Now this is more like it. USC and UCLA will square off on Saturday in college sports’ greatest crosstown rivalry, and provided the college football fans can wake up early enough to catch the noon kickoff time, more eyes will be on this game than in recent years because of what’s at stake.
The Pac-12 South division will be decided, with each team’s Rose Bowl hopes still very much at play.
A notable amount of national media attention has escalated this week, and the rest of the college football nation is paying attention. For all those outside the greater Southern California area anxiously awaiting this showdown, I have one question.
What took you so long?
This year’s edition of the rivalry feels different, in part because, well, it is. Each team is ranked heading into the big game for the first time since 2005, and the Bruins are ranked ahead of the Trojans for the first time since 2001.
Meetings in both these years saw USC destroy UCLA, and though I’m sure Trojan fans have reveled in USC’s dominance over the last 13 years (12 wins for USC), the rest of the country has grown bored of it.
Because honestly, is it really a rivalry when the teams aren’t even close to the same caliber?
The simple answer is no, but in reality this rivalry doesn’t need both teams to be competitive to be special. Because of the schools’ unmatched close proximity, battles are fought every day between fans of both sides, whether at school, work or in any other part of the community.
Each fan base is so interconnected that interaction is constant.
Compare this to other classic rivalries, such as Auburn-Alabama and Ohio State-Michigan, where the opposing schools are more than 150 miles apart.
Sure, each annual meeting is a big deal, but what about the other 364 days of the year? In Los Angeles, every day is game day, and the bickering and chatter that make sports so fun is non-stop.
Beyond the fan base component to the rivalry is the storied history that these two schools share.
Saturday’s game shapes up to be yet another iconic moment in a rivalry that already has plenty to show for itself.
Before last year’s LSU-Alabama game that was dubbed the “Game of the Century,” there was the 1967 meeting between the Bruins and the Trojans that was one of the “Games of the Century,” with USC ranked No. 4 and UCLA undefeated and ranked No. 1.
Led by OJ Simpson, the Trojans won in comeback fashion 21-20 and went on to win the national championship in one of the greatest games in college football history.
Or in 1988, when No. 2 USC, led by quarterback Rodney Peete, and No. 6 UCLA, led by quarterback Troy Aikman, met to determine who would represent the conference in the Rose Bowl.
In front of 100,741 fans at the Rose Bowl (a regular-season record), USC prevailed 31-22. Peete and Aikman finished second and third, respectively, in Heisman trophy voting behind Barry Sanders.
Perhaps the most memorable game in recent memory, much to the chagrin of USC fans, is the 2006 meeting between the No. 2 Trojans and the unranked Bruins at the Rose Bowl, where Karl Dorrell’s defense shut down John David Booty and the vaunted USC offense to knock USC out of the BCS national championship game.
One of the biggest upsets in college football history is also UCLA’s only win in the series since 1998.
But back to the game this weekend. Yes, this rivalry will always be important, no matter what each team’s record is.
But though outsiders might have tuned out while USC racked up wins for the better part of the last decade, Trojan fans want nothing more than for this trend to continue.
I know the panic level on USC’s campus is a bit higher than normal.
But this kind of competition is a good thing. Because even though the game always means something here, it won’t matter outside of Southern California if both teams aren’t competitive.
So when Bruin fans are dreaming about halting a five-game losing streak in the rivalry and potentially earning a Rose Bowl bid, be happy, USC fans. All that means is more people are watching, which makes the game and the days leading up to it all the more fun.
In fact, we ought to rejoice in the Bruins’ success this season, because it’s not every year that this game makes such a big splash on the national scale.
With that being said, here’s to hoping for another 50-0 game.
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