Local bragging rights and a chance to play in the Pac-12 Championship will be on the line when USC and No. 22 UCLA meet at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday afternoon. The crosstown rivalry game also includes two opposing coaches and quarterbacks in quite different situations.
The Bruins have renewed swagger under head coach Jim Mora Jr. After years of inconsistency under Karl Dorrell and Rick Neuheisel, Mora has kept the Bruins in bowl contention every season. In nearly four full seasons under Mora, UCLA has a 37-14 record and have defeated the Trojans all three times. Indeed, the last time a UCLA football coach felt this secure in his job was the 20-year reign of Terry Donahue.
While UCLA has a stable coaching situation, USC still has an interim tag on Clay Helton. After starting the season as the offensive coordinator, Helton took over for Steve Sarkisian after five games. Should Helton lead the Trojans past the Bruins and find a way to defeat Stanford in the Pac-12 title game, USC would head to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 2008. Such a scenario would prompt plenty of talk that Helton, who has been part of the USC coaching staff since 2010, deserves the full-time job.
Helton will have his star quarterback playing his final game at the Coliseum. Entering the season, there were whispers that Cody Kessler deserved to be a serious candidate for the Heisman Trophy. Through the first four games of the season, Kessler didn't disappoint. He had thrown for 15 touchdowns and just one interception, leading USC to a perfect record. But a poor effort in a loss to Washington, followed by some inconsistent performances, silenced Kessler's prospects of winning college football's most prestigious award.
Yet, the Bakersfield native is still having an exceptional season with just one interception in his last five games, as the Trojans have won four games in the stretch. He has thrown for 25 touchdowns and just six interceptions, while completing 69.2 percent of his passes. Kessler will try to keep his emotions in check in a game that has so many storylines.
"I've always been kind of a level-headed guy," Kessler said. "I'll get emotional here and there, but maybe after [the game is over] most of it will sink in."
On the other side of the ball is a quarterback who appears to have plenty of football left in him. Josh Rosen is among college football's brightest true freshmen. While he had some struggles in the first half of the season, Rosen has not thrown an interception in his last five games, with the Bruins winning four games. But unlike Kessler, Rosen has completed just 60.2 percent of is passes, and had an especially poor game early in the season, when he threw three interceptions and just 106 yards against BYU on Sept. 19. Still, there is plenty of potential surrounding Rosen in Westwood.
"His ability to see the whole field and process information has been amazing," offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone told the Los Angeles Times about Rosen. "He's feeling more comfortable. He is having input into the game plan. He's coming up with things he wants to do."
Betting Line: USC by 3 points
Over/Under: 62 points
Start Time: 3:30 ET/12:30 PT
TV Channel: ABC/ESPN2
Live Stream Info: ESPN3.com