For the second year in a row, UCLA, not USC, will represent the Pac-12 South division in the conference championship. But unlike 2011, the Bruins didn’t back their way in (thanks, NCAA!) with a .500 record and a coach on his way out.
No, No. 17 UCLA beat No. 21 USC fair and square in the Rose Bowl 38-28 — the first win by the Bruins the rivalry since 2006. UCLA has now won at least a share of the Pac-12 South and will represent the division in the conference championship game in two weeks. UCLA also got revenge for a certain 50-0 thumping it received last year from USC.
USC actually outgained UCLA in total yards (513 to 406), but Matt Barkley threw two interceptions — the Trojans had three for the day — and special teams was a problem with a missed extra point and two missed field goals (one was blocked). If USC had those seven points on the board, it’s worth noting that the Trojans were in UCLA territory and within field goal range at the end of the game.
Barkley also went down with an apparent shoulder injury late in the fourth quarter and did not return. The senior quarterback gave a gritty performance, but it wasn’t enough to give the Trojans the win.
Speaking of Barkley, I’m in no position to say if his decision to come back or not was a mistake because his opinion is the only one that matters on that subject, but it would be flat wrong to think this season hasn’t been a disappointment for USC . Assuming our math is correct, USC would be the first preseason No. 1 team to lose four games that year since Auburn in 1984 and could be the first preseason No. 1 team to finish unranked since Ole Miss in 1964.
The theme for USC — and Barkley specifically — this year has been taking care of “unfinished business”, yet there will be no Pac-12 championship or Rose Bowl for the Trojans in the first year removed from a postseason ban. And if USC continues to slide next week against Notre Dame, you have to seriously wonder what Lane Kiffin‘s job status is going to be. Sure, one would think the scholarship restrictions at USC (also courtesy of the NCAA) would actually give Kiffin a little wiggle room in terms of the W’s and L’s, but Kiffin’s had one too many distractions this year with jersey swapping and game ball deflating. That’s not even mentioning stupid stuff like lying about where you voted your team in the coaches’ poll or walking out of a press conference like a child.
None of those things have been a huge deal by themselves, but collectively they become annoying. When you don’t win (enough), people’s (boosters?) patience begins to run thin on reckless abandon because, who knows, it might be manifesting itself into things like excessive penalties. Those can result in losses too.
Of course, much of this might be forgiven if USC comes out next week and eliminates any chance of Notre Dame reaching the BCS championship game. If the Trojans can’t beat the Irish — even worse, if they get blown out — it could force USC athletic director Pat Haden to further ponder the direction of the program. Or, it means defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin has to go and Merry Christmas, dad!
Either way, this could all make way for a new titan in Los Angeles. Like, say, UCLA.