USC Football Visits Crosstown Rival UCLA
Nov. 30, 2008
No. 5 USC travels to the Rose Bowl to face crosstown rival UCLA in the regular-season finale for both teams. It's the 78th game of the famous crosstown rivalry. A Trojan victory would give USC its 33rd berth into the Rose Bowl (and fourth in a row)...unless it somehow moves up into the BCS Championship Game (Troy is fifth in the BCS standings). But a Bruin victory would likely bump the Trojans into the Holiday Bowl. It's the 37th Trojan-Bruin game in which the Rose Bowl has been on the line for at least 1 of the schools. USC surely will be wary of UCLA, remembering that its last foray to Pasadena to face the Bruins resulted in a stunning upset in 2006 that knocked Troy out of a third consecutive BCS Championship Game. USC has won its past 8 games, including throwing a defensive masterpiece on Notre Dame at home last Saturday that guaranteed the Trojans at least a share of an unprecedented seventh straight Pac-10 title. A win over UCLA would extend USC's NCAA record streaks of BCS bowl berths and 11-win seasons to 7 consecutive. Also at stake are year-long city bragging rights, possession of the Victory Bell and key points in the Lexus Gauntlet standings. The Rose Bowl is USC's second home, as this will be the 49th time the Trojans have played in Pasadena. It's a rare Irish-Bruin back-to-back scenario for the Trojans. There is some unique connectivity between the teams. There are coaches with earlier allegiances to the 'other' school (uh-huh, Ken Norton), including some Bruin assistants who once worked for Trojan head coach Pete Carroll (hello Norm Chow, DeWayne Walker and Wayne Moses). Two sets of brothers will share opposing sidelines and USC has players whose fathers and brothers once wore the Blue and Gold. And, heck, new UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel even earned his law degree at USC. Carroll is college football's winningest active coach (85.1%). This is the 90th straight game that USC, a winner in 84 of its last 94 contests, has been in the AP Top 25. Troy remains in the Top 25 in almost every national offensive and defensive statistical category, including first in total defense, scoring defense, pass efficiency defense and pass defense. In fact, USC's scoring defense average (7.8) is its best in 56 years, its total defense mark (210.6) is its finest in 41 years and its pass defense (124.0) is its best in 34 years. USC has surrendered just 10 touchdowns in 2008. Standout Trojan defenders include Butkus Award finalists Rey Maualuga (he's also a Lombardi Award and Nagurski Trophy finalist) and Brian Cushing at linebacker and 2007 All-American first teamer Taylor Mays at safety (he's a Thorpe Award semifinalist), plus Fili Moala at tackle and Kevin Ellison at safety. On offense, QB Mark Sanchez continues to be the Pac-10's passing efficiency and total offense leader. The Trojan running game is led by a trio of career 1,000-yard rushers: TBs Stafon Johnson, C.J. Gable and Joe McKnight. USC's leading receivers include WRs Patrick Turner (he is 10th among the school's career pass catchers and he has 9 TD grabs this year), Damian Williams and Ronald Johnson. Veteran OG-C Jeff Byers, in his second year in the M.B.A. program, and C Kristofer O'Dowd anchor the offensive line. UCLA lost at Arizona State last Friday and is now eliminated from bowl consideration. The Bruin offense features such performers as QB Kevin Craft, WR Terrence Austin (who doubles as a dangerous return man), TE Ryan Moya and TB Kahlil Bell. UCLA's defense, which is second nationally against the pass, includes such talented players as LB Reggie Carter, CB Alterraun Verner and DT Brigham Harwell. P Aaron Perez and PK Kai Forbath are Top 10-ranked nationally in punting and field goals, respectively. The game will be shown live nationally on ABC-TV.