The Pacific 10 Conference title isn’t on the line but that means nothing when USC and UCLA meet for their annual showdown, which will be held Saturday at the Coliseum, with a 7pm kickoff.
The Trojans (7-3 and 4-3 in conference) are ranked No. 20 in the Bowl Championship Series standings, and have been a national power since Head Coach Pete Carroll took over in 2001.
But they’ve stubbed their toe three times. After beating Ohio State, 18-15, on a late rally, the Trojans were bounced at Washington by three points.
Victories over Washington State, 27-6, California, 30-3, Notre Dame, 34-27, and Oregon State, 42-36, followed but were smashed on the road by Oregon, 47-20.
USC bounced back with a five-point triumph at Arizona State but were blistered at home by Stanford, 55-21, allowing the most points in school history.
In a first, USC has started a true freshman at quarterback. Matt Barkley, talented with a big arm, has been wildly inconsistent, and is still learning. In a word, he’s tried to do too much.
Barkley would have been better off handing the ball to gifted running back Joe McKnight and reliable Allen Bradford.
Stafon Johnson’s weight-lifting injury ended his season, and has been missed on short yardage situations.
Wide receiver Damian Williams is versatile, while tight end Anthony McCoy has been spectacular, but injury prone. When healthy, McCoy is a load, and will shine in the NFL.
Speedster wide receiver Ronald Johnson missed half the season with a collar bone injury and fullback Stanley Havili has also missed significant time.
USC’s defense has taken hits on the field and in the media, but safeties Taylor Mays and Will Harris, along with linebacker Chris Galippo, are unique players.
This is UCLA Head Coach Rick Neuheisel’s second season, and after a 4-8 campaign, has turned the once-proud program around.
The Bruins (6-5 and 3-5 in conference) have won three straight, including last Saturday’s 23-13 win at home over Arizona State.
UCLA has used three quarterbacks, but are going with Kevin Prince, who like Barkley, has been good and bad. Neuheisel doesn’t ask too much of Prince, merely to manage the game.
Fullback Chane Moline is capable, and wide receiver Nelson Rosario is a budding star.
Defensively, the Bruins are led by linebacker Reggie Carter, cornerback Alterraun Verner, and free safety Rahim Moore, who specializes in interceptions.
Kicker Kai Forbath is a real weapon, and if the game is close, will be a factor.