STANFORD, Calif. — Call last week a dress rehearsal, although even that may be in question.
Stanford and UCLA will play for the second time in less than a week, this time for the Pacific-12 Conference championship.
The Cardinals and Bruins will play in the Pac-12 title game at 5 p.m. today after the Cardinal won at UCLA, 35-17, in the regular-season finale Saturday.
The teams will even look different today.
Stanford will wear its black uniforms, helmets and shoes for the fourth time in history.
UCLA is expected to swap out those dark blue “L.A. Night” jerseys and helmets for its traditional white tops, gold pants and gold helmets on the road.
With the league title at stake, what else the eighth-ranked Cardinal (10-2 overall, 8-1 Pac-12) and the No. 17 Bruins (9-3, 6-3) bring out of the closet for what could be a rain-soaked sequel at Stanford Stadium might not be so obvious. They will be the first opponents in major college football matched against each other for a regular-season finale and conference title game in consecutive weeks.
After the opener at the Rose Bowl, booking a return trip to Pasadena for “The Granddaddy of Them All” on Jan. 1 could be tricky. Both staffs lost a day of game planning and practice, and the preparation has everybody involved contemplating how to approach Part II.
“I cannot recall ever being in this situation before,” first-year UCLA coach Jim Mora said. “I don’t know that it benefits either team, or is hard on any team. It just comes down to going out on Friday night and executing. Any familiarity we have with them, they’ll have with us.”
Stanford plans to, well, not think like Stanford.
“Our challenge is to make sure that we don’t outsmart ourselves,” said Cardinals coach David Shaw, who won his second consecutive Pac-12 coach of the year award this week. “But at the same time, that we are as diverse as we can be, to make sure that the things that we did positively, we’ve got to know that UCLA is going to come back and have answers for it. The things that they did positively, we’ve got to make sure that we fix those things that hurt us.”
The Cardinal controlled the first matchup in familiar, physical fashion.
Stepfan Taylor rushed for 142 yards and two touchdowns and is 35 yards shy of Darrin Nelson’s school career rushing record of 4,169 yards (Stanford had previously said Nelson finished with 4,033 yards, however, in recent years the school started including bowl game statistics and did not originally add Nelson’s postseason totals to its records).
Kevin Hogan beat his third ranked opponent in his third consecutive start since replacing Josh Nunes at quarterback, passing for 160 yards and another score to help Stanford run away with its fourth victory in a row over the Bruins.
UCLA’s Brett Hundley, the prized recruit from previous coach Rick Neuheisel’s regime, completed 20 of 38 passes for 261 yards and a TD with one interception while getting sacked seven times. Hundley is the first five-star quarterback recruit in UCLA history.
Stanford, which leads the nation in rushing defense (71.3 yards), sacks (4.4) and tackles for loss (9.2) per game, held Johnathan Franklin — the Bruins’ career rushing leader — to 73 yards on the ground.
“Both teams sort of see what the other teams are capable of doing and their tendencies, stuff like that.” Hundley said. “Both teams have that advantage.”
Things will not get any easier as the Bruins go for their first conference championship since 1998.
Stanford has won eight in a row and 19 of its past 20 home games, with the lone loss coming to Oregon last season, then avenging that defeat with defensive domination in a 17-14 overtime win over the Ducks two weeks ago to secure the North Division tiebreaker.
The Cardinal is riding a six-game winning streak and looking to win the league title for the first time since 1999 while advancing to its third BCS bowl in as many seasons.
Rain started falling Thursday evening when the Bruins arrived on the quaint Silicon Valley campus. A tarp covered the field at Stanford Stadium, and Mora and Shaw shook hands before posing for a ceremonial photo with the silver league title trophy inside the Cardinal athletic offices.
“I think the rain favors the team that executes the best,” Mora said.
UCLA’s repeat trip to the second annual Pac-12 championship game does come with at least one other noticeable difference.
Last year, UCLA lost at Oregon, 49-31 , in lame duck Neuheisel’s weird finale — the Bruins had a 6-6 record and advanced out of the South Division only because crosstown rival Southern California was finishing a two-year postseason ban for NCAA violations.
“They’ve probably got some tricks up their sleeve that we didn’t see,” Cardinal outside linebacker Trent Murphy said. “Everybody always says, ‘It’s really tough to beat a team twice.’ ”