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UCLA, USC in must-win positions

UCLA tried to beat Arizona State with a ground game, but had more success passing the ball during the match-up despite the 38
UCLA tried to beat Arizona State with a ground game, but had more success passing the ball during the match-up despite the 38-23 loss last weekend in Arizona./ OW photo […]

For UCLA or USC to make it to college football’s four-team playoff, they would have to win and hope that they can get the nod from the playoff selection committee.

USC was hurt by losing to Stanford two weeks ago, and UCLA took their first loss of the season this past Saturday against Arizona State. Last year, two of the four playoff teams were undefeated (Oregon and Florida State), while the other two had one loss each (Ohio State and Alabama). But what can work against UCLA and USC this year is that two teams from last year, TCU and Baylor, were one-loss teams who were left out of the playoffs.

Before the start of the game, the likelihood of UCLA remaining undefeated was slim, mostly because of their true-freshman quarterback Josh Rosen. While he is well ahead of the curve in terms of development, and he has lived up to the hype so far, it is hard to rely on a player who was competing at the high school level this time last year. And that appeared to be the issue in their 38-23 loss to Arizona State, which dropped the Bruins from No. 7 to No. 20 in the polls.

UCLA appears to be trying to protect their young quarterback by running the ball, which hurt the team this past Saturday. They chose to run the ball on 11 of their 19 first-down plays, gaining only 33 yards. For the game, they were held to 67 yards on 27 carries, and their offensive rhythm was off for most of the night.

The only time UCLA’s offense looked good was when they were trying to rally late, and allowed Rosen to pass the ball more often; this produced two second-half touchdowns, and brought the team to within six points of Arizona State.

But UCLA appeared reluctant to put the game on Rosen’s shoulders early on, which could be a reoccurring issue for the rest of the year. With a key matchup with No. 16 Stanford coming up next Thursday, and undefeated Cal the following week, this season could quickly get away from UCLA.

No. 17 USC is in the same situation as far as the playoff race, and their schedule is not doing them any favors either. After facing Washington tonight at the Coliseum, they will face No. 15 Notre Dame next Saturday followed by No. 5 Utah and No. 23 Cal.

At this point, neither UCLA nor USC have any room for error, but the road ahead for both teams will be extremely tough.