It’s rivalry week….the 89th renewal of UCLA vs. USC. It’s the biggest game of the year. There are all the bells and whistles that go with a college football game of this magnitude. Everyone is excited, right?
“I think we are right in the Wednesday of the USC week. That is exactly where we are.” Yeah, Chip Kelly is not going to be giving any rah-rah speeches about owning this town or beating your rival. He has said all year that the importance of any game is that it is the game scheduled for that week. He is not going to veer off course just for the fans who get amped up for this game.
UCLA goes into the match-up 4-3 in Pac 12 play, coming off a 46-point hammering at the hands of the Utah Utes in Salt Lake City last weekend. At 4-6 overall, they need to win Saturday and then next week against Cal to be bowl eligible in year two of the Kelly era.
The Trojans enter the game at the Coliseum in second place in the conference at 6-2, and 7-4 overall. They delivered a 41-17 beat down to Cal, on the road last week. This is their season finale and they will be going to a bowl game. The level of that post season game will be determined in large part from this game. After going 3-3 in the first half of the season, USC has won four of their last five. They have cracked the College Football Playoff Top 25 rankings, (#23). Finish 8-4 and they will get a good mid-tier bowl game. Finish 7-5 and they could be looking at Las Vegas instead of the Holiday Bowl.
Meanwhile, if they win Saturday, they will be rooting for the two teams remaining on Utah’s schedule, (Arizona and Colorado). If the Utes drop either of those games, coupled with a USC win over UCLA, and the Trojans will be playing Oregon for the Pac 12 championship in December.
History Makes Heroes
USC leads the overall series 47-32-7, with two wins vacated due to NCAA sanctions. The Bruins won last year’s game at the Rose Bowl, 34-27, in what was irrefutably the high point in Kelly’s 3-9 inaugural season in Westwood. Running back Joshua Kelley ran for 289 yards and two touchdowns in the game. Those are the moments that, regardless of what else you do with your football career, mark you a legend forever in the rivalry game. For USC fans, beyond the obvious names of Simpson, Garrett, Haden, et al, there is George Achica, Erik Affholter, Rodney Peete, and Todd Marinovich. The Bruins hold on to Freeman McNeil, John Barnes, Karl Morgan, and Eric McNeil. The rivalry produces players and moments that live on in legendary status, just because of what happened in the rivalry game.
With only 13.2 miles separating the two schools, it holds a unique place among all college football rivalries. The decades are rife with players who were teammates in high school and now bitter rivals for this game. Families get divided and only the grace of good after-game tailgating can re-unite them.
But that is rivalry rah-rah and that is not Kelly. He does admit to the uniqueness of the game. “There is such a familiarity between our players because a lot of our players have (former high school) teammates that are on the other team. There is a lot more intimate knowledge when USC plays UCLA than there is if we play anybody in else in the conference. So, that part of it is exciting for our players to go out and compete.” Really selling it, isn’t he?
Who Is Feeling The Excitement?
Can we get some buzz for this game, please? Enter redshirt freshman receiver Kyle Philips. “It’s rivalry week. There is a little more to this one. That’s just crosstown rivals. You just go at it. A lot of us have played with guys over there and vice versa. We all know each other. It’s going to be a fun game.”
Philips says this was it for him as a kid. “Living in Southern California it was always UCLA-SC.” He subscribes to his coach’s mantra of taking everything one day at time, but…..”Every day we try to come out and train the same way, and just not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s have a great Monday. Alright that’s over, let’s have a great Tuesday. So, I wouldn’t say it’s any different. But you can kind of just feel it in the air. This is rivalry week, so it’s a little more.”
Chip Being Chip
Kelly was asked about a video he narrated last year that was shown to the team the night before the USC game. “We do videos for every game, so that was just the one we used for that week. We have videos that we show our team every Friday night before the game; something particular to the team we play. So that wasn’t just something we did just for the game against SC.” We will see if Kelly says Thursday’s Beat SC pep rally bonfire is just about being the best bonfire on Thursday.
The fans will be in their rabid rivalry game behavior. The players will feel the intensity of it. There is no coaching mantra about day-to-day that can slow down the momentum of Crosstown Showdown week.
A preview of the game with some on-field depth is coming later this week.