It’s been quite a while since USC and UCLA both fielded quality football teams for their annual crosstown showdown.
The last time this classic rivalry featured both teams with at least eight wins was back in 2005, when USC was 11-0 and the Bruins were 9-1.
The stakes aren’t quite as high this time, but Saturday’s game between No. 22 UCLA (8-3) and No. 23 USC (9-3) at the Coliseum promises to be a good one.
The Trojans are one of the hottest teams in the Pac-12 thanks to a five-game win streak that includes a huge upset of then-No. 5 Stanford. Ed Orgeron is 6-1 as USC’s head coach since taking over for the fired Lane Kiffin and could make a great case to be elevated to permanent coach with a win over the Bruins.
UCLA has lost to three teams ranked in the top 13 and missed out on a chance to win its third-straight Pac-12 South title when it lost to ASU last week. But the Bruins can notch their second-straight nine-win season by beating the Trojans. It could also beat USC in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1997-1998.
The outcome of this game will effect the battle for recruiting supremacy in the Los Angeles area. The two schools consistently duke it out for top talent in the region and USC has been dominant in this regard for the better part of the last decade. But UCLA head coach Jim Mora Jr. has turned things around in Westwood and he can continue to make inroads by beating the Trojans.
For UCLA to win, it will need a big game from sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley, who has passed for 2,637 yards and 22 touchdowns to go with 507 rushing yards and seven scores. He’s got several weapons to throw to and a talented back to hand off to in Myles Jack, but the Bruins won’t be able to do much without a quality effort from a very young offensive line. USC’s front seven is as good as there is in the conference, so if Hundley is running for his life, then things won’t end well for the Bruins.
USC also needs a good game from its quarterback, sophomore Cody Kessler. His improvement has mirrored that of his team’s and he has 2,449 yards and 15 touchdown passes so far. Tailback Javorious Allen has been on fire of late, rushing for 439 yards and nine touchdowns in the past four games. UCLA’s brilliant linebacker corps will be key in stopping the USC offensive game plan, which relies on a physical ground game and a short passing attack.
The Trojans were left for dead earlier this season but could wind up with 10 wins despite a coaching change, NCAA sanctions and a ton of injuries. UCLA is still hoping for its first 10-win season since 2005, but will need to beat USC to get there.
Above all, the city is at stake, as well as bragging rights for the year to come.