UCLA reaching Vegas Bowl won’t create best matchup

UCLA is an odd team, looking like a national championship contender one week and a lowly homecoming opponent the next.

So who knows what to expect out of the Bruins as they finish with a demanding run against Arizona State, Oregon and Southern California. They should lose all three games, but the Bruins (5-4) are capable of springing at least one upset and upsetting the Las Vegas Bowl’s plans.

UCLA needs just one victory to become bowl eligible and most likely fulfill the Pac-10 Conference’s contract to the Dec. 22 Las Vegas Bowl. So instead of a matchup between expected Mountain West Conference champion Brigham Young and an at-large name school such as Boise State, Hawaii, Colorado, Michigan State or Oklahoma State, the Cougars could get UCLA or Oregon State.

Not bad, but not as sparkling as the other possibilities.

The Las Vegas Bowl gets its first choice from the Mountain West and the fifth selection from the Pac-10 this year. But that essentially becomes a No. 6 selection if the Pac-10 sends two teams to Bowl Championship Series games.

“If the Pac-10 doesn’t qualify a team (for Las Vegas), Boise State or Hawaii would be a great matchup,” bowl executive director Tina Kunzer-Murphy said. “I think the (Western Athletic Conference) makes a lot of sense because Hawaii and Boise State are such great programs, and they’re close in proximity.”

But she also would welcome a recognizable Big Ten or Big 12 conference school and has talked with those leagues.

“If there’s ever a year to go at-large for some type of team sitting out there, this might really be the year,” Kunzer-Murphy said.

• MOMENTUM BUILDER? — San Diego State coach Chuck Long isn’t ready to pronounce Saturday’s dramatic 27-24 victory over Wyoming as the beginning of a turnaround, but he finally got what he was looking for.

Long had wanted his senior leaders to take charge, and they did after trailing 21-0 in the second quarter and 21-7 at halftime.

“That’s where I really felt it, was at halftime,” Long said. “Players have to pick up the game themselves. The seniors won this football game. Obviously, you talk about adjustments, but they’re the ones who set the tone at halftime.”

It was a historic comeback, marking the first time since 1976 that San Diego State erased a three-touchdown deficit to win.

• WATCH OUT, MWC — Coaches tend to rationalize the timing of a bye as a good chance to rest and get players healthy. In Texas Christian’s case, that truly was the case — and now its remaining opponents could pay the price.

TCU came out of its open date by blowing away New Mexico, 37-0. It didn’t hurt that dominating defensive end Tommy Blake returned after a four-game layoff, but coach Gary Patterson said the rest made the biggest difference.

“Like I’ve been saying all year, this is a tired football team,” Patterson said. “We had 16 days off. We practiced hard twice, and two other times went hard but for a short time.”

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