5 For Friday: The Best Conference Championship Games



NCAA sanctions robbed the Pac-12 of a jewel of an inaugural conference championship game. The 2011 edition should have pit USC against Oregon in a rematch of their classic just a few weeks prior, but the Trojans fulfilled their second of a two-year postseason ban, leaving us with an overmatched, 6-6 UCLA squad.

The Bruins didn’t need to default their way into the second Pac-12 Championship, however, going 9-3 in Jim Mora’s debut season.

Though UCLA was vastly improved, one of those losses was a home blowout against Stanford, the North division’s representative in the 2012 Pac-12 title tilt. The rout a week earlier, a Friday night kickoff time coinciding with Silicon Valley rush hour and rain all contributed to an underwhelming crowd presence at Stanford Stadium.

The game itself, however, was an instant classic.

UCLA served Stanford a big bowl of vanilla the week before, saving its tastier options for the conference championship.

Johnathan Franklin can stake a realistic claim to being called UCLA’s all-time greatest running back, and arguably his best perhaps came in rain-soaked Stanford Stadium that night. He scored on carries of 51 and 20 yards, helping the Bruins build a lead going into the fourth quarter.

Another recent Pac-12 instead began building his legacy that night. Kevin Hogan, who had only taken over as the Cardinal’s starting quarterback a month earlier, threw a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to go with his rushing score from earlier in the night.

He also helped lead the game-winning drive, though the Bruins got one more shot.

UCLA kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn — who, like Hogan, finished his college career this season — came on to attempt a 55-yard field goal on the wet turf. His narrow miss sent Stanford to its first of three Rose Bowls under David Shaw.