LOS ANGELES (AP) — Southern California has already wrapped up the Pac-12 South, and its national championship hopes are faint. After a grinding regular season, the 12th-ranked Trojans have a bye next week before the conference title game.
Every ingredient is in place for a trap game for the Trojans (9-2, 7-1 Pac-12) on Saturday night at the Coliseum.
If their opponent were anyone except their neighbors and rivals from UCLA (5-5, 3-4), that is.
“You don’t need to worry about motivation in this one,” USC quarterback Sam Darnold said. “Nobody on either team does.”
The 87th edition of Los Angeles’ crosstown showdown is the first — and probably only — college matchup between Darnold and UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen, two of these tradition-rich schools’ most impressive quarterbacks of the past half-century.
But neither Darnold nor Rosen sees the matchup as being about them — not with pride and bragging rights at stake across the city.
“There’s a lot more juice that goes into it,” Rosen said. “But at the end of the day, it’s not 1 1/2 wins. It’s just another win on your record.”
Most of these schools’ fans don’t agree. The campuses are only 11 miles apart, and the unusual nature of this rivalry immediately captures the attention of newcomers like USC coach Clay Helton, who didn’t know much about the schools’ relationship until his first taste of it in 2010 after he became the Trojans’ quarterbacks coach.
“I remember driving in and seeing the different flags on the houses,” Helton said. “I don’t know why that always stuck with me. There’s a USC, a USC, a Bruin, a Bruin. Everybody is living together. When you play Ohio State and Michigan, they’re probably not living together. And we have neighbors that have been to both schools.”
The Bruins’ motivation is clear. Along with securing bowl eligibility, winning the Victory Bell would be an enormous achievement to close a second straight up-and-down season under coach Jim Mora.
But the Trojans have won three straight after their blowout loss to Notre Dame, and they’re undefeated at the Coliseum in 15 consecutive games since mid-2015. Helton and Darnold have never lost at USC’s 94-year-old home stadium as the Trojans’ head coach and starting quarterback.
Although USC’s two road losses have left them on the fringes of contention for a spot in the four-team playoff, Darnold and his teammates haven’t given up.
“Right now, our chances of making the playoff, they’re slim, but they’re still there,” Darnold said. “Obviously, to do that, we’ve got to win out. But right now, we’re just focused on winning this game.”
Here are more things to watch when both teams take the Coliseum field in their home jerseys:
FIRED UP: A small group of unsatisfied UCLA fans might have inadvertently motivated the Bruins. Before their victory over Arizona State last week, two anti-Mora banners were flown over the Rose Bowl. After the game, Rosen called the banners “absurd,” ”disrespectful” and “disgusting.” Rosen also said those sentiments carried over into practice this week: “After those banners, we kind of got some juice to get our coaches’ back, to get a win. I think we’re just trying to keep that fire going forward.”
MOMENTUM SHIFTS: Mora won his first three editions of the crosstown showdown, even getting UCLA’s first win at the Coliseum since 1997. USC has won the last two rivalry games under Helton, and the Trojans have won 14 of the last 18 meetings overall since 1999, when USC snapped an eight-game Bruins winning streak.
BIG NUMBERS: Despite occasional stretches of struggle, USC is averaging 35 points and 495 yards per game with its most productive offense in 12 seasons. UCLA’s defense hasn’t been great all season, giving up 38.6 points and 499 yards per game. The USC offense is brimming with confidence after racking up three straight games with at least 38 points. “If UCLA’s offense puts up 40 points, we’ve got to put up 41 somehow,” Darnold said.
ROAD WOES: UCLA is in danger of a winless season on the road after going 0-5, including three losses to ranked teams. The Bruins have lost nine straight on the road overall in a remarkable turnaround from their road prowess during Mora’s early seasons in charge.
HALF CENTURY: The game will be played on the 50th anniversary to the day of USC’s 21-20 victory over UCLA, propelling the Trojans to a national championship. That game is best remembered for a phenomenal 64-yard touchdown run by O.J. Simpson on third down with 10 minutes to play. USC has no plans to recognize the anniversary.
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