UCLA's offensive leaders in 1966 were quarterback Gary Beban with 1,245 passing yards, running back Mel Farr with 809 rushing yards, and Harold Busby with 474 receiving yards.
Heading into the final game of the 1966 season vs. USC, UCLA was 2–1 in conference games, 8–1 overall and ranked #5 in the country. The Bruins, featuring a "dream backfield" of All-Americans Gary Beban and Mel Farr, lost only one game, at rainy Washington, 16–3, where Huskies' head coach Jim Owens had devoted his entire season to beating Prothro. UCLA had beaten UW the season before, 28–24, with Prothro's trick play, the Z-streak in which a receiver trots towards the sideline like he's going out of the game and then runs a streak pattern unguarded by the inattentive defender. USC was 4–0 in conference and 7–1 overall, having lost to the unranked Miami Hurricanes. The Bruins and Trojans played a different number of conference games due to uneven scheduling caused by new AAWU members Oregon and Oregon State and schedules made years in advance. It was widely assumed that only losses would be considered and the winner of the 1966 UCLA-USC game would go to the 1967 Rose Bowl. UCLA star quarterback Gary Beban broke his ankle the week before in a win over Stanford, but backup Norman Dow, making his first and only start at quarterback, led UCLA to a 14–7 win. That left USC with a 4–1 conference record (7–2 overall) and #5 UCLA with a 3–1 conference record (9–1) overall. Due to their win over USC, it was widely assumed UCLA would get the Rose Bowl berth. However, a vote the next Monday among the AAWU conference athletic directors awarded USC the Rose Bowl berth. It was speculated that the directors believed Beban could not play for UCLA in the Rose Bowl due to the broken ankle, thereby giving the Big Ten Conference representative, Purdue, a better chance to win. As it turned out, Beban could have played. But a bigger reason was that this was to make up for 1964 when Oregon State was voted in ahead of USC. The coach of Oregon State in 1964 was Prothro. Another speculation was the vote was against UCLA out of pure jealousy by the rest of the conference, which voted 7–1 for the clearly inferior team. This vote deprived Prothro of being the first coach to earn three consecutive Rose Bowl berths and UCLA athletic director J. D. Morgan called it a "gross injustice" and the "a dark day in UCLA and AAWU Athletic history." Inflamed UCLA students who had gathered for the Rose Bowl celebration rally, took to the streets of Westwood in protest and actually blocked the 405 Freeway for a short time. Ironically, Morgan was the force behind establishing a tie-breaking method adopted by the conference one year later in which only loss column counted; the first tiebreaker was head-to-head results, followed by overall record. If there was still a tie, the Rose Bowl berth would go to the team that had not played in the Rose Bowl the longest. But it was too late for UCLA. In their final game, USC made the AAWU decision look bad by losing at home in the L.A. Coliseum to Notre Dame, 51–0. They went on to lose the Rose Bowl as well to Purdue, 14–13, finishing the season at 7–4.