Can UCLA make the Pac-12 title game?

August, 29, 2011
8/29/11
7:25
PM PT
Yes, Kirk Herbstreit, it could happen.

Herbstreit, ESPN's college football analyst, recently picked UCLA to represent the South Division in the inaugural Pac-12 championship game. The caveat was that USC would win the division but would be unable to go to the championship game because of NCAA-imposed sanctions that prevent the Trojans from playing in the postseason.

So is Herbstreit on target, or is he clueless when it comes to Pac-12 football?

It's difficult to say what his line of thinking was because he offered no explanation for picking UCLA, be we think he might be on to something.

The South Division appears to be wide open with conference newcomer Colorado the only team that probably won't contend.

Arizona State is the preseason favorite but has endured a rash of key injuries and will enter the season as a question mark. Newcomer Utah has talent but has never gone though the rigors of a major conference schedule. Arizona is also dealing with injury woes and was a bit of a longshot before the injury bug bit.

Obviously, UCLA is also a longshot but the Bruins are a young, hungry team looking to make its mark and end the recent trend of mediocrity in Westwood. They have quite a bit of talent in players who aren't yet household names, but who could become just that if all goes well this season.

Running back Johnathan Franklin, defensive end Datone Jones, middle linebacker Patrick Larimore and safety Tony Dye each has all-conference ability. Running back Jordon James is an electric player that adds another dimension to the Bruins' offense. Safeties Dietrich Riley and Dalton Hilliard are among the toughest in the business.

The big question mark is quarterback, but UCLA won't win games by passing anyway. Its strength is the run game and a deep, fast defense. Last we checked, a good run game and a solid defense can help win in just about any situation.

It will take continued luck on the injury front and will require the young players to take another step forward, but in that best-case scenario, Herbstreit is not totally off base. The uncertainty of the Pac-12 South makes anybody a legitimate contender, including UCLA.

Peter Yoon

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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