished the feat in 2008.
Carey, fourth on the school's single-season charts, has topped 100 yards six times and collected 12 rushing touchdowns. Counting his lone receiving score this year, Carey ranks 18th in the nation in touchdowns.
Meanwhile, UCLA senior Johnathan Franklin is rewriting his own school's record books. Franklin, who has rushed for a conference-best 1,042 yards this season, needs just 21 yards to pass Gaston Green as UCLA's all-time leading rusher. Green rushed for 3,731 yards from 1984-87.
In addition, 529 more yards this season would give Franklin the school's single-season record set by Karim Abdul-Jabbar, who set the mark with 1,571 yards in 1995.
Both Franklin and Carey come into the game among the top 14 rushers in the nation.
"I love just to go against another great running back," Carey said.
When he took the job almost a full year ago, Rodriguez said the ultimate goal was to lead the Wildcats to their first-ever Rose Bowl - but that was supposed to take years. Now, the program is seeking a win at the venue to help set up a possible return trip for the big game in January.
Click Here to view this Link.Tracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor