PASADENA, Calif. - They're two two-letter words, simple prepositions in a sentence that, right now, seems far-fetched anyway.
But consider this: With a win over UCLA tonight at the Rose Bowl, the Arizona Wildcats can keep alive their slim chances of playing in the Rose Bowl.
Yes, it's too soon to talk about "The Granddaddy of Them All." It's foolish to expect the Wildcats to take their puncher's chance and deliver a knockout blow.
But with a win tonight and a USC loss to Oregon, 24th-ranked Arizona (5-3 overall, 2-3 Pac-12) would control its destiny in the Pac-12 South Division. The UA's recent surge and its remaining schedule - games against Colorado and Arizona State and at Utah - would make the Wildcats prohibitive favorites to win the division outright.
The UA could secure its first-ever trip to Pasadena by winning the Pac-12 Championship game; in one scenario, assuming their Bowl Championship Series ranking is high enough, the UA could get in by losing.
Projecting is fun - for fans.
But first-year Rich Rodriguez spent the week fine-tuning what he calls "our singular focus." Teams that look ahead tend to get taken down.
"We have to get our guys to have that mindset every year. But if you don't establish that in the first year, then you have guys thinking about what's at the end of the thing six months in advance," he said.
Of course, in order to beat everybody, the Wildcats must first beat somebody.
And 25th-ranked UCLA isn't just anybody.
The Bruins are coming off a last-minute win at Arizona State and, at 6-2 overall and 3-2 in the Pac-12, sit one game ahead of the Wildcats in the divisional standings. Tailback Johnathan Franklin will almost certainly become the program's all-time leading rusher tonight, and quarterback Brett Hundley - a Chandler product and the son of a former UA running back - is one of the West's budding superstars.
First-year coach Jim Mora has reinvigorated a program that sputtered at the end of the Rick Neuheisel era. The Bruins have already won as many regular-season games this season (six) as it did in Neuheisel's best year at the school.
Arizona will counter with a defense that's been better in person than on paper. The Wildcats are ranked either 11th or 12th in the Pac-12 in pass defense, total defense, scoring defense and sacks.
"We're a work-in-progress in terms of a lot of things," defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel said, perhaps generously. "We're looking to run to the football, be physical, play as a group. The more you do that, the more good things are going to happen to you."
Arizona has won two straight conference games after starting 0-3 in Pac-12 play, the most recent one coming in a 39-36 victory over USC. The victory moved the Wildcats to within a game of qualifying for the postseason, and provided some hope - albeit slim - that a Rose Bowl appearance couldn't be far off. Quarterback Matt Scott has emerged as the premier playmaker in arguably the nation's most advanced offensive conference.
But much remains undecided. For as much work as the Wildcats have done this season, they've played just one of their five divisional games. The Pac-12 South title hinges on what happens the rest of the way.
"It's pretty weird - we've had a lot of tough teams on our schedule, and we're just now getting into the regional teams," safety Jared Tevis said.
"We feel like it's a rebirth. We can re-establish ourselves."
• Who: No. 24 Arizona (5-3, 2-3) at No. 25 UCLA (6-2, 3-2)
• When: 7:30 p.m.
• TV: Pac-12 Network
• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM
More inside Preview today's college football with Insider, hot sheet and a Top 25 breakdown. B8-B10
Join the fun with your fellow fans while you watch the Wildcats take on the Bruins in Los Angeles at: live.azstarnet.com
UA's possible bowls
Arizona can become bowl-eligible with a win over UCLA tonight. Here's a look at the Pac-12's bowl partners:
Dec. 15: New Mexico Bowl (Pac-12 No. 7 vs. Mountain West No. 4/5)
Dec. 22: Las Vegas Bowl (Pac-12 No. 5 vs. Mountain West No. 1)
Dec. 27: Holiday Bowl (Pac-12 No. 3 vs. Big 12 No. 5)
Dec. 29: Fight Hunger Bowl (Pac-12 No. 6 vs. Navy)
Dec. 29: Alamo Bowl (Pac-12 No. 2 vs. Big 12 No. 3)
Dec. 31: Sun Bowl (Pac-12 No. 4 vs. ACC No. 4)
Jan. 1: Rose Bowl (Big Ten No. 1 vs. Pac-12 No. 1)
Note: The Pac-12 champion would skip the Rose Bowl if it qualifies for the BCS National Championship Game. In that case, the game would have its choice of remaining teams.