With the college football season just over 100 days away, the best team in Los Angeles is clearly USC, but UCLA, with a new head coach, looks to battle the rest of the PAC-12 South Division for the runner-up slot. USC, coming off a season of probation, returns a wealth of talent from a team that finished 10-2 (7-2 in the league) last year. Not eligible for post-season play, the Trojans deferred to their cross-town rival, UCLA, who backed itself into the PAC-12 South championship a year ago. How will the two schools fare in 2012?
USC, 2011 Record: 10-2, 7-2 Pac-12 South
The USC Trojans will have the nation’s best quarterback in senior Matt Barkley who passed on the NFL to return for a shot at a national title. Barkley was masterful in leading the offense with 3,528 yards passing, 39 TDs, and just seven interceptions. He, along with a talented group of skill players, is the reason USC sits atop ESPN’s pre-season college football poll. RB Curtis McNeal ran for 1,005 yards last year and the wide receiver tandem of Robert Woods (111 rec., 1,292 yds.) and Marqise Lee, may be best in the country. The Trojans do lose OT Matt Kalil to the NFL and depth could be a problem due to scholarship limits imposed as a result of last year’s probation. Still, the Trojans return eight starters on offense and seven on defense, including stud safety T.J. McDonald. McDonald made the same decision as Barkley and put his NFL aspirations on hold. The schedule gods are in USC’s favor what with an average at best South Division, a non-conference schedule that features Syracuse, and a week 3 match-up with the Stanford Cardinals minus Andrew Luck which just doesn’t seem to be the kind of game it has been the past two seasons. The Trojans could run the table and will be favored to meet their nemesis the Oregon Ducks in the conference championship game.
UCLA, 2011 Record: 6-8, 5-4 Pac-12 South
Not even the golden boy of years’ past could save the UCLA Bruins as former QB and head coach Rick Neuheisel was let go after mediocre 2011 season. The Bruins did make it to the conference title game where they were subsequently dismissed by Oregon, 49-31. Enter Jim Mora, who hasn’t coached at the college level since the 1980s, as the guy to try and rebuild a program that has lost at least five games in 11 out of the last 13 seasons. Mora surrounded himself with talented coaches including offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone who has introduced his up-tempo offense this spring. Who will run it is still being determined but Kevin Prince, who went 126-for-224 for 1,828 yards last year, gets the first shot. Regardless of who runs the show, the offense will focus around senior RB Jonathan Franklin (5-10, 205) who rushed for 976 yards and five TDs last year. Six starters return on offense and the offensive line will need some retooling. Eight starters return on defense, but it’s a defense that ranked 11th in the conference in rush defense giving up 191 yards per game. Even so, hopes are high and with a South Division that, after USC, is up for grabs, Mora is posed to make sure his Bruins are in the thick of it. He’ll be tested early as UCLA takes on Nebraska in week 2 and if they pass the test, who knows, the Nov. 17th showdown at the Rose Bowl with USC may be for a division title.
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