By Greg Katz – WeAreSC.com columnist
The Obvious: The No. 24 USC Trojans (7-3, 6-2 Pac-12) travel to the Rose Bowl on Saturday for their 84th annual intracity donnybrook against the No. 11 UCLA Bruins (8-2, 5-2), and should the Men of Troy fall victim, they’ll be eliminated from a Pac-12 Conference South Division title.
The Not So Obvious: A Trojans victory on Saturday will afford them the opportunity to be South Division champions to face the No. 3 Oregon Ducks for the Pac-12 Championship on Friday, Dec. 5, at Levi Stadium in Santa Clara. Of course, Arizona State still has two drop one of its final two games, as well, either at home against Washington State or at Arizona. UCLA controls its destiny, and if they defeat the Trojans and then Stanford (next Friday), they win the Pac-12 South. Yep, there are huge marbles at stake here.
The Obvious: The Trojans opened as 3-point underdogs to the Bruins.
The Not So Obvious: The Trojans lead the series with the Bruins 44-30-7, which dates back to 1929, a 76-0 victory over the Westwooders. The Trojans record against the Bruins in the Rose Bowl is 7-9, but the Men of Troy have won five of the past seven games. The Trojans have a 9-13 record in games the Bruins are ranked higher by AP than the Men of Troy.
The Obvious: The Pasadena weather report for Saturday calls for mostly sunny with a high of 73 and a low of 49 degrees.
The Not So Obvious: The real weather report will be whether the Trojans are going to be physical enough in the trenches to keep the game from being out of reach. We’ll see whether the Trojans play their most vicious football of the season. If they do, they have a chance. We’ll see whether if Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler can carve up an athletic UCLA secondary, which will play a key role in the game. The UCLA defense is very physical up front and we’ll find out whether the young Trojans freshmen O-liners are ready to play that nasty besides not getting caught up in all the hoopla and surrounding of playing in the Rose Bowl for the first time.
The key to the game will be the quarterbacks, and in the past two meetings against standout UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley, the Trojans defenses have had a miserable time trying to contain the talented Bruins signal caller. Trying to tackle Hundley, who figures to run even more this time around, is like trying to eat soup with a fork. A major problem for the Trojans will be whether they can also contain impressive UCLA sophomore running back Paul Perkins.
Two former Trojans recruits to keep any eye on are tight end Thomas Duarte, the sophomore from Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei, and junior Jordan Payton, once a prime prep receiver from local Oaks Christian and let’s not forget junior Devin Fuller, a native of Norwood, New Jersey. And we’ll find out whether the return of Trojans secondary performer Josh Shaw will have any impact on the game.
If the Trojans don’t get off early as has been their seasonal pattern, we’ll see whether the Cardinal and Gold can keep pace with the Bruins high-scoring offense the rest of the game. Whether the Trojans can break their seasonal fourth quarter malaise will be critical.
Then there are the special teams performers and the slate is about even when talking about whether USC’s Nelson Agholor can outmatch UCLA’s Ishmael Adams on punt and/or kickoff returns. And perhaps as important as any element, the field goal kickers, senior Andre Heidari for the Trojans and junior kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn for the Bruins. It figures they will probably have a big say to whether either team gets the win.
The Obvious: Saturday’s game from the Rose Bowl will be telecast live on ABC (5 p.m. PST).
The Not So Obvious: The ABC announcing team will feature Brad Nessler (play-by-play), Todd Blackledge (analysis), and Holly Rowe (sideline reports).
The Obvious: Saturday’s Trojans game from the Rose Bowl will be broadcast on the Trojans flagship station, ESPNLA 710 Radio, with Pete Arbogast (play by play), John Jackson (analyst) and Jordan Moore (sideline) describing all the in-game action.
The Trojans pre-game show will commence at 1 p.m. (PST) with Arbogast, Steve Mason, Harvey Hyde, Jackson, and Moore with contributions from WeAreSC.com publisher Garry Paskwietz. A three-hour post-game show will follow the completion of the game.
The Not So Obvious: The game will also air on the Bruins network, flagship station KLAC 570 AM, with Chris Roberts doing play-by-play, analyst Matt Stevens, and sideline reporter Wayne Cook.
The Obvious: The Trojans offense is averaging 35.2 points per game while the UCLA defense is allowing 27.9 points per game.
The Not So Obvious: The UCLA offense is averaging 34.7 points per game while the Trojans defense is allowing 23.3 points per game.
The Obvious: The Trojans rank No. 123 nationally with 92 penalties, which could have a big impact on Saturday’s game.
The Not So Obvious: The Bruins are ranked 106th in penalties with 78, which could have a big impact on Saturday’s game.
The Obvious: The Trojans starting quarterback is junior Cody Kessler, a Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award finalist who is among the nation’s leaders in passing efficiency, completion percentage, TD passes, completions, passing yards and is having the most efficient and accurate season of any Trojan quarterback ever (completing 70% of his tosses with 29 TDs and just 3 picks).
The Not So Obvious: The UCLA quarterback is spectacular junior Brett Hundley, whose statistics speak for themselves – equally effective throwing (71 career TD passes) and running, leading the country in completion percentage (72.1%) and is also in the Top 20 in passing efficiency and total offense. No argument with the O/NSO, Hundley will be the best quarterback the Trojans will have faced up to this point in the season.
The Obvious: The Trojans first-year head coach is Steve Sarkisian, who is looking for his first victory over UCLA, was 1-2 against the Bruins in this five-year tenure at the University of Washington. The two teams did not play in 2011 and 2012.
The Not So Obvious: The UCLA head coach is Jim Mora, now in his third season with the Bruins and has never lost to the Men of Troy. In his only matchup against a Steve Sarkisian team, Mora’s Bruins defeated Sarkisian’s Huskies 41-31 in 2013.
The Obvious: The Trojans running game is led by junior tailback Javorius “Buck” Allen, who has emerged as one of the nation’s premier running backs and a strong candidate for the prestigious Doak Walker Award.
The Not So Obvious: UCLA has a strong running back in sophomore Paul Perkins (5-11, 198), who hails from Queen Creek, Arizona. Perkins currently averages 6.2 yards per carry to go along with six touchdowns and has a long of 92 yards. Perkins has run for 1,000-plus yards this season to rank 16th nationally in that category.
The Obvious: The Trojans wide receivers are led by record-setting junior Nelson Agholor, who has established a new USC receiving record with over 200 yards in reception the past two consecutive games.
The Not So Obvious: UCLA is led by a host of receivers, and one of those to keep track of is redshirt freshman Eldridge Massington, once committed to the Trojans during the Lane Kiffin era. Massington suffered a major knee injury in high school. and the Trojans backed off because of limited scholarship numbers. He is a good one.
The Obvious: One of the outstanding defensive linemen for the Bruins is sophomore Eddie Vanderdoes, also once a Trojans commit.
The Not So Obvious: Then again, Big Eddie was also a Notre Dame signed commit who didn’t stay long in South Bend. Vanderdoes is a stud with a nasty streak, but he isn’t the only one along the UCLA front that can give the Trojans offensive line challenges. Remember the names Kenny Clark and Owamagbe Odigjizuwa both of whom will be tough to root out along the defensive line.
The Obvious: The Trojans will host the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame in the Coliseum next Saturday, Nov. 29.
The Not So Obvious: The Trojans are 19-19-2 (.500) against UCLA in seasons when Troy’s next game is against Notre Dame.
The Obvious: Kennedy Polamalu is the Bruins running backs coach.
The Not So Obvious: Another casualty of the Lane Kiffin coaching era, Polamalu was a major symbol of all that went wrong during the Kiffin administration. Having Polamalu coach at UCLA is like having Santa Claus being reassigned to Halloween.
The Obvious: UCLA head coach Jim Mora, Jr. played college football at Washington where he also received his degree.
The Not So Obvious: Mora’s father received a master’s degree from USC, his mother graduated from USC, and one of his children attends USC.
The Obvious: It figures that Trojans true freshman wide receiver JuJu Smith could be a major factor with the Bruins probably double-teaming Smith’s wide receiver teammate Nelson Agholor.
The Not So Obvious: JuJu will celebrated his 18th birthday on Saturday.
The Obvious: And finally, LAX has been hyping up the Saturday’s big game by displaying the colors of both schools on its entrance pylons.
The Not So Obvious: Using an alternating time frame, it either blue at the top and gold on the bottom for UCLA or red at the top and gold at the bottom for the Trojans. Okay, Union Station, you’re next to promote the rivalry, but maybe that train has already left the station. (Yuck, yuck, yuck, yuck)