This Saturday is a big day for college football rivalries: Ohio St. vs. Michigan, Clemson vs. South Carolina, and Alabama vs. Auburn. While perhaps the Alabama vs. Auburn game is the most important football game of the year, the USC vs. UCLA game does not lack its own drama and import.
There are multiple things on the line in the Southern California match-up. Firstly, both teams are fighting to finish the season on a strong note and contend for the best bowl game possible. USC comes into the game having won 6 of their last 7 games after going 3-2 under former coach Lane Kiffin. UCLA, on the other-hand, comes into the game having gone 3-3 in their last 6 games after starting 5-1 and at one time being ranked in the top 10 nationally. Considering both teams compete head-to-head in the PAC-12 South division, one can be sure that their respective bowl game selections will highly depend on the outcome of this game.
Secondly, personal pride is on the line. Cody Kessler, quarterback for USC, stated that “When you come to USC, that’s the first thing you think of, is playing UCLA,” displaying the intensity of the rivalry between the two teams. The crosstown rivalry will feature superb athletes on both sides, each with something to prove.
For USC, the bulk of the offense will come from their backfield. Trojans runningback Javorius Allen has scored 3 touchdowns in 3 of the previous 4 games, leading a core of tailbacks that is currently averaging 177 rush yards per game. This stat should concern Bruins's fans due to UCLA's difficulties in containing the run against big-name foes such as Stanford, Oregon, and Arizona.
For UCLA, the offensive attack will rest in the hands of sophomore, dual-threat quarterback Brett Hundley. While Hundley's total pass yardage is down from his 2012 effort (2,637 yards versus 3,745 yards), his QB rating is up 8 points and his ground-attack has shown improvement. If UCLA wants to win Saturday's match-up, however, Hundley will most likely have to rely on his arm and attack a USC secondary which struggled against the spread-offenses of Arizona and Arizona State.
Perhaps the most important thing on the line in Saturday's rivalry, though, is the coaching future of USC's Ed Orgeron. When Lane Kiffin was fired 5 games into the season, USC decided to turn to Ed Orgeron, the former head coach of Ole Miss who had come to campus with Lane Kiffin in 2010. While Orgeron was named as USC's interim coach, he has made a tremendous case to become USC's next head coach, leading the Trojans to a 6-1 record over their past 7 games and once again bringing national attention and big-time recruits to USC.
With a victory against rival UCLA on Saturday, Orgeron would make USC hard-pressed to select someone else as the next head coach. That being said, with a loss to UCLA Orgeron's fate would almost certainly be sealed. USC has already interviewed Jack Del Rio, the current head coach of the Denver Broncos. Along with Del Rio, other big-name coaches such as Kevin Sumlin, James Franklin, and Chris Petersen have expressed interest or been targeted by USC in their search.
Whatever the outcome, the game is sure to thrill. USC is riding the momentum of turning a doomed season into a tremendously successful one, while UCLA is trying to salvage an extremely strong beginning of the season by securing 9 victories and punching their ticket to a prime-time bowl game. Due to UCLA's struggles against the run and USC's Cinderella-esque season behind Ed Orgeron, the edge goes to USC, but only slightly.
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