USC vs. UCLA: The Battle for the Pac-12 South

  on November 16 2012 1:34 PM

 

Who would have thought UCLA would be ranked higher than USC heading into their showdown on Saturday? 

 

Okay, I know there isn't much of a difference between No. 17 and No. 18, but everyone thought USC would be favored by double-digits and two wins away from playing in the BCS National Championship.

 

Funny how things work out in the world of college football. 

 

Just ask Alabama, you can't assume anything.

 

USC was one of the favorites to win it all this year, now they have to beat UCLA on the road just to win the Pac-12 South. 

 

This is the undoubtedly the biggest rivalry on the West Coast, and it finally has some flare back. 

 

The winner earns a spot in the Pac-12 Championship, and a chance to represent the Pac-12 in the Rose Bowl.

 

This rivalry hasn't been too competitive of late. USC has won the last five by an average of 24.6 points. The Trojans have won 12 of the last 13 meetings against the Bruins.

 

However, Jim Mora Jr. has changed the mindset down in UCLA. The (8-2, 5-2) Bruins have been one of the best teams in the Pac-12 this year. 

 

Even though Mora wasn't with the Bruins last year, don't think he isn't using the 50-0 loss to USC last season as bulletin board material. 

 

This was the largest margin of victory in the series in over 80 years.

 

UCLA was lacking a quarterback, toughness and had no swagger under Rick Neuheisel.

 

Things have changed quickly for UCLA under Mora. Let's just say he won't even let the Trojan drum major stab the midfield logo with his sword. This has been a USC tradition, and Mora isn't having any of it. 

 

Good for him, I wouldn't allow it either. If USC elects to do this before the game UCLA stated the USC band can't perform at halftime.

 

SHOTS FIRED.

 

Okay, now to the important stuff. UCLA might have the deeper team, but they still don't match up with USC's talent. The Trojans have a slew of first rounders that will be on the field this Saturday.

 

It all starts with the quarterback.

 

Matt Barkley has been having a disappointing season in the sense his team won't be competing for the national championship, but his numbers are pretty similar to last season. 

 

The senior quarterback has thrown for 2,972 yards and 33 touchdowns. The one issue with Barkley this year is turnovers. Last year he only threw seven interceptions, this season he has already thrown 13. 

 

Barkley is still one of the top quarterbacks in the nation and will hear his name called in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, most likely in the top-ten. 

 

One thing that went well for Rick Neuheisel was recruiting Brett Hundley. 

 

Unfortunately, he got fired before he had a chance to coach him. 

 

The red-shirt freshman quarterback has been outstanding this year for Mora. Hundley has thrown for 2,739 yards and 24 touchdowns. He can also get it done with his feet. He has rushed for 272 yards and six touchdowns. 

 

UCLA hasn't had a quarterback to brag about since Cade McNown. 

 

Brett Hundley was five years old when Cade McNown was selected in the first round of the 1999 NFL Draft. 

 

While Matt Barkley sets the tone for USC, their best player is Marqise Lee. Saying he has been great this season is an understatement. 

 

The true sophomore has 98 receptions for 1,447 yards and 13 touchdowns. He is close to winning the "Triple Crown" in college football among receivers. Lee ranks first in receptions and yards and is third in the nation in touchdowns.

 

Anytime he gets his hands on the rock he has a good chance to take it to the house. 

 

Lee has become a Heisman candidate as of late. Over the last three weeks he has 38 receptions for 663 yards and five touchdowns. It is a crime if Marqise Lee is not invited to New York City as one of the nominees for the Heisman.

 

UCLA knows Marqise Lee very well. As a true freshman he had 13 receptions for 224 yards and two touchdowns in a 50-0 shutout against the Bruins last season. 

 

Brett Hundley has been huge for UCLA, but their bread and butter is senior running back Johnathan Franklin. 

 

He has been an absolute bulldozer this year. Franklin has rushed for 1,270 yards and eight touchdowns averaging over six yards/carry. He is one of the best dual-threat backs in the game. He has 24 receptions for 276 yards and two touchdowns. 

 

Franklin is third among all running backs in the Pac-12 in rushing and yards/carry. It will be crucial for Franklin to have a big game on Saturday if UCLA wants to knock off the Trojans for the first time in six years.

 

He has been close to a lock to break the century mark this year, he has eclipsed 100 yards in eight of ten games and two of those included 200 yards performances. 

 

The dude is a beast. 

 

Defensively there are two names that are key for both teams: T.J. McDonald and Anthony Barr. 

 

McDonald leads the Trojans in tackles this year, and will look to conclude his career at USC 4-0 against their crosstown rival. 

 

It will be crucial that McDonald steps up on Saturday if they want to shut down a talented UCLA offense. Expect USC to bring McDonald in the box to try and shut down Franklin and force the red-shirt freshman to beat them. 

 

It is truly remarkable what Anthony Barr has done for UCLA this year. During his first two years he was the Bruins fullback. When Jim Mora took over he decided to move Barr to linebacker, and it was the best decision he could possibly make.

 

The junior linebacker is tied for third in the nation with 11 sacks. He is tied for the conference lead with 17 tackles for loss. He has had at least one sack in eight games this season.

 

Barr has a great chance to win the "Defensive Player of the Year" award in the Pac-12.

 

Just imagine how good he is going to be when he fully learns how to play linebacker. He has dominated this year off pure talent and athleticism alone.

 

He will be lined up against USC's weakest spot on offense. Keeping Matt Barkley's blindside safe has been a problem for USC all season. The left side of the line has been very inconsistent and it is a major reason why the Trojan's have lost three games this year. 

 

Finally, this rivalry is back to the good ole' days. 

 

It is reminiscent of the classic showdown in 1993 that was a play-in game to earn the right to represent the Pac-10 in the Rose Bowl. 

 

UCLA picked off Rob Johnson in the endzone late in the fourth quarter to beat USC 27-21, and fans of this rivalry are hoping for another instant classic on Saturday.

 

This is the first time since 2005 that both teams enter the game ranked. 

 

It is the first time since 2001 that UCLA has a better record and ranked higher than USC when these two square off.

 

Jim Mora is one win away from surpassing Terry Donahue for the most wins during their first season as head coach, and doing it against USC would be an exclamation point.

 

There will be fireworks in Pasadena on Saturday afternoon. The winner takes the Pac-12 South, while the loser most likely will be playing in the Maaco Bowl.