Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Pac-12 [Print without images]

Friday, April 19, 2013
Most important game: UCLA

By Kevin Gemmell

Every game counts. But some games count more. Or tell us more.

We're going through the Pac-12 and picking out one game that seems most important -- or potentially most revealing -- for each team from our vantage point today.

And then we'll let you vote from a list of potential options.

We're going in reverse alphabetical order.

UCLA

Most important game: Oct. 19 at Stanford

Why it's important: If you read yesterday's Most Important Game post on USC, then you probably understand how significant that game will be for both schools in 2013. College football in Los Angeles is at a crossroads with the Bruins trending up and the Trojans trying to stop the freefall of 2012.

But instead of writing the exact same piece from the Bruins perspective, I thought I'd offer a little variety and take a contrarian approach.

Without question, UCLA's schedule ramps up in 2013. They go on the road to Nebraska, Stanford, Oregon and USC, as well as Utah and Arizona. Four of those are very difficult and the other two won't exactly be pushovers.

This is one of those situations where you could pick half the teams on UCLA's docket and make a solid case for it being the Bruins' most important game. There are those who will say, without argument, USC is the most important game. And I couldn't dispute that. As noted yesterday, the ramifications are huge -- as are the benefits to being the top team in L.A.

Others will say squaring off with ASU in the second to last game of the year -- with the South division potentially at stake -- is the most important game. And I couldn't dispute that, either. After last year's 45-43 thriller in Tempe -- this year's has all the fixings of an epic matchup.

Heck, even the Sept. 14 game in Nebraska could be a tone-setter for the season. Or the meeting at Autzen on Oct. 26 is a possible preview of the Pac-12 title game. I'd buy those as the most important.

But the Bruins have bigger aspirations than just winning the South again. They want their last game of the year to be at home, i.e. the Rose Bowl -- be it in one BCS game or another. And to do that, they are probably going to have to figure out a way to beat Stanford. Be it in the regular season when they meet on The Farm in Week 7, or if the fates again bring them together again in the Pac-12 title game.

Consider UCLA's losses last year -- a nip-and-tuck battle with Oregon State early in the season. Mental meltdowns against Cal at the halfway point and a very public pasting by Baylor in the Holiday Bowl. All were reflections of a young team still figuring itself out under new management. Coaches and players admit they underestimated Baylor -- a common pitfall of youth.

But the Stanford losses, which came in consecutive weeks, were different. In the first meeting, the Bruins simply got pushed around by a more physical team. But in the second meeting, they played possibly their most complete game of the season. They pushed back against one of the top defenses in the league and took the Rose Bowl champs to the wire. And they still lost.

There is something extremely unsatisfying about knowing you played great and still couldn't win.

That's something the Bruins, who should start the season in the Top 25 discussion, are going to have to figure out how to fix.

The 2013 meeting comes at a critical time for the Bruins -- who should at the very least be 4-1 by the time they meet. They travel to Stanford and then a week later travel to Oregon. It's the only time in 2013 they play consecutive games on the road -- and it happens to be against two teams atop our power rankings. That might be the toughest two weeks on any schedule in all of college football. Dropping both of those games would be a harsh reality check. But beating Stanford before going into Oregon would win the Bruins the respect they still feel is lacking and extract a measure of revenge from 2012.