Going into the UCLA-USC rivalry game, UCLA was 9-1 and had been ranked #1 for a couple of weeks earlier. Eric Ball, the 1986 Rose Bowl MVP had a crucial fumble in the UCLA vs Washington State game, when the #1 ranked Bruins were upset at home by the Cougars 34-30. The game was one of the notable ones in the UCLA-USC rivalry in that it was for the Pac-10 championship, a possible Heisman Trophy for either Troy Aikman of UCLA or Rodney Peete of USC. It was also for the Rose Bowl berth. Rodney Peete was found to have measles in the days before the game. USC used a strong ground game and "bend but don't break" defense, in front of the largest Rose Bowl Stadium regular season crowd in history, to beat the Bruins 31-22. The Cotton Bowl Classic agreed to take the team that would not be going to the 1989 Rose Bowl. UCLA was the first Pac-10 team to play in the Cotton Bowl Classic and first from the West Coast since the 1949 Cotton Bowl Classic where the University of Oregon played SMU.
The 1989 game between UCLA and Arkansas was highly publicized in the Dallas area because UCLA quarterback Troy Aikman was expected to be the #1 pick in the NFL draft by the Dallas Cowboys. Much was made of Cowboys coach Tom Landry watching Aikman practice at Texas Stadium (UCLA's practice facility for game preparation).
UCLA Bruins quarterback Troy Aikman completed 19 of 27 passes for 172 yards, and Bruin teammate Shawn Wills rushed for 120 yards. UCLA held Arkansas to four first downs and 42 yards, the lowest yardage total in Arkansas school history.
Tom Landry never got to draft Aikman, because he was fired the next month, but his successor, Jimmy Johnson, did draft Aikman.
^JAY HOVDEY. Unbeaten U.C.L.A. Is Upset. New York Times. October 30. 1988 Quote:U.C.L.A.'s best running play ended when the tailback Eric Ball fumbled at the Bruin 37 after a gain of 17 yards. The fumble occurred midway through the third quarter, when U.C.L.A. led, 27-13. Five plays later, Washington State scored the second of four successive touchdowns. The fumble was typical of the seesaw nature of the game.